What’s Wrong With Being Cuil?

What’s wrong with being Cuil? Nothing really, except perhaps a public relations shift/come-to-market strategy is in order. Cuil (pronounced like “cool”) was hyped as the world’s biggest search engine and a Google killer upon its official launch this week. Only it isn’t that at all.

Developed by former Googlers, a metric ton of mainstream press along with an extremely well-planned embargo with said press allowed for amazing coverage in what can only be called the biggest search engine launch of the year.

Almost immediately following the launch, blogs from search experts to anyone expecting the site to live up to its press immediately began tearing the search site apart. What went wrong? Let’s start with the basics.

The Digital Mafioso

Here’s a recipe for disaster: start with a really good idea, hire some smart PR people who know how mainstream press outreach works and declare “go for launch” before actually testing the product. Follow these instructions if you’re hell bent on destroying your own credibility after a great launch.

Naturally, we’re all thinking a soft launch with less bold claims would’ve been the way to go for Cuil. Testing, testing, then re-testing, along with stress testing the server farm might have helped Cuil get a better reception in the blogosphere.

Instead, hyping the site up led to a big fall as vanity searchers everywhere began comparing search results in Google to Cuil. I have to admit falling into the trap as well. Searching for “Kevin Ryan” or “SES” brought up text and pictures that seemed to come right out of left field.

Sure, my name is one of the most common names in the English-speaking world, but come on. There was an old iMedia photo of me appearing next to a listing for another Kevin Ryan in New Jersey politics. I could go on, but my personal favorite was an interview I had done for SES with a “Search Marketing Expo” or “SMX” (a competing event series) logo beside it. The search marketing bloggers could have a lot of fun with that one.

Nothing Works

We live in an age in which brands are disconnected from their own promises. The only people who seem to be connected are people who actually use products and services.

I’ll give you some examples:

  • Number of times (on average) I restart my Vista machine each day trying to connect to my company’s VPN: 4
  • Approximate hours I spend each day staring at the Vista “Whitewash screen of death” each day: 2
  • Approximate percentage of the time my SlingPlayer actually works: 14
  • Number of times a day I have to reboot my cable modem: 2

It’s funny, I don’t remember ever having to reboot anything when I was growing up. Occasionally, a thunderstorm would knock out the telephone or electricity, but we really didn’t have any control over that stuff. There was simply no thinking involved.

There are so many days I miss being able to plug something in and go. Yesterday was one of those days. I really wanted Cuil to work. I didn’t want to have to think to use it. I didn’t want to have to worry about my searches being stored and evaluated. I wanted someone to promise something and mean it.

Lessons from the Field

What have we learned today? First, make sure it works before you launch it. Second, make sure you can live up to your claims or you’ll suffer the consequences.

On the other hand, if the first-rate public relations efforts weren’t deployed, Cuil may have been just another of thousands of search sites that claim to be better than Google, lost in search wannabe purgatory.

Will searchers give Cuil another chance? Probably not after the big push disaster, but then again, Twitter seems to be down 17 times a day and people still use it.

One thing is certain in the competitive search world: as more original Googlers continue to cash out, get venture funding attention, and head off to build a better mousetrap, the search world will continue to see more competition and more killer applications. Who knows, the next one might not commit brand suicide and actually live up to the hype.

Join us for SES San Jose, August 18-22 at the San Jose Convention Center.

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