Cuil, a new search engine, was one of the hottest buzz topics in the tech industry last week. A primary cause for the excitement was the news that the new search engine was designed by Anna Patterson, a former Google employee.
After leaving the company this year, she developed Cuil, which was rumored to produce perhaps the first real threat to Google. The search engine and company, which takes its name from Celtic folklore character called Finn McCuill, raised $33M USD in venture capital to finance its ambitious plans.
However, the hype for Cuil quickly turned south once users began browsing the site. With massive interest, Cuil’s underprepared servers were overwhelmed. Frustrated users found themselves faced with a number of error messages, but no search results.
Reports one Global Tech News reader, “I typed in www.cuil.com and this is what I got: ‘We’ll be back soon…Due to overwhelming interest, our Cuil servers are running a bit hot right now. The search engine is momentarily unavailable as we add more capacity. Thanks for your patience.'”
Another user reports that their Firefox browser ceased the page’s scripts as it warned, “Firefox has detected that the server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete.“
Still other users reported seeing no warning at all, simply receiving a message that the engine “Could not find what you are looking for”.
Some optimistically believed that perhaps if the initial surge of traffic wore off; their patience would be rewarded by above average results. After all, Cuil CEO Ms. Patterson had boasted that the site featured over 120 billion pages three times that of Google.
However, apparently quantity was not an indicator of quality as most users reported sentiments ranging from disappointment to astonishment at the poor quality of results. Global Tech News columnist Michael Asher remarked, “Out of curiosity, I tried the same and got no results. So I tried just “HD4870”. No results either. “HD 4870” (with embedded space). No results. “4870”. No results as well. Site needs some work, methings (sic). “
Another user commented, “Yeah I did a search for something simple. “Patriot Missile System”. The results seemed relevant but it was missing a lot of popular information sites in the first several pages. Wikipedia, howstuffworks, and others. Google’s results were a lot better. Quantity over quality is not a good way to go.”
A few found a silver lining in the overwhelming problems. Some liked Cuil’s look which a futuristic black that some prefer to Google’s white-washed background. Also some liked the format that the results come up in.
Says one user, “I actually like it. It started off rough this morning and it seems it is still having rough spots, but for me every search has given me back relevant results. There is the estra (sic) benefit I really like of it indexing categories for easy searching, I think only of subjects that have a certain amount of hits though. For instance I cuiled my hometown of Dodge City which came back with 3+ million hits that included the subcategory index. I think they under planned for interest in their site especially since it got promoted on sites like the Drudgereport which can at times crash the unprepared.”
Some others point out that Google was a bit rough around the edges when it was first launched and gaining traction.
Meanwhile, Google remained slightly amused at its would-be-competitors PR disaster. In perhaps a playful jab, its top listed search result for Cuil was not the site itself, but rather a CNet article entitled “Cuil shows us how not to launch a search engine”. As one Google executive points out, Cuil may think it has a one up by indexing over 120 billion pages, but Google crawls over a trillion pages, it merely is more selective about what it adds to its search pool.
In the long run Cuil’s success or failure will revolve on whether it can redeem itself by producing better results and show reliable, error-free operation even under demanding conditions. If it can do this, it can perhaps give Google a bit of a challenge, or even nip a little market share away from sinking Yahoo. However, for near future Cuil seems inevitable to become the laughingstock of the tech community and a cautionary tale of concrete offerings falling short of hype.
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