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Is CUIL the worst launch ever?

By July 30, 2008June 22nd, 20219 Comments

Cuil - New search engine

Even though it just launched yesterday, by now you’ve probably heard of CUIL: the new search engine developed by former Googlers claiming it’s the largest, most-efficient search engine on the Internet.

Results are grouped by content and instead of a single link and a snippet, longer text is offered, often along with images—a nice usability plus.

Unlike Google, CUIL doesn’t gather search history so it wins in the user privacy area, too.

CUIL’s founders helped build the search infrastructure used at Google, and have received press attention and $33 million in cold, hard cash.

For these reasons, all eyes were on CUIL yesterday and many people were asking, is CUIL a Google killer?

Not so fast.

CUIL has committed a cardinal sin of marketing.

To much fanfare, they’ve launched a flawed product and droves of people are trying it but are leaving disappointed—then telling others.

How flawed? Well, it’s flawed enough to be called the worst launch ever.

Don’t get me wrong—a product doesn’t have to be perfect. Sometimes the Patto Approach makes sense.

Twitter is a perfect example. The microblogging still isn’t stable. Twitter users are so accustomed to outages, the Fail Whale has it’s own fan club.

The Twitter Fail Whale

The thing is, Twitter works—at least most of the time. But it’s clear when it’s not working: Your tweets don’t load, or you see the Fail Whale.

With CUIL—at least now—it’s not so clear:

  • Several searches yesterday returned “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.”
  • In a CNN interview, a search for “George Washington” returned “no results.” I’ve had similar results.
  • The photos associated with search results don’t always correlate with the article listed.
  • Porn is slipping through with some image results. Yikes!

The fact is, searches return old, irrelevant pages regularly. Or pages that have no traffic. Or things you’ve never heard of. All instead of what you are really looking for.

Here are the results of a quick test of Cuil conducted by Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land yesterday. Let’s just say, “ouch.”

I don’t mean to bash CUIL—this is a marketing blog, after all.

But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen this much hype for a product that’s this flawed. A little more testing would have gone a long way.

The irony here is they could have positioned CUIL as a safer search because of their privacy advantage. Or as a more usable search. Even as a “search for the people” because it combines both. Users would have been more forgiving as they worked out the kinks.

Instead, all the pre-launch buzz focused on it being “better than Google” and whole host of other things.

So, what’s more important: Getting a product to market quickly, or getting it to market working well?

And do you think CUIL is the worst launch ever?

If so, why?

And if not, who?

Comment below to weigh in.

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Rob Lewis says:

    I think they could have done a little better on the product before launch. After doing some of my own searches, I am so far from impressed that I am beginning to think the Cuil should have done WAY more testing before coming to market. Worst launch ever? It still has yet to be seen, but definitely a step in the wrong direction.

  • I somehow missed all the buzz, Patrick, and this is the first I’ve heard of CUIL. It’s working at the moment. Nice and fast, but I found the presentation of results very hard to scan, and yes, the picture matching is very peculiar.

    Quite frankly, I’ve been considerably more frustrated in my very slight exploration of twitter.

  • Hani says:

    Completely agree. Worst. Launch. I’m left wondering if they had any practical testers!
    Forcing users to scroll down ‘below the fold’ for results is a terrible idea. And the images appear completely irrelevant to the results.

    They’re on twitter @cuil — for sending feedback.

  • Launching a product or service is a process not an event… something I thought engineers and developers understood.

  • I love the Twitter whale. I don’t always like seeing him, but just the fact that the folks at Twitter had fun with their “success” makes me love them.

    CUiL……they should take a lesson from iPod. Late to the MP3 party and just came out quietly. No screaming about how much better they were than those others — let the users do that.

    Of course, in CUIL’s case, that won’t happen either.

  • Amy Chen says:

    It would be ok to have all the hype if the site was worth it. However, this site is below sub par. I wanted to see how accurate and up to date the site is, so i typed in this new site that launched earlier this week to see what results would come back. Not a one! Not even for the actual site, seriously. How is this supposed to be better than Google?

  • NE says:

    So Amy, what you’re saying is Cuil’s spam filter at least is working (admitedly it’s hard to say with Cuil but…)

  • April Dunford says:

    V1 product launches are hard. It’s hard to say what the product issues may or may not be (it wouldn’t surprise me if cuil was better than Google at certain kinds of searches) but clearly it isn’t better at Google at all (and by the looks of it, the most common) searches. That being the case, it would seem to make sense that marketing should dial up the messages around where they can prove they are better – privacy, aspects of the UI – and then teach us what sort of searches they are better at.
    I do think cuil now has an opportunity to become part of this conversation (which by the way is massive) and recover if they do it quickly. What’s strange to me is how little we have heard from them directly now that everyone agrees the launch disappointed people. Why aren’t they responding?

  • Thanks for your thoughts, all.

    Watching CUIL has been kind of like watching a car wreck. Received a note today wondering why CUIL has been so quiet considering all this negative publicity.

    Seems they should join the conversation. Maybe they have, but at this point, I’m afraid most people’s expectations are pretty low. It will take awhile before they are given the benefit of the doubt.

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