Media, Silicon Valley, Web/Tech, Weblogs

Really: Is it Cuil or Us?

Pretty harsh post on TechCrunch this morning about how Cuil "blew" it's launch in 20 seconds. It talks about the absurdly short hype-cycle of less than a minute on today's Web.

I'll be the first to say I was disappointed in the early results of a company that a lot of people I respect think very highly of. And I, too, was a bit stunned after raising that much cash and working so hard, they would launch now. And they should have kept their messaging to indexing more cheaply, the UI and privacy-- not touting greater relevancy, obviously. (We didn't even mention that one in our TT piece, because I hadn't gotten enough time to play with it.)

So yeah, they screwed some things up. But doesn't part of the blame go to the blogosphere? I'm counting me in that too. I was probably too effusive. Like everyone else in the Valley, I find technology and new companies exciting and Cuil has a great story. But you don't make up for that by then eviscerating a company. It doesn't somehow balance out in the greater cosmic order. TechCrunch says the whole thing was Cuil's fault because they didn't let pre-briefed bloggers use the service. Ok, that was dumb, but take some responsibility! No one forced you to write a glowing piece before you'd used the site. If I erred in being too excited about Cuil, that was my bad as a reporter, not the company's. (For the record, I seem to be the only blogger in the land who didn't get a pre-brief, I had just heard a lot about the company from sources for more than a year so I'd been anxious to check it out for some time.)

At some point, the tech blogosphere has to break itself from the junky-like addiction of having to get a story two seconds before the competitor. Can it really drive that much traffic when every other blogger got the same pre-brief? Isn't it better to wait a bit, use the service and write something smarter?

If we've got a 20-second hype cycle in the Valley, that's not Cuil's fault. And I don't think it's serving readers well either. If we write something is amazing in the morning and then total junk in the afternoon, does anyone looking to tech blogs for analysis keep coming back?

I, for one, am not writing the company off after one day. Launches are hard. How many of the products we use and rely on today were perfect the day they launched? I've invited the founders to come on TechTicker and hope they accept. I'd love to hear their thoughts on why the launch day went the way it did and whether they're worried about the backlash or just chalk it up to the increasingly schizophrenic blogosphere.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Yes, it was a pretty harsh review. But it's not just the silicon valley hype cycle. In London the Metro, the FT and a bunch of other traditional slow media outlets covered the launch of Cuil and universally panned its relevance. Casting a wide net is nice, catching fish is better, and there's more fish in Goog, Yahoo and MSN as far as a lot of reviewers can tell.

I didn't get pre-briefed on Cuil. I did a dozen searches on it, they all sucked when compared to Google, and I wrote up a pretty harsh, but fair, review. Of course mine published a couple of hours after everyone else's so didn't get noticed on Digg or Techmeme.

This is what happens when we all play PR's game of embargo and release.

scoble: i couldn't agree with you more. it's not an issue of "don't be harsh"-- it's don't blindly talk something up and then use it, get embarrassed and over compensate the other way. when blogs first started PR people were completely stumped and now they've turned a lot of it to their advantage. i'm generalizing of course, but still.

The real issue is that the economic reward for media/professional bloggers is to first hype and then pan. You get page views hyping and then page views panning. A well researched and measured piece loses financially. Lets call it as it is. (Cuil's massive execution failure is another story)

Best bit I've seen or read on Cuil yet.

Would that the journalists who assisted the White House disinformation campaign during the run-up to the war in Iraq could assess themselves this honestly.

You're a credit to the profession of journalism for this post, Sarah. Righteous !

- srini

bernard: you are right. but good journalism is supposed to be at odds with a quick buck. it's the trade off of fat money now (say favorable coverage for an advertiser in the print world) versus building a trusted brand over time. as i've said before i think focusing on the quick clicks sells blogging's future short. i understand the economics-- i just think it's short-sighted.

Cuil ~ 1st reports via RSS feed

Cuil has been mentioned 908 times in 107 reports within our feed reader:

Sarah I think you are right that there's a lot of "blog now, think later" going on, but that's a large part of what makes the joint a fun place to hang out. If you want journalism to prevail we'll first need to reward good stuff over quick stuff, and I don't see that happening anytime soon.

I have some great, long, thoughtful posts about technology few people read, but my quick criticism of Cuil got a lot of views yesterday. I was honest but I hardly did a quality review of the product either.

More importantly with respect to Cuil, I think they are looking for a buyout more than a killer search engine, and they'll get it by (indirectly) promising to share enough Googley technology in the deal to keep lawsuits at bay but give the likely buyer (Microsoft) solid insights they can use to strategic advantage.

Sarah, I agree. That form of "journalism" is pretty quickly counterproductive. Personally I am not driven by page views or Techmeme rankings, so I have the luxury to ignore the real time hype cycle. I think this is a passing phase. Bernard

Could not agree with you more...

Making or breaking a company take more than a few minutes.

So there is no reason to count CUIL out just because they did not handle the launch well..

As you said launches of public web sites are hard...Inevitably there are issues.

In my opinion, tech blogosphere overestimates its influence and are way too quick to judge things. Let's all take a chill pill and let's see what they can do.

Thanks, Jitendra

Now wait a minute! What the heck are people supposed to observe and write about other than how Cuil stacks up against up against Google? Is there any other story? And anyone can do in 5 minutes what Cuil apparently has not done for the past 18 months: do a couple searches and assess the results.

C'mon, people!

I think people are still big fans of Google. And nobody thinks Google is broken. So just the fact that there's some new competitor claiming to be better than Google turns us off. We think Cuil is trying to fill a need we don't have. And we have no intention of changing our search behavior. And I don't ever want to have to type the word "Cuil" again. Cuil set the expectation that they were somehow better than Google. When visitors went to the site and discovered the claim to be completely bogus, they reacted violently. That's our only defense against such bogus marketing. Cuil is just like any other braggart, who is put in his place. We cheer at their downfall and hope to dissuade others from making the same mistake. I would have been much more impressed with Cuil and willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, if they had a humble launch, and I had just heard in passing that there was a new search engine being started as an experiment. But they ended up hanging themselves with their own self-generated fanfare.


Where's this "glowing piece" you reference? We were briefed by Cuil, and we wrote what we knew based on that briefing. That was a pretty balanced piece explaining how Cuil worked and what its claimed advantages were:

Then we got to play with the search engine and wrote this more critical piece an hour after the site launched:

The next day the backlash had built up so much across the blogosphere and elsewhere that the backlash itself became a story (the TC story you link to above, which I wrote).

New information came in, the story evolved, we covered it.

Go back and read our first piece, though. It's very measured and sticks to the facts.

Sarah, I agree that there was a knee jerk reaction. What some bloggers failed to explain is the Cuil system failed in some clusters and poor results were returned. How about trying to get a technical explanation of the failure during the interview. I believe computers specialize in collecting information, if that "area" goes down then the returned results will be wrong.

Pwb, a fair comparison is the Google start up to Cuil start up and not Google fine tuned versus a startup. Besides, didn't anyone notice Google (adsense) went down over the weekend? Failures happen.

Right or wrong, and mainly because of Twitter, things move faster now than even 6 months ago. I was in Santa Barbara Tuesday working partially offline when my couch started shaking – 150 miles from the epicenter, and twittered it right away – even 150 miles away and 6 minutes later (which is how long the shock took to get to me on my couch) I still beat CNN. So back to Cuil. I'll frame this not as a blogger (which I'm not) but as a pretty frequent Twitter user. Cuil launched at about 8pm PDT. No mainstream press then, just bloggers and all the rest of us. They don’t let anybody see it before it launches. It launches, TC writes their piece as do others, and then I and other Twitterers start using it. I’m tweeting past midnight PDT and most of the people that I know – tech or otherwise - that are up at that hour are in China. We don’t get it, esp. the pictures associated to the results, which are bizarre. I check Twitter Search and pretty much everyone agrees – nice look, but results are bizarre and not very useful. By the time morning rolls around (expect for in China of course), the only story to tell is the one I just told – in nearly everyone’s opinion Cuil doesn’t cut it. So like it or not, the 20-second launch is here and IMHO is here to stay.


I wasn't so much making a value judgment on your story-- as much as I was taking your own description from the about-face you wrote about in your post.


"This was entirely the company’s own fault. It pre-briefed every blogger and tech journalist on the planet, but didn’t allow anyone to actually test the search engine before the launch..... Here Cuil falls short, as we pointed out an hour after the site launched and we could actually check it out.

The story quickly turned from Google-killer to Google’s lunch (make that an amuse bouche). "

sorry to misinterpret "google-killer to... amuse bouche" as hype to evisceration! my mistake ;)

Hi Sarah,

I don't think this is abnormal. This has to change with the speed at which information travels. Ten years ago, when we didn’t have Twitter, FaceBook and blogosphere, reviews would probably be slow to travel, and people would get more time to “fix things”. Today screenshots travel very fast. Though, I feel people are pretty forgiving, and have short memories, but blowing a beta is definitely not a good thing – it’s unfortunate too.


Hi Sarah, I am glad I found this post and you via Twitter. I hear you, but something I find is that journalists are not bloggers. Bloggers have an opinion and the opinion heats up the blogosphere.

I personally think that bad publicity is better at the onset for any 2.0 company as it gives it reason to focus and improve.

But nice to meet/find you anyway - Bena

I think much of it was their own fault for not being ready and their own hyperbole. If your "angle" is that you're taking on Google, you'd better be ready to at least look like you're ready to take on the biggest. They weren't even close, and unfortunately many people will never come back after the first test.

re: my sources- i'm not saying cuil will be better in a few months or not-- i don't know. but i have covered startups long enough to know ones that look hot on day one frequently fail and ones that do not frequently are big winners. i'm not counting anyone out after one day. that wouldn't be doing my job!


I think it is a bit harsh to judge a start-up that yes, did launch prematurely and probably tarnished them just a tad. But people keep comparing Cuil to Google, they're both completely different. Cuil focuses just on search, where Google focuses on other properties as well.

Google have had 10 years to perfect their search engine. If Cuil can be half as good as Google in 1 year, then they're on their way to beating Google.

Cuil hasn't got a very good relevancy success rate when it comes to searches, but it will come in time. I personally think they can do it.

This is probably the first write up I've seen that is Cuil-neutral.

"ones that look hot on day one frequently fail and ones that do not frequently are big winners"

Uhm, how about some examples?

"If Cuil can be half as good as Google in 1 year, then they're on their way to beating Google."

No, they are not.

I agree the tech blogosphere is frenetic. Personally, I'm keeping my eye on Cuil. Systems work the lab but you always find something you missed once it goes live.

I have one launch-day criticism of Cuil. Some of the indexed pages are more than three months out of date.

We'll see what happens

Fair is fair and Cuil is fairly cool and the media hoopla on the Cuil launch is well deserved and totally understandable (even if a bit harsh). After all, Cuil was built by a team of top-notch ex-Google engineers. But did you know that another new search engine -- built by a team of top-notch ex-Google users -- has surpassed Cuil in traffic this month? And with nary a lick of media love. Check out NeXplore Search ( vs. Cuil ( for the month of September using whatever website traffic comparison tool you prefer -- Google Trends, Alexa, Compete, etc. Cuil’s focus -- more algorithmic complexity. NeXplore’s focus -- a more visually engaging and productive search results page. Seems pretty clear which approach real folk prefer...

The comments to this entry are closed.

"Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky" puts a well-deserved spotlight on the fascinating entrepreneurs working in some of the most overlooked places on Earth. This book reminds us that when entrepreneurial opportunity is enabled and embraced locally, the economic and social benefits have the power to transform us all.
Brilliant. Crazy. Cocky.

New Book

An unforgettable portrait of the emerging world's entrepreneurial dynamos Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky is the story about that top 1% of people who do more to change their worlds through greed and ambition than politicians, NGOs and nonprofits ever can. This new breed of self-starter is taking local turmoil and turning it into opportunities, making millions, creating thousands of jobs and changing the face of modern entrepreneurship at the same time. To tell this story, Lacy spent forty weeks traveling through Asia, South America and Africa hunting down the most impressive up-and-comers the developed world has never heard of....yet.

Excerpt »

Buy it from these sellers

Srah Lacy

Sarah Lacy is an award-winning reporter who has covered high-growth entrepreneurship for more than fifteen years. She is the founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of, the site-of-record for the startup ecosystem. She lives in San Francisco.

Learn more »


Get updates delivered directly to your inbox. Just enter your email address and click Subscribe: