Cuil, the alternative search engine, has been out for a day now, and the general consensus is that it measures up somewhere between not-very-good and epic fail. But it's hard to recall any sort of Public Relations campaign that worked out as well as the feeding frenzy we saw in the media for what turned out to be a 404 page for a good portion of the rollout date. How on earth did Cuil manage to get everybody interested in their product launch? It's simple: the founders simply said they used to work at Google, and it offered them instant credibility to everybody the media. So the lesson that Cuil teaches us is: Google is king. 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.
They didn't really have a good product to back it up. I tested it, when I could finally get it to load, in the simplest way possible; I typed in my name. I was pleased to see my picture as the first item returned. Of course I was surprised to see that Cuil thought I was a movie actor with a laundry list of IMDB titles that no one's ever seen. And doubly surprised that the whole entry was written in Spanish. I finally found the correct search result for me a few pages later -- with a picture of our Editor, Marco Chiappetta attached to it. Sometimes ex-employees are ex-employees for a reason.