Cutting through the Cuil Search Engine Hype: Bigger & Slower Isn't Better

This morning the Cuil Search Engine launched to LOTS of buzz. Two of my non-search friends emailed me about it this morning, which sounds like hype is spreading far and wide – and even outside the normal tech-related circles. Google trends even has “cuil stock” at #16 for hot searches – people are super excited.

Even Michael Arrington was excited enough to classify Cuil’s downtime this morning as “a rite of passage” rather than “unacceptable failure” for a company with $33M in funding.

As much as I want someone to challenge Google, I have little faith Cuil is anything more than a blip on the radar. And here’s why.

It’s Not About Size

For real and credible perspective you might want to read Search Engine Land’s take on Cuil. To me SEL always has the most sober perspective on anything search-related. Most media (like the New York Times) tend to regurgitate companies’ PR and focus on irrelevant angles (in this case the size of Cuil’s index).

Cuil can index 10 times as many scrapers or duplicate content pages as Google, but that doesn’t matter. Relevancy does. It’s as useless a metric as website hits – and just as outdated. But this won’t stop people from parroting that PR line.

The real impressive angle of Cuil is its policy on privacy:

We believe that analyzing the Web rather than our users is a more useful approach, so we don’t collect data about you and your habits, lest we are tempted to peek. With Cuil, your search history is always private.

This is one important area where Cuil has Google beat, but this doesn’t sound as interesting as “121 billion pages” in newspaper blurbs and will not get as much attention as it should.

Speed Kills

Downtime, poor navigational search, irrelevance – those are all issues that people have covered. One thing I haven’t seen discussed is page loading time. Google is super obsessed about speed, and for good reason – if you run a hundred searches a day, speed becomes an issue. Let’s just run a quick comparison, using firebug to monitor load time:

Search for “hard drives”:

Google: 0.584 seconds
Cuil: 3.49 seconds

Search for “grand central nyc”:

Google: 0.474 seconds
Cuil: 2.77 seconds

It seems like a small difference, but there’s a reason Google is so obsessed about loading time – over time, people notice and it DOES matter.

Cuil is Cool, but that’s about it

I do want someone to challenge Google, but I’ve seen so many “Google killers” come along in the last few years that I’ve become very skeptical.

Does anyone remember Cha cha, Powerset, Hakia, or Mahalo – at least beyond the first few hype filled days that followed their launches? Cuil has seemingly different buzz – “the pedigree of founders (former Googlers),” etc. – but I highly doubt it will made a dent in the Google’s growing search market share, much like nothing else has in the past few years.

The blogosphere will be abuzz about this for a few days, but focus will soon shift to something else – as it always does. (I’d hold off on that “cuil stock” if I was you).