Cuil's 3 big mistakes

It's Gaelic for "trainwreck." The launchpad implosion of Cuil on Monday is a lesson for startup founders. Cuil had a solid hook: A search engine with more pages than Google, built at a fraction of the cost. But by Tuesday, Cuil was The Little Search Engine that Couldn't. What did they do wrong? I can't believe I'm saying this, but the company would have done better with a more traditional product launch — the kind that usually bores me stiff. Here's what they missed:

1. No advance training of the media. Companies often give select reporters early access to a new site, and give them a few days to play with it. They answer questions and guide reviewers toward flattering examples. Some also develop concise, step-by-step reviewer's guides. I used to throw those away, until I encountered an Apple guide to iLife that told me important things about the new version that I'd never have figured out on my own. Cuil did what's called a "pre-briefing" with an impressive roster of writers, but "didn’t allow anyone to actually test the search engine before the launch," according to TechCrunch. Result: No one had any really good Cuil searches to talk about.

2. "Cuil is the Gaelic word for knowledge." No, it's not. It means a corner or recess, or the back part of something. It's not even a word by itself. The Gaelic cùl with an added i becomes the genitive case. Cùil needs to go with another word, as in the town name Cùil Raithin, or "Ferry Corner." Further undermining the story: Cuil had two l's in its name a week ago. See the logo above, forwarded by a trusted tipster who got a preview. Result: The real geeks — people who look stuff up in hardbound books and are fussy about factual accuracy — have set the bozo bit on anything the company says.

3. All talk, no rock. Cuil had a pitch no one could ignore: Three times as many Web pages as Google! But Cuil's search results don't support the claim. They should have listed 25 — no, let's make it 101 searches for which Cuil beats Google's first page. Instead, the battle of Cuil versus Google was fought at the phony press-release level. Cuil founders said they had 120 billion pages. Google publicists, alerted to the competitor's plans, claimed 1 trillion URLs the Friday before Cuil's launch. Result: Devoted Google users read about Cuil, but didn't come away with a compelling reason to give it a chance.