Cuil Needs a Chill Pill

By Published on .

Iron Man
Iron Man
In this superhero-obsessed summer, it's about time everyone found an underdog to root for. In a feat as inexplicable as Tony Stark fashioning scrap metal into an Iron Man suit in an Afghan prison, Cuil.com gained almost iPhone-like levels of publicity for its launch yesterday. Yet Cuil (pronounced "cool" -- get ready for a new swath of Web 2.0 words that don't sound anything like how they're spelled) is due for a run-in with Mr. Freeze as its media mojo gets put on ice.

Google Trends, a service of Cuil's arch-enemy, calls Cuil's rise today "volcanic," but the hype will die down, and then Cuil will have to prove itself. That's not going to be easy. The top five search engines -- Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and Ask.com -- have maintained their oligopoly for years. Other mass-market search engine start-ups have fared poorly as destination sites. This won't be the case forever; all hierarchies are ultimately disrupted. If you're going to place a bet, though, the incumbents hold the cards, and they don't have term limits.

As for Cuil.com, as a search engine it's going to need to function better than it does today. The layout -- three columns with paragraphs and tabs -- takes getting used to and may actually slow down the scanning process. There are thumbnail images with the search results, but the images are sometimes wrong for at least one of the searches on a results page. Cuil does have some features for refining searches, but is that enough?

Currently, there's no advertising, though that will change in time. It took Google years to roll out AdWords; Cuil won't have that luxury. The biggest question will be whether it will have enough devoted users for campaigns to scale once the ads start appearing. The safe bet is still on Batman-esque Google, not Cuil the Ant Man.

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David Berkowitz is director of emerging media for 360i. He has written dozens of articles covering media, marketing and technology for several trade publications over the past decade. Mr. Berkowitz has spoken at Digital Hollywood, Ad:Tech, SMX, OMMA and dozens of industry events, and he blogs extensively, contributing to MarketingVox, nowEurope, AdTechBlog and others. He is frequently quoted online and in print on technology, advertising and media trends.
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