Cuil's splashy launch gets mixed reaction

SAN FRANCISCO: New search engine Cuil faced the dichotomy of the media establishment when it launched last week, with traditional media hyping the product as a Google-killer-in-waiting, while bloggers criticized the product for not being ready for prime time.

SAN FRANCISCO: New search engine Cuil faced the dichotomy of the media establishment when it launched last week, with traditional media hyping the product as a Google-killer-in-waiting, while bloggers criticized the product for not being ready for prime time.

 

The startup, founded by former Google employees and other tech industry veterans, kept its search engine under wraps until a week prior to the launch, when a handful of top-tier reporters and bloggers, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR, were invited to a demo, said Vince Sollitto, VP of communications at Cuil. The company's AOR is MS&L.

 

While the Times' launch story focused more on the potential battle between Google and Cuil, bloggers expressed dismay at the results of their searches. The site also went down for periods at a time.

 

"We certainly did not go out... boasting... that we were taking the market leader head on, or that we had a better mousetrap than anyone else," Sollitto explained. "We tried to position ourselves as offering an alternative to existing products, and one that provided different value."

 

Some blogs faulted the company for not giving reporters and bloggers enough time to test prior to the launch and others complained that without a beta test, it should have been a final product. Sollitto acknowledged the complaint, but said the company plans to continue to develop the search engine.

"Slapping beta and laying it out on the Web doesn't really inoculate against criticism and scrutiny," he said. "And when do you take beta off? [Cuil] is going to be improved and fine-tuned daily."

Overall, the company saw a market opportunity after research showed that nearly two-thirds of Web searchers try search engines other than market leader, Sollitto said.

Sam Whitmore, an editor at Media Survey, said the timing of the launch coincided with an increasing appetite from the media for an underdog to take on Google.

"When the Microsoft and Yahoo deal died, it was obvious to journalists that there was no one that [was] going to touch Google now," Whitmore said. "And it was such a slam dunk to be able to write a David and Goliath story."

Even so, Whitmore said Cuil traded building slow long-term media for an explosive launch that might not be able to sustain momentum.

"What story is going to written about Cuil now that can be anywhere near this?," he said.

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