What better way to generate a buzz about your new website than to give it a name that sounds exactly like the most overused word in Silicon Valley?

Cuil (pronounced “cool”), which launched on Monday, is nothing if not ambitious: the site aims to challenge Google‘s dominance as an internet search tool. Cuil’s main selling point – discreetly referenced on the by-now de rigeur minimalist homepage – is that it reaches parts of the web Google does not, indexing 122bn internet pages, perhaps three times the amount covered by its larger rival.

Cuil’s launch suffered from the usual error messages and time-outs you might expect with a new site. While web-surfers regard such wrinkles as uncool, Cuil has more profound challenges. It is relevance that counts on a search engine, not size. A quick test on Monday morning demonstrated this. Plugging “Cuil” into the new site brought back a link to properties for sale in County Sligo, Ireland, as its top result (Cuil is Gaelic for ‘knowledge’, apparently). Over on Google, the top four results all referenced the big topic of the day, the new upstart.

There may well be a law of diminishing returns at work here – for most web surfers, an index of 40bn sites is probably more than enough. Another law concerns catching up to internet leaders. Google’s dominant market share in search, backed with a market capitalisation of $151bn, will always tempt new wannabes. Cuil’s approach, emphasising efficient use of network hardware, privacy and content over popularity in ranking results, is interesting. But start-ups have a better chance when attacking Google in areas where it is weaker, such as in mobile or foreign language search. In contrast, mounting a serious challenge head-on, to dislodge established web-surfing habits and, importantly, advertising relationships, requires heroic levels of determination, innovation and capital – just ask Microsoft.

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