Cuil fails… and succeeds?!

Below is an email response to my aunt sometime in July, when Cuil was launched,

Yea, I read about cuil this morning. I played around with it a bit and they’re getting quite a bit of press due to the founders past employment w/ Google and their claim that they’ve indexed more pages than google. However, it’s a pretty poor launch: shoddy search results, mismatch between sites and images, useless results “summaries” and terrible performance…

I never bothered with Cuil again until I read this a few days ago,

Cuil isn’t performing well any way you look at it, and I can only imagine how nervous the startup’s management team and investors must be by now. Based on the numbers and graphs we gather from Google Trends, Alexa, Compete and Quantcast, you could even say search engine traffic is nearing rock bottom.

I decided to give Cuil another try to see if anything had changed since my first analysis. Unfortunately, I still encountered the same frustrations; here’s the first result in a search for “fallout 2”,

cuil search for fallout 2

I think that’s Evander Holyfield in the associated image and, as far as I remember, he was not in Fallout 2.

Attempting to compete with good-to-better search results than google would have put Cuil in a steep uphill climb for success, but such poor results and mis-associations point to flaws in the technical architecture of the service itself. Not to mention simple usability flaws; results in a multi-column layout is a dumb idea – it’s completely alien from the way people actually read (well, read English, at least) – I’m supposed to read top to bottom, scrolling down… then scroll back up to continue?!

What’s amazing in all of this is that Cuil’s founders are apparently experts at search and managed to raise $33 million in funding! … and what’s even more amazing is that they were ranked as one of the most successful U.S. startups by Business Week. Business Week’s explanation for this apparent oddity is as follows,

Cuil raised $33.25 million in that period, and whatever you think of the company or their product, the amount raised indicates that investors judged them worthy of significant backing, as some TechCrunch commenters noted. Obviously, that’s different from them getting traction or becoming profitable. But they made the list under the criteria we used, which we made clear from the start.

I guess you have to buy into the idea that funding = success.

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