Like many others, I tried out the much hyped pretender to Google's throne yesterday. It worked reasonably well for me but it looks like there's been an almost instant backlash to Cuil's claims of search superiority because of technical issues. Unfortunately these reports highlight problems with the inherent design of Cuil as much as being the result of so many people trying out the new service on its first day.
Cuil looks like becoming an object lesson in how PR should be used to manage expectations when a new product or service is launched. In this case it appears that the opportunity to control the hype wasn't applied as rigorously as it should have been. There is always a risk that the raw enthusiasm for new technology can overbalance sound judgements about a product launch. This is especially true of a search engine service for which the basic expectations are that it is BETTER than Google; and that it works. The core of the problem can lie in how PR and marketing interact and sometimes don't properly communicate.
So why did they go for a full blown, all singing and dancing launch? The beleagered Cuil spokesperson makes a good point that launching the service with a beta tag wouldn't have stopped the criticism either.
The solution? It's a hard call. There's been many touted challengers to Google and none has really shone. But we think the media wants to see a serious alternative to Google. Don't forget Google came out of the blue too (anyone remember how Alta Vista turned ever one's heads once upon a time not many years ago?). So there is a deep well of support and goodwill.
So Cuil can turn it around? The answer is maybe but they need to respond fast which to their credit they're doing. Going forward inject a little more realism into the PR machine. Maintain open relations with the media. Invite bloggers for briefings and updates. Demonstrate a sense of humour and quietly start to get it right.
But are there second chances in Web 2.0/Pr 2.0 launches? Well that'll be the most interesting outcome of the whole debacle. So let's see where Cuil's reputation sits in six months time. Hero or Zero? Dud or Dude?