RealTime IT News

Search Engine Still 'Cuil' After Rough Launch?

Alternative search engine Cuil has Google in its sights.

MENLO PARK, Calif. -- Ironic? It's certainly a lot easier to find hot Web startup Cuil on the Web than the company behind it. Nestled off a side road in this Silicon Valley suburb, the latest Google challenger is very much still in startup mode, not even bothering to buy a sign for the outside of its headquarters.

As it happens, the 30-person firm took over the offices of something called The Institute for Research on Learning. When Cuil (pronounced "cool") took over, it simply obscured part of the sign out front so it now reads The Institute for Search.

"We thought we'd have a little fun with that," Vince Sollitto, who heads Cuil's public relations efforts, told InternetNews.com. Sollitto has firsthand experience seeing a tech startup go from nifty idea to industry juggernaut having previously worked for PayPal.

To hear Anna Patterson, Cuil's president and co-founder, tell it, Sollitto did almost too good a job in gaining big exposure in national media for Cuil's stealth rollout July 28.

"We planned to come out in August, thinking it would be a slow news cycle we'd have time to iron out any problems and pick up traffic in September," Patterson told InternetNews.com. "We thought we knew what to expect, but it was nothing like that. It was more like an iPhone launch than something from a 30-person company."

Indeed, Cuil's launch got big play in The New York Times, Reuters and elsewhere. The articles highlighted the tech cred of the company founders (including CEO Tom Costello, Patterson's husband) and the sizzle of ex-Googlers trying to outdo their former employer. But then reports in the tech press and blogosphere turned nasty. The site was down or inaccessible, and the results didn't measure up to Google and others. In a word, the launch went from PR heaven to hell in the space of a few days.

Patterson said two main issues arose that the company hadn't anticipated. First was the huge amount of traffic the first week and a bug in its caching system that incorrectly turned users away with no results. She said those issues have been resolved.

"Search is a slow growth business, and we're committed for the long haul," Patterson said.

And where does the company expect to be in five years? "In two years we'll be able to pretty well predict where we'll be in five," Patterson said. "Right now we're just a few weeks in."

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