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'Google-killer' Cuil launch fails to impress

Search engine dogged by scathing reviews

It appears that Cuil, which launched yesterday amid claims it has the world's largest search index, is not performing as well as its creators, former Google employees, intended. Instead it's facing an angry backlash which could result in long-term damage to its title as a credible contender for Google's crown.

The Cuil site had performance and availability problems throughout yesterday, and a growing chorus of search market observers has declared the engine's results to queries as unimpressive.

In addition, the site has launched with only a web search engine, at a time when it's considered a basic requirement for any search engine with aspirations of competing against Google to have at least some basic vertical search tabs for news articles, photos, maps and local business information.

Without the ability to collate general search results with photos, news articles, the increasingly popular video files and mapping information, a search engine is unable to provide the type of 'universal' search results that have become de riguer and that Google now consistently delivers.

In short, what looked like a successful public-relations launch is backfiring because the product has failed to meet the lofty expectations that it created.

Backed by reputable investors that have reportedly invested $33m (£16.5m), Cuil will now have to go into damage control instead of riding the early momentum, and hope that end-users and industry observers will give it another chance once it works out its kinks.

"First impressions count a lot," said industry analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence, who on Monday morning was unable to give Cuil a thorough test because of the site's performance problems.

While Cuil could become an interesting alternative to Google and the other major search engines, that will take some time. In hindsight, it might have been wiser for Cuil's management to launch the site more quietly and give themselves time to improve it, Sterling said.

Instead, by making a big, noisy media splash, they gave themselves little room for error. "This much media coverage creates high expectations," he said.

Indeed, Cuil came out with an in-your-face attitude, claiming to have the largest web index of any search engine: 120 billion web pages, which Cuil states is "three times more than any other search engine". It was a point that its officials made in interviews with media outlets prior to Monday's debut.

But the site seemed unable to handle some softball, straight-forward queries. For example, a search for 'barack obama' returned on the first page of results mostly links to different pages of Obama's official site, hardly useful if one is looking for a variety of sites on the presidential candidate. A search for 'St Louis, MO' initially returned zero results.

NEXT PAGE: Is Cuil's unusual name holding the search engine back?

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