July 28, 2008

Can Cuil, Built for the Long-Term, Win the "Instant Analysis" Battle?

Tonight's biggest technology story is the debut of new alternative search engine, Cuil (pronounced "cool"). In the shadow of the omnipresent Google, the search engine opened up to initial queries today, and so far, visitors don't seem that impressed. The site is already seeing some downtime, which they claim to be the result of "overwhelming interest", but even prior to the outage, its various limitations got the lion's share of attention, masking an otherwise interesting service. And this got me thinking, again, about how, often, blogs and users are keen to make a snap decision as to a product's worth, in the first minutes or hours of its debut. It can lead to a lot of people crying for "epic fail", and not waiting a few weeks, months, or even years, to see it develop, getting closer to its full potential.

More than two years ago, I wrote a post called, "Launching Products in the Age of Instant Analysis", which saw how initial response to Google Finance, Apple's Mac Mini and Microsoft's Origami UMPC platform was overwhelmingly negative, even before most people had ever had the opportunity to buy the latter two in stores. At the time, I noted how some bloggers had achieved their conclusion after only fifteen minutes of using a site, and even tonight, we're seeing the same conclusions reached, not just after fifteen minutes of using a product, but sometimes, even faster, after one failed vanity search or a set of keywords.

Out of curiosity, I of course tried Cuil myself, and came away less than impressed, but I don't have the feeling that this will be the last we'll hear from the Cuil team. While I'm not going completely off the wagon and claiming them to be the heir to the Google/Yahoo!/Microsoft Live Search throne, I'd expect they have plans to expand and tweak their database, invest in their infrastructure, and make their searches more relevant.

A search engine launch is not a one-night affair, and while tonight's debut has been sloppy at best, they might find a niche and gain traction. Don Dodge once famously reported that 1% of the search engine market is worth $1 billion, so finding a place to play and get share is serious business, even if it is against extremely formidable competition. Cuil looks like they lost the first night's chance at getting the "instant analysis" crowd to love their effort, but they've got attention, and maybe, with continued effort, we'll be seeing if the company, built for the long term, can overcome a few hours or days of distress.