Q&A: Cuil co-founder Tom Costello

Three months after a much-hyped launch, search engine Cuil is still chasing Google as it looks to bring more innovation into online search.

It's not the case at all that we were trying to mirror or do the same thing as other search engines. Because of that, of course, people who rely on getting a lot of traffic from search engines can be very upset to see that there is another way, another way where they do not count as the top hit.

But a lot of the complaints were from users, people who were searching and trying to find something and not being successful. I think some of that's reflected in the fact that you guys still aren't getting a huge amount of users.

We're not getting the amount of traffic that Google is, definitely. We are getting, by our own right, quite a lot of traffic.

There's no question that we really need to do the best job for our users and we need to help them find the things they are looking for. I think that obviously building a search engine is a major endeavour and of course we are definitely getting better. People are finding what they're looking for, but there's no question that search is not a finished business. We're not definitely not perfect. Search won't be perfected for a long time.

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When you launched, a lot of people excitedly described Cuil as a potential Google killer'. But as soon as you weren't able to keep up with traffic and people weren't happy with search, they were quite happy to turn on you and say that's what happens when you go up against Google, that it was hubris. Do you think it was mistake in marketing to come out that strong or was that decision even in your hands?

I had incredibly little control over what journalists write. We definitely didn't say we were a Google killer, but I have no ability to stop journalists or bloggers for that matter from saying Google killer.

Definitely, we said we were trying to do something different from Google. We definitely said yes, that we had indexed a very, very large number of pages.'

Other people tend to want to actually make it a story about oh, here's David coming along against Goliath.' And again, I think that with the story of David and Goliath, David doesn't always win on the first shot. A lot of time, people want a very quick resolution to these things.

Even when you see Google built to the kind of dominant position they have - it took them 10 years to build to that position. Search is not a business where you have overnight success. It's not a business where you change the behaviour of billions of people worldwide who use search overnight.

A lot of companies on the web prefer to do a soft launch they don't do a lot of press stuff but slowly build up a user base. You did the opposite. There was a lot of talk about investments, millions of pounds of investment, and having big names and putting out press releases do you think that was the best way to launch, especially given the traffic troubles?

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I think that there's no question, that whenever you launch a new web service, you put out a press release and you try to get people to use it. I think one of the big challenges for an awful lot of web services is that you launch them and people don't show up.

We were quite shocked by the number of people who did want to try a new search engine. There's a huge demand for people who can provide better search. I think that almost all web services when they launch the real question is how on earth do you manage to get attention, manage to drive traffic.

In some ways, we were terribly lucky that when we launched there was very little else happening in the world. Had we launched in September in the middle of the collapse of western capitalism, perhaps people would have paid less attention to us.

It was just an amazingly lucky coincidence we launched in the middle of a very dead week.

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