launched last night. It's called Cuil and, if you're a reader of tech blogs and/or the New York Times, you've no doubt been hammered with the news all day. We checked Cuil out and had a mixed user experience, as did most of the commenters in the post. So it's a pretty average search engine, although like many before it Cuil claims to be a Google competitor. But why did it get so much PR upon launch? The results showed that Cuil is no different to the hundreds of alternative search engines we track every day.An alternative search engine
One reason for the feeding frenzy among media, new and old, is that Cuil's founders are ex-Google employees.
Another reason is that the founders made some big claims about challenging Google. The New York Times article states that Cuil promises to be "more comprehensive" than Google and give users "more relevant results".
Having ex-Googlers at the helm and making big claims is nothing new. They were also coming out of stealth mode, which helped the PR. But perhaps what made the difference this time was that some key industry pundits made some big claims themselves about Cuil.
Danny Sullivan, who runs SearchEngineLand and is generally considered to be the most respected search blogger around, is quoted in the NYT as saying: "This is the most promising thing I've seen in a while". He did qualify that by saying: "Whether they are going to threaten Microsoft, much less Google, that's another story." And his own post on SEL goes deep into this very question - well worth reading.
The big claims of Cuil were expounded on in the official PR. The title of the company's press release says it all: Cuil Launches Biggest Search Engine on the Web. In particular, the size of Cuil's index was talked up as its main claim to greatness - 120 billion web pages. But the whole press release is an exercise in Silicon Valley hyperbole. Here's just the intro:
"Cuil, a technology company pioneering a new approach to search, unveils its innovative search offering, which combines the biggest Web index with content-based relevance methods, results organized by ideas, and complete user privacy. Cuil (www.Cuil.com) has indexed 120 billion Web pages, three times more than any other search engine."
When you throw around terms like "pioneering", "significant breakthroughs", "ideal search engine", "complete user privacy", "next generation approach to search", ... well you better have a good product to back that up.
Some of the initial blog coverage of this story extended the hype. I must applaud Cuil's PR people for managing to get such overwhelming launch coverage, initially positive - although after bloggers actually started using the product the tone of the coverage changed accordingly.
The fact is, Cuil is a very ordinary product right now. In my own tests last night, I was left underwhelmed. Our official post today summed up our views: this is an average product that does not live up to its own hype, the NYT's hype, or the hype bestowed upon it by noted bloggers and those who thought they got a "scoop".
I still don't get it though - how come this startup got blanket coverage from tech news heavyweights, some of whom should know better than to buy into the hype? Did any of those publications actually test Cuil before writing up its greatness?