When everybody I know sent me an email or an IM about Cuil this morning, I figured it had to be a big deal. Cuil, if you don't have the same type of friends that I have, is the latest hyped challenger to Google, and it has a sexy backstory, insofar as algorithm wars can be sexy: its founders are two years removed from being Googlers themselves.
Also, the landing page for it looks a bit slicker, but still familiarly simple, and the presentation of search results is unusual and a bit innovative. Having tested it out -- which we'll get to -- I thought that the selling point would be this presentation, which seems to come up more in the vein of a HuffPost or other online magazine-style presentation.
Instead, the thing that seems to be getting the most hype is the index-size wars. Cuil says it has indexed something like three times as many pages as Google. Google says Cuil Schmuil, essentially.
Cuil, by the way, isn't a great name. I think we can all agree. Hey, look -- Google is a dumb name, too. But at least it's a thing. But Cuil is pronounced "cool," and then only because every mention of Cuil says so. Me? I saw "kyoo-el." A colleague saw "cull." Or "quill."
But others? They saw nothing. Because the site crashed and crashed and crashed after getting a bunch of press on launch day. Here's the post from our friend Peter Kafka over at Silicon Alley Insider on Cuil crashing all day:
Cuil is a few hours old, so we'll assume that they'll fix their downtime issue fairly quickly, and that its results will get better with some tweaking. The bigger issue is whether Cuil's come-on -- we're bigger! -- will be convincing. We don't see it happening: Anyone remember the 1990s, when Barnes & Noble's BN.com tried to catch up to Amazon by arguing that it offered more books? And the challenge for Cuil and the other would-be Google killers is even steeper, since they first have to offer a search engine that works as well as Google's; so far they haven't.
But they're not going to stop trying: Even after dropping more than 30%, Google (GOOG) is trading at $492 this morning, giving the company a $154 billion market cap. The search market is just too big, and too lucrative, for the Cuils of the world to pack it in.
Now, I happened to catch Cuil when it was still up this morning. And you know what I found? Nothing! Nothing, that is, when you search Dave Burdick. You want to talk about a failed search engine, it's a search engine that gives a poor vanity-search result. I'm talking about literally nothing. Nothing about Dave Burdick at HuffPost, nothing about Dave Burdick the race car driver, nothing about Dave Burdick the risque photographer, nothing about Dave Burdick the daffodil man -- none of whom I am making up, by the way.
I'm not the only responsible journalist who is judging Cuil on the lack of Dave Burdick-related search results. Well, I am, but there's also Scott Anthony at Harvard Business Publishing who is judging Cuil, in part on the lack of Scott Anthony-related search results (OK, and smarter stuff):
Cuil's search engine launched today. It claims to cover three times the number of Web pages that Google covers (in trial runs this morning it ran very slowly and found nothing under my name!), and displays its results like a magazine. President and co-founder Anna Patterson, an engineer who helped build Google's search index, told the Journal, "You can't be an alternative search engine and smaller. You have to be an alternative and bigger."
To top Google, Cuil built a top-flight team of engineers with search experience at eBay, IBM, AltaVista, and, of course, Google. It is backed with more than $30 million of venture capital.
Sorry, Cuil, but if you can't cater to vanity, find another country!
Kidding aside, the search engine's presentation is interesting, but until it's both interesting and useful, it's going to be an also-ran.
**UPDATE** Cuil now returns nearly 9,000 results for Dave Burdick. I am a fully satisfied user, even though most of the related photos are completely wrong, at least they're funny. Now, pardon me, I have some serious reading to do about myself.