Cuil Crashes And Burns At Launch

    July 28, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

Crashing right after launch is, apparently, a startup rite of passage. If, however, you’ve touted your new search engine as a Google killer, you might want to make sure crashes can’t happen. Google never goes down, and quite simply, can’t be killed with overloaded servers.

After Powerset’s sudden sale to Microsoft, the blogosphere needed a new contender. A former Google search architect and her Stanford professor husband, along with other former Googlers operating under the protective wing of the anti-noncompete laws of California (a law, ironically, Google likes to leverage when it can), thought for sure they could provide that new challenger.

And then all went blank at Cuil (cool), which was touted to have thrice the index of Google, scanning 121 billion web pages. Servers today couldn’t keep up with demand, illustrating what Powerset foresaw as their biggest hurdle: scalability. Microsoft provided that, along with enough cash to see it through. Even if you could get a query to return something today, though, reviews of the results have been mixed.

The results are supposed to be an alternative to Google’s ranking system, which is often criticized for being more of a popularity contest (among a myriad other criticisms) in the search results. Hence all the Wikipedia and YouTube returns.

Cuil is said to operate differently from Google’s distributed server, load-balancing concept—which incidently handles about a trillion URLs several times daily and manages to stay online—and has its servers divided according to category. If one searches for a sports-related query, for example, there are designated sports servers to handle that. One issue, as we’re seeing today: If a spike in sports queries knocks the sports servers offline, other non-specialized servers specializing in, say, cooking, will handle the results instead.

In that event, you get either no results or bad ones, which is likely the cause of all the subsequent, to put it lightly, disappointment following initial launch hype. I thought an ego-search would be sufficiently simple for it—there couldn’t be that many sources to pull from. After a few minutes, Cuil did bring back several instances where my articles have appeared on TechMeme, and once from the New York Times’ Blogrunner. A few images accompany the results, none of which are of me, one of which appears to be a female.

There’s an interesting "Explore by Category" section currently (more than a few minutes later) unclickable to see where they lead, categorizing me, interestingly, under Critics of Scientology, Investigative Journalists, American Bloggers, Scottish Premiere League Players, Villages in Illinois, and Black and White Films.

Yes, there are other Jason Lee Millers, several of them, one of them an up-and-coming young actor, who is noticeably absent from Cuil’s results. But he did change his name to Jason L. Miller noticing, I imagine, how I dominated Google under that name. Also noticeably absent from Cuil: any result from WebProNews, which would seem the most relevant.

Cuil criticism is catching on. Fark, to put it mildly, was unimpressed along with scores of other bloggers. Someone zapped me this image from Photobucket, which appears to be a Wikipedia entry popping up at some point during the day before being edited back to the more positively-spun version. Is it or isn’t it? Doesn’t matter. It expresses a rising viewpoint on the Web today, as evidenced even on Google Hot Trends, where the phrase "cuil sucks" just made the number 2 biggest gainer spot.

So far, Cuil the Google Killer is a colossal flop. Could it recover? Maybe, but it’ll probably be really hard to get all the people on board this morning to give it another shot.