News of a search startup aiming to take down Google is something of a regular occurrence, but when Cuil (pronounced "cool") exited beta this week, the company managed to dominate mainstream and industry headlines for about a day. That was the good news. The bad news was that the product itself took a beating from a lot of web watchers.
With thousands of media outlets covering Cuil, the search engine was probably a victim of its own hype. In fact, the site even crashed soon after it went public. How 1999!
But much of the backlash is undeserved, according to SearchRev CMO Eduardo F. Llach, who says he liked the results he got from his test searches. But a happy user may not equal a Google killer, Llach says, pointing out that neither Microsoft nor Yahoo has managed to come close to toppling Google.
That was an observation shared by John Battelle, who literally wrote the book on search. Earlier this week, he told iMedia that "the complete failure of any other company to gain significant share against Google" was the most significant thing to happen since he published "The Search."
So, what should Cuil do now? Focus on the quality of their results, says Seth Dotterer of Conductor, a search consulting firm.
"Cuil came out of the gate with an index of more than 120 billion pages -- a number equivalent to more than half of the stars in our galaxy," Dotterer explains. "It's a daunting number -- and great technical achievement -- but it's not a game changer for your typical searcher. Instead, they need to focus much more on the quality of their results, both from a relevancy and freshness perspective. This is the only way to win users' attention and ultimately their loyalty."
As for the hype surrounding Cuil's debut, TechCrunch published a cheeky post -- "How to Lose Your Cuil 20 Seconds After Launch" -- slamming the company for failing to live up to the promise of being dubbed a Google killer.
How to annoy half-a-million people
Here's a recipe for a digital meltdown. Take a wildly popular widget, add a mature brand and serve on Facebook. While that should have been a win for all involved, it turned out to be a lose-lose situation, says PR guru David Seaman, who criticized Hasbro for failing to see that Scrabulous, the unauthorized version of the Scrabble board game, was a huge missed opportunity for the brand.
"When news of the takedown notice spread, protest groups with tens of thousands of members sprung up on Facebook asking Hasbro to rethink [its decision]," Seaman says. "It should have. Think about the goodwill a change of heart would have created, and the grassroots buzz. Positive stories about how Hasbro 'gets' Web 2.0. You can't buy publicity like that."
For now, Facebook users in North America (where Hasbro owns the rights to the game) will have the option of playing the official version, which has so far attracted about 15,000 users. Or, they can play a modified version of the game called Wordscraper, released Thursday.
Layoffs are never good, and rumors of layoffs -- even if they're unfounded -- can be crippling for any web company. Just ask AOL, which continues to suffer from widespread reports that its having a hard time justifying the editorial teams that crank out its empire of branded and non-branded sites.
But that fate didn't befall MySpace. When early word of performance-based firings leaked onto the web, and many were quick to ask if the Fox Interactive Media company had been forced into layoffs, Amit Kapur, MySpace's COO, swung into action. He quickly clarified the reports, pointing out that MySpace would replace the employees it was shedding, citing efficiency as the primary concern. But for those who were a little wary -- especially after a less-than-rosy financial forecast for digital this week -- MySpace had a ready-made answer in the form of more executives.
Before the story could create chaos at MySpace, Kapur and the rest of the MySpace team were ready to spin it into a tale of new blood for the company's executive ranks. In the short term, that was a minor save from MySpace (no company wants to be compared to AOL these days), but in the long run, the new hires could help the social network beat back inroads made by Facebook. Last week, Facebook failed to impress with its developer conference, leaving an opening for MySpace to get back some of its momentum, something that isn't out of the realm of possibilities with five new executives.
Finally, one story that got missed this week was a tidbit from Google. If you've ever wondered how big the web is, the team at Google has an answer -- 1 trillion. That's right, according to Google, there are 1 trillion -- and counting -- unique URLs on the web.
Michael Estrin is deputy editor at iMediaConnection.