A few days after much-hyped search engine Cuil’s disastrous launch, we spoke to CEO Tom Costello, who was in damage control mode. His message: We know we flopped on day one, but we had no idea how much traffic we’d get. Give us a little time.
Alrighty. We’re now a week after launch day, and we can tell you that Cuil has definitely improved. Since Wednesday, it’s been up every day we’ve tried it, and it no longer spits out “no result” answers for basic queries like “penguin” and “failure“. Another mark in the plus column: If you search for “Cuil“, the search engine itself now comes up as the top result.
But Cuil still doesn’t work well enough.
Some of Cuil’s problems look fixable, like its inability to attach the right image to results. Our ego search, for instance, generates a couple versions of our glowering mug — but also identifies as us as the NYT’s John Markoff and All Things D’s John Paczkowski. But Google struggles with image search, too. You just don’t notice that every time you type in a query, because Google doesn’t attach an image to each result. Cuil can save itself grief by following suit.
And we do like one of Cuil’s features — its “explore by category” box, which gives you a list of related, or possibly related, terms. That’s buggy too: Search for “iPhone” and one of the related categories you’ll be offered is “2000s American Television Series”. We’re assuming this can improve over time.
But way too many of the searches we try on Cuil gives us results like the ones we get for “Batman movie”, which didn’t work for us last week and still doesn’t today: A seemingly random list of links, many of which simply direct you to junky linkfarm pages. If you search for “Dark Knight”, Cuil can get you to the right links for the movie. But Google can do it without the extra coaching.
When we spoke to Tom last week, he basically conceded that Cuil still isn’t going to offer up good results every time. But he argued that we ought to be impressed that we get anything at all:
“Search is a kind of magic. You’re trying to produce meaningful results for people with computers that deep down, don’t really understand anything. So the fact that it works at all is a kind of a miracle. It’s sleight of hand.”
And even when Cuil does work, Tom says, it’s not supposd to be better than Google – just an alternative. Tom figures that Cuil users will hit Google first, then come to Cuil if they don’t like what they see in the first few pages. But not if its basic search function doesn’t improve dramatically.
Oh, one last thing — the name. Tom continues to insist that it’s supposed to be derived from an Irish word for knowledge, and that it is indeed supposed to be pronounced “cool” — “that seemed natural to me, because of my Irish background.”
But if most people are struggling to pronounce it — and associate it with a search engine that launched before it was ready — maybe there’s still time to change it. We ran that one by Tom. No dice. “It’s hard to find a four-letter name,” he says, and insists that he doesn’t have a backup url ready. “That doesn’t meant that I won’t change it eventually. But it works for me.”
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