Cuil's Bad Week

Poor, poor Cuil. The start-up with designs on out-Googling Google launched this week but if the earnest engineers and execs were expecting a Google-like love-fest, well...

Almost immediately, Scott Anthony, innovation guru and disciple of Clayton Christiansen, voiced skepticism. "Odds are that Cuil (pronounced 'cool') ends up like the seemingly unbeatable team of NBA players that finished sixth in the 2002 FIBA world championships." Ouch.

Then the site went down, but then again that can be a (eh-hem) cool problem to have on the Web, like turning people away from a nightclub.

But then the reviews started coming in. Here's one: "Worst. Launch. Ever." Ouch again. (I happen to disagree; Scrabble's hostile takeover of Scrabulous was pretty bad.)

Then, a Yahoo! engineer cleverly launched "Yuil" -- which effectively mimicked Cuil's interface but with Yahoo results. The message: you can make it pretty but you'd better have good search results if you want to compete. (Yuil was quickly taken down--likely for copyright reasons).

Anthony's original assessment was a quick one. So I was pleased to see that he's followed up with a deeper analysis. It's one of the smarter assessments I've read of Cuil's prospects. Unfortunately for Cuil, Anthony's outlook still "doesn't provide much hope for Cuil as a standalone entity -- unless it completely re-frames its approach."

And for more from Anthony and others on Innnovation, visit the Making Innovation Work page. The lead story there now, about Pixar's success, is excellent.

Today, guest blogger Scott Kirsner dips back into Hollywood and focuses on what he thinks can save that lumbering industry: the entertainment innovations of Joss Whedon, he of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. Kirsner writes about Whedon's online show and its innovative delivery and business model. You can also listen to an audio interview with Kirsner, who compares Whedon's innovations with one of Hollywood's original innovators: Walt Disney.

Have a good weekend.

By Scott Berinato  |  August 1, 2008; 1:20 PM ET
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I think it is too quick to say solid negative about a new search engine that at least makes a powerful attmept at providing competition to Google.

Yahoo and Microsoft have demonstrated, over the years, that despite all the resources and name recognition, they can not make a dent in Google popularity.

On another site, I saw a mention of another search engine (, of which I have seen no publicity at all, and it seems it has a narrow audience of scientists (like me!), but I found it can tackle Google too!

So, hail the competition.

Posted by: Roberts Fargo | August 1, 2008 4:05 PM

If Cuil had the decency to fail properly under server-overload, I could cut them some slack. But their architecture has caused some very embarrassing flaws.

Cuil works by assigning specialized categories to each of their servers. One server may specialize in "politics", while another may specialize in "sports." Unfortunately, if the "sports server" is down and you search for "olympics 2008", you don't get 0 results. Instead, you just get really bad results from the other non-sports servers. There is no indication that the specialty server has failed for your specific query, so you don't know how good the results are.

Also, there are reports of Cuil randomly inserting adult images into search results (search The Register site for that article). For a site that claims to be so focused on user safety, that's a pretty big screw up.

Cuil launched like it was 1998. Waaay too much publicity before they could handle it. They should have started small and then grown through word of mouth. I could not believe the major coverage Cuil got the day it launched (top story on CNN, Huffington Post, Drudge Report, to name a few). I guess most mainstream journalists think there are only 3 search engines (Google, MSN, Yahoo) and the addition of Cuil is some huge game changer. But there are hundreds and hundreds of search engines out there. Cuil is nothing new in its current form.

Posted by: Trent | August 1, 2008 5:17 PM

cuil is pretty bad

search for jobs on - it's got features from craigslist and monster combined

Posted by: serge | August 2, 2008 1:30 PM

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