Death of a Google-Killer

Two years ago, Cuil was a potential Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) killer. Today, it's dead.

TechCrunch's Michael Arrington reports that the company has shut down and sent employees home after failing to close a deal with a potential acquirer. No word on who that might have been, though I'd bet good money on Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) or Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) .

More than $30 million in venture capital will be sacrificed at Cuil's grave, with lead investors Greylock Partners, Madrone Capital Partners, and Tugboat Ventures taking the hit, according to TechCrunch's reporting.

No celebrating, please. These were willing entrepreneurs who took a shot and missed. In tech, this happens far more than any of us would care to admit. Google, in particular, hasn't been kind to competitors. Anyone else remember Alta Vista?

Created by now-defunct Digital Equipment Corp., Alta Vista was a feature-rich search system that allowed for commands to sharpen search results. Google was the Johnny-come-lately in this area.

Like Alta Vista, Cuil was also an innovator. While Google breaks the Internet into untold numbers of manageable chunks and searches an index stretching across what's estimated to be more than 1 million servers, Cuil indexed more content than its larger rival and stored it all on -- wait for it -- 150 servers.

As it turned out, scale didn't matter nearly as much as accuracy, and Google proved more precise than Cuil. And yet the company performed a service for us common investors: It forced Google to get better. Google Instant is a byproduct of competition from Cuil, other search engines, and social media services such as Twitter and Facebook.

Cuil also proved that search isn't easy technology. And while there will always be those who want to eat Google's cake, finding the right fork is a lot harder than it looks.  

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Who will be the next Cuil? Which companies will succeed where Cuil failed? Share your thoughts in the comments box below, and if you're interested in Google, click here to add it to your Foolish watchlist.

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Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Motley Fool Options has recommended subscribers open a diagonal call position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Microsoft and is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy had a nice weekend, thanks. Yours?


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  • Report this Comment On September 20, 2010, at 5:46 PM, salsurra wrote:

    I'm wondering how much longer Ask.com will be around. It seems that they just cannot pick up steam and are barely holding on. For most people, they don't even think of Ask.com as being one of the major engines, but in fact it is still in the top 5. Their last round of major advertising did almost nothing to boost their reputation, traffic, or exposure, and I don't know anyone personally who actually uses Ask.com. I think it will be a matter of time before they are either rolled into one of the big 2 or they are just gone completely.

  • Report this Comment On September 20, 2010, at 5:48 PM, fatdiesel wrote:

    I don't accept the premise of the article. A real Google killer would not only provide better search results, but would also be a master at advertising. A real Google killer would also begin to have really cool applications that would drive their users to search. To become a real Google killer, a firm must provide their users with an easier, more productive internet experience. That is something that is not easy to do and a lot of firms do not have the resources to compete.

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