Thursday, 7 August 2008

What's wrong with Cuil?

Clay Shirky threw up a tweet yesterday asking why there was so much Cuil-bashing going on. It's an interesting question. Surely a new search engine should be welcomed by those of us obsessed with social media and its close cousin search, yet cuil has been met with some fairly stiff criticism. Why?

It's hard to say exactly , but for me cuil has two fundamental problems: a seemingly overstated ability to do what it does and a marketing drive that put people's noses out of joint. Of course, cuil may not be entirely at fault here - at least in the media pronouncements about the new engine being a 'google killer'. This is most likely because Cuil have a few former Google employees on the books and sub-editors just love mentioning this.

More pointedly cuil just doesn't cut the mustard. A good number of people have reported running a search for their own name (we all did it) and being presented with a list of results showing a picture of someone from the opposite gender. Had cuil made it clear that the service is in beta (a marking which is pointedly missing from their pages) people may have been more forgiving.

This isn't to say that cuil can't evolve into something useful over time (I hope that it does) but right now, it doesn't seem quite right.

Finally, a small personal observation: the word 'cuil' itself is (according to the site's blurb) an ancient Irish term for 'knowledge'. Now, I'm Irish. I don't pretend to speak for all Paddies, but there is a certain cultural resistance amongst many of us to Irish words being appropriated for their phonetic similarity to English words in an attempt to be down with the kids. It smacks of just the sort of neo-Celtic smugness which really winds Irish people up. Frankly, it makes me think that whoever chose that name is a smug marketing prick. Sorry - knee-jerk I know, but there it is.

Anyway, here's hoping they get it right over time. And show some humility.
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