Sunday, September 14, 2008

Not So Cuil

Look, if you're going to take on the biggest or the best, you're going to want to make sure you do one of two things. Either a) make really, really, really sure you have your S together before you take your shot, or b) don't tell anyone that's what you're doing so that when you fail miserably you don't end up looking like a moron. Or at least so you don't find yourself coming up with the world's worst excuses for your failure. Ever.

The folks over at the search engine Cuil may have wanted to heed my simple, yet relevant, advice when they rolled out their search engine with the stated goal of going up against the giant that is known simply as Google. (And while I do love the Google boys, there's no bias here. No, no, the words of the Cuil folks will speak for themselves. I just get to sit back and enjoy the ride.) The folks behind Cuil (which is pronounced "cool" and the company says it is the Gaelic word for knowledge. That is up for debate in some circles.) are Anna Patterson, a former Google employee, and her husband, Tom Costello, an IBM researchers. They have a vision that it is possible to compete with Google in a way that is better, more comprehensive and will cost a ton less. That's their "vision". That's not necessarily their result.

Cuil was claiming to have a 120 billion page web index which is about three times the size of Google's. They're also claiming to be able to run that index on only 140 computers, whereas Google has their index on thousands of computers. Now that's quite the difference in number of computers. You'd have to assume that it would mean a difference in the resulting products as well, right? Yep, you would. And if you did, you'd be right; there's a huge difference. Once is sent straight from the Gods and the other...well, the other is not. (The other blows.)

Cuil "launched" on July 28 of this year. The "launch" didn't go so well. It had been so hyped (by the folks at Cuil themselves) that a bazillion people wanted to try it out on the first day and I guess those 140 computers got a little overwhelmed. Not to mention the results sucked. Cuil couldn't even find itself when you searched for "Cuil". Now that's a problem. (Hey, someone get that 141st computer in here now!)

It's been about a month and a half since Cuil has had a chance to become cool. It still sucks. But not if you're asking those working for Cuil. No, those guys have a whole different idea than the rest of the planet on what a search engine is for and what it's supposed to do. That became evident during the Day One Debacle. Costello explained in a note that he had posted on Cuil's site that first day by saying "...its results are intentionally different. This is one of our goals, to give people an alternative to existing approaches." Well then, you've succeeded, Tom. If your goal was to be different from a search engine that could actually search, you did it! But why would you want to? And I don't want an alternative to my "existing approach" which is "using something that works to find what I'm looking for" because that would mean I'd do the opposite of that which would be "using something that doesn't work to not find what I'm looking for." How in the hell does that help anyone?!

Did he consult Pee-Wee Herman for that explanation? Because it sounds an awful lot like, "I meant to do that!" And his wife's take on the whole thing isn't much better either. According to the floundering folks over there at the San Jose Mercury News "Patterson said she felt her husband had come up with a better approach to storing and sorting Web data, effectively tripling the amount of data available to Web surfers for a fraction of what it costs companies like Google or Yahoo." She also said that the approach was "very radical and interesting." Yes, promoting "crap" as "not crap" is very radical. But the only interesting part of it is why you would do that! Did you think people wouldn't notice that they couldn't find what they were looking for and would assume it was because they were just overwhelmed with all of the bazillions of results (having no relevance whatsoever to their search) that they couldn't find what they needed? That it was their problem and not the 140 computers? Please.
And these guys just act like everything is fine. That they have a great product because it can index so many web pages; three times more page than Google! And at a fraction of the cost! So they have less equipment and they spend less. Yes, those are good aspects of running a successful business, but they left one out. They forgot the one about the product that works!

I'm glad that they're happy with themselves, because no one else is. They really should bag the Internet search gig and go into public relations or marketing or something along those lines because the hype that they built up for the release of this thing was massive. They did a heck of a job at that. Too bad they didn't think past their own hype and realize, "Hey, maybe I should be hawking something that actually works."

I find it amazing that there are people out there who can completely convince themselves that they are not in a bad situation. People who can put enough spin on something, even something that is un-spinnable, to make it sound like a good thing should really use their talents for good instead of evil. Perhaps if products were as good as the PR surrounding them, things would be better. But you can't sell someone a cat and tell them it's a "new dog experience". That's just not cool.

By the way, I just did a search on Cuil for "cuil". Under the "Explore by Category" section on the right, I can choose from Towns and Villages in Sligo, Lochaber, French Breads, French Cuisine and National Scenic Areas (Scotland). First things first, where the hell is Sligo? Next, I thought "Cuil" was Gaelic for "knowledge", so why am I getting results about things that are French and things that are bread (not to mention the scenic areas of Scotland)? I guess they're still sticking to that "intentionally different" approach of theirs. Well, congratulations, Cuil. Your intentionally different approach works. This is crap.

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