Life at Cuil: strawberries, muffins and porn

Matthew Sparkes
31 Jul 2008

A new search engine launched this week, prompting a surprisingly huge response online. To be honest, I was just as guilty of getting excited as anyone else.

Whether it was the David-versus-Goliath appeal of a tiny startup going up against a company that can boast to be both a household name and a verb, or whether it was the pure controversy - several Cuil engineers have come directly from Google, after all - I don’t know. But one thing looks certain; we want the search monopoly to be toppled.

However, while the same level of attention remains today, the tone is far different from the hopeful news stories surrounding its launch. Now bloggers are complaining, a lot.

Social bookmarking sites are littered with screenshots of empty search result pages, for terms that really should throw up the odd link; “Iraq war” for example (since fixed, for me at least), “Cobol” (ageing, yes, but I’m sure I’ve seen mention of it online somewhere before…) and “student loan” (which sadly do exist, I should know).

It is early days, admittedly, but as soon as you officially launch you open yourself up to analysis and ridicule. The complaints are valid, too; these results certainly don’t seem to be on a par with Google, and for an underdog to succeed it needs to not only match, but surpass the market leader.

Some of the complaints are extremely serious – with pornographic images popping up on search results, out of context, and even with the safe search feature turned on. If you can’t trust the site for use at work, or by your kids, how much will it actually get used?

There are also worrying problems with Cuil as a business. It obviously doesn’t have the same sort of cash behind it that Google does, but how long it will actually hang on to its meagre $25 million investment?

Sarah Carey, The Sunday Times columnist, also works for Cuil, and recently posted on her personal blog about how quickly the company is burning through this VC cash. The post has since been removed, but thanks to Google’s caching feature (not available on Cuil), the post can still be read here.

“I have a secret life. You may know me as a domesticated, rural housewife and while this is true, for the past year I have also tasted the life of an international software executive,” says Carey, before going on to describe day-to-day life at Cuil.

“Lunch is ordered in every single day. Huge fridges burst with snacks and drinks. Bowls of strawberries and muffins lie around the rest area. The company pays for a personal trainer and gym membership for everyone. A doctor calls round each Friday, after the weekly barbeque, to see if everyone’s in good health. Employees drift in an out at times that suit themselves,” she continued, before temporarily expressing worry about the spending.

So she confronted her boss. “This was disastrous! His company would never succeed if he wasted money like this and didn’t crack the whip. He laughed. This is the way it works out here. You have to be nice to people. I summoned up the audacity to ask for business class travel and was granted it without hesitation. Knowing the cost of the ticket was over €2000, which is about $5 million given the current exchange rate,” showing that her problem with the overspending, forgivably, was short-lived.

I'll watch Cuil with interest, but would I invest? No.

Thanks to riza for the photograph.

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