To Next Cuil

Cuil, another so-called Google killer, is at its last gasp. I just knew it. I am not predicting present. Cuil is not the first one, and apparently not the last. For upcoming cuils, here are my words.

Brand. Brand. Brand.

For many people, word of Google has close sentimental connection with bunch of splendid words such as cool, innovation, unselfish, impartial, revolution, and powerful, etc… With brand, Google claims that “People don’t work at Google for the money. They work at Google because they want to change the world!”. With brand, debut of Google’s every new service always arouses buzzes, but seldom notices that Live also has compelling equivalence. With brand, people think only Google can provide best results, but often they can’t tell who is search provider when presented anonymous results set. It is very interesting to take a look at curve of Cuil’s daily unique visitors:

Curl's Daily Unique Visitors

At launch momentum, people rushed to see what this Google killer looks like because of Google’s brand. Ridiculous? Not actually. It is everyone’s inherent attributes as people love to check out events of small probability such as Shoes thrown at Bush, one crazy million-dollar idea. As part of branding strategy, naming is essential. Cuil might not a good name actually. Let me share a story of mine. Back to several years ago, a group of my friends decided to build a website aimed to provide 3rd service for franchising, called JiaMeng in Chinese. The guys with solid academic management background came with the domain name of It turned out a real trouble – hard to explain to customers, not localized. Even ordinary college students don’t know the word franchise, not to mention clients with much less schooling. So, for Chinese is much better than if you take a look at average education level of internet users. All in all, BRAND works like religion, and it takes lifetime to build.

Brand -> prouducts

"A Google approach to email" - see how brand helps product marketing.


 GFS. BigTable. MapReduce. They can be competitive advantages. With these put in place, Google can roll out new internet services faster, cheaper, and at scale at few others can compete with. They are designed solely for Internet services. Users quit quickly after dissatisfied performance experience in Cuil. Microsoft software is mainly for an enterprise, supporting 100K concurrent users is “good enough”, but it is far more perfect in internet scenario.

Understand/Repsect Customers

There is no one-size-fits-all solution given the growingly diversified market. Of course you can educate customers, but never expect to change their inherent attributes coming from culture/history/economic development level. If you doubt this claim, check out this article: Search site moves at the speed of China, which reports, “But appreciating such cultural differences is what Inc.’s chief financial officer, Shawn Wang, says gives the Chinese search giant unique insight into the country’s 1.3 billion people as it competes with American rivals such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.” As a result:

Baidu beats Google in China market


Per Wikipedia, culture means the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group. Google’s business is built on top of internet, so its organization/knowledge base is built for the internet, just like Microsoft is built for software, mainly enterprise software. I met strong feature PM with deep knowledge needed for enterprise software, say reporting, admin UI, DB admin UI, and information work flow. They understand their customers so much after years of interactions with them. It takes time to accumulate. Top-down hierarchy, heavyweight development process, years of in-house development can hardly catch up with the pace of internet evolution. The same thing is applied to Google – I am equally not optimistic if Google step into enterprise software because of the same reason – culture, enterprise’s DNA.

Web Competition Strategy

What is Cuil’s selling point? (1) Fancy UI. UI is critical for adoption and usage, but it hardly provides a moat. This is provided by two case studies of Apple computer of the nineties and the “X window” system on *nix OS. Both these systems with more attractive UI couldn’t beat windows OS with lower cost and rich applications available. (2) More relevant result. This is an ambiguous area which lacks of widely accepted measure criteria. (3) Cheaper solution. There is a question of sunk cost, of course you can claim you are 1/10 cheaper once reaching Google’s current scale. None of these is compelling from users’ point of view. Why do users bother to go to your site instead? One of the significant differences between web service (say, search) and traditional software business(say, DB) is purchasing decision making process. DB vendors can send to salesmen to target customers’ office and argue the deal. Only quite a few key persons have the final call. They are more analytical, love data. As comparison, everyone can be customers of search, we are more emotional. If I don’t miss anything, looks like the best strategy to monetize Cuil is to be acquired by Google.

No chance to win in search?

Definitely No. But you are doomed to fail if following essential parts are missed:

  1. Remember brand. Remember “winners take all”.

  2. Build your DNA towards internet. DNA = SUM(people, team arch, process, knowledge, …)

  3. Put infrastructure in place. This is the way to help turn your idea into profitable traffic. Not scale-up, scale-out instead.

  4. One thumb rule to compete with dominant market leader

    • Avoid playing games whose rules are set by opponents. You can hardly win. In this case, better search engine defined by Google are faster, relevant results, simple UI, magic algorithm, PB of data, … Let us think of solving same problems with different approaches. Why search? Help explore and share information. If someone tries to solve this problem by following Yahoo’s tail light to build yet another portal, he has little change to take off. Another example is download - P2P technology solved the download problem without adding more expensive servers/bandwidth.

    • Attack opponents’ weak points. Google is designed to search everything, but it may not be good at all vertical industries, say shopping. Nibble at its market share if we can’t win in head-to-head way.

  5. Before rolling up sleeves, why we have to win? Why not step away and go find next big thing? Let Google be Google.

Comments (3)
  1. Anonymous says:

    You have a link to Curl at when you seem to mean Cuil

    Thomson Reuters just bought – who do not advertise their big clients.

    Saying Curl is dead is like saying Smalltalk is dead without visiting J.P. Morgan derivatives trading.  Or saying PROLOG is dead because you are unaware of …

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Bill,

    You have confused Curl and Cuil.  

    Curl in an Enterprise RIA platform that competes with Adobe AIR and Microsoft Silverlight. We are doing quite well thank you.  

    You should fix the link in your post to point to

    Thanks, Richard Treadway

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