Note to Cuil: Read My Columns!

Cuil was introduced when I had other things on my mind, namely trying to jam 2 months of work into 2 weeks so I could take my family on a long vacation to Europe. So I didn’t get a chance to caste my jaundiced eye on the much touted Google killer that has so resoundingly flopped since it’s introduction. That’s too bad, because I could have saved everyone a lot of time. I don’t care how “cuil” the technology is in the background, from a search user perspective, Cuil is a disaster!

For the past several months, I’ve been writing on MediaPost and Search Engine Land about inherent human behaviors and how they play out on search. I’ve talked about the limits of working memory, information foraging theory, how we pick up scent, how we navigate the results page, how we respond to images versus text, how we’ve been conditioned to search by habit and how what we read on the results page connects with our unexpressed intent in our minds. Cuil fails miserably on all counts. It frustrates the hell out of me that people don’t pay attention to the basic rules of human behavior. If the founders of Cuil had read our eye tracking reports, read Pirolli and Card’s information foraging theory, read any of my posts or blogs or read any post by Bryan or Jeffrey Eisenberg or Jakob Nielsen, millions of dollars of VC funding, thousands of hours of development time and a lot of actual and virtual ink could have been saved. Unless Cuil completely revamps their interface, they’re doomed to failure.

Cuil completely disregards the conditioned patterns we use to navigate results pages. This is a risk, but an acceptable one. You can change things up, but you better damn well deliver when you do. All Cuil delivers is confusion. It’s almost impossible to pick up scent. The eye is dragged all over the page because there’s no logical presentation. Functionality is ambiguous, not intuitive. The mix of images and text does nothing to establish relevance. Perceived relevance of the SERP is nil. If I would have looked at this a few months ago, I would have predicted that users would try it once because of the hype, been mildly intrigued by the look but found it almost unusable, quickly beating a path back to Google. I didn’t need to do eye tracking. A quick glance at the results page was all I needed. Unfortunately, because my mind was on the French Alps rather than the latest Google killer, my first glance was 3 months delayed and my would-be brilliant prediction just sounds like “me-too” hindsight.

Ah well..

For others that have Google in their sights, a word of advice. Mix up the search business..shake the hell out of it. It’s time. Come up with a better algorithm, blow up the results page and see where it lands, jolt the user out of their conditioned behavior. By all means, take millions in eager VC capital and reinvent the game. It’s way past time. But please, don’t ignore the fact that humans are humans and there will always be certain rules of thumb and strategies we operate by. You can destroy the paradigm, but you can’t change generations of inherent behavior. Cuil never bothered to learn the rules. That’s going to cost them.

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