It often seems like there’s zero correlation between how much a technological innovation matters and how much press it receives.
Take Cuil, for example. The search engine’s launch was such a spectacular flameout that it may well go down as a verb. “What happened to that Eddie Murphy movie that was supposed to win him an Oscar?” “It came and went — it got totally Cuiled.”
In the first six months of the year, Google Blog Search found 78 English-language mentions of “Cuil,” most having nothing to do with the search engine. From July 1 to July 25, there were 56 mentions. On Saturday the 26th, there were three. The first news hit on Sunday when Cuil got 86 mentions. Then on Monday, there were over 10,000 posts, and on Tuesday and Wednesday, another 8,600 combined. By September, we’ll read stories headlined, “Whatever happened to Cuil?”
One question that I kept wondering about Cuil is whether consumers need another search engine. Perhaps here the model of network TV will take hold. A few dominate for a long time; after a while, another may come along and gain traction (think Fox); then there’s room for dozens of other smaller properties to achieve success (cable). Changing search engines may be as easy as flipping channels, but consumers are in no rush to make a switch.
Do we need another search engine? There’s plenty of room for improvement, as evinced by semantic search challenges that Hakia, True Knowledge, and Powerset (acquired by Microsoft) are all addressing. The vertical and specialty engines are too numerous to name. Yet for most everyday searches, consumers seem content with the existing engines, and especially with the one most use.
What about other forms of technology and media?
Virtual Worlds: I love the potential for Second Life and its vision, but most people don’t know what to do with it, and it’s way too cumbersome. Google’s new world Lively is cute but also doesn’t provide anything beyond avatars and a chat room. There are some worlds that work; I’ve met with some of the team at Gaia Online, and their virtual world /gaming /social network hybrid model is an engagement magnet with room for brands to join. The concept of virtual worlds should impact a range of consumer and business applications, and some worlds will at least grow to the size of small nation-states.
Social Networks: In the U.S., there’s MySpace, Facebook, and, quick, name the third largest. It depends on how you define it. Classmates, Reunion, MyYearbook, Bebo, Club Penguin, and others can all stake claims, and plenty have a sizable audience, but there’s no clear third-place winner. The two most popular activities on MySpace and Facebook are communicating and screwing around — but in a social way (like poking and mouse hunting), so it’s important for a couple to scale. Tons of others then can hold their own as tools, niche communities, temporary hangouts, local meeting posts, and other means.
Web Browsers: I tried using Flock for awhile, with its social media features built in, and then I gave it up the day Firefox 3 came out. Flock has since emerged with a pink Gloss Edition for fashion and gossip lovers. Then there are 3D browsers such as SpaceTime and AT&T’s Pogo . With all the add-ons available for Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari, outside developers keep improving the browsing experience for consumers, limiting the need for something entirely new.
Mobile Phones: The iPhone’s here. Can everyone else retire now? Please don’t. Consumers want an even faster mobile Web browser, a longer lasting and replaceable battery, a pull-out keyboard, gigs and gigs of upgradable storage, scratch resistance, endless customizability, and operability on every carrier. Yes, we need another phone.
Microblogging Platforms: Along with Twitter, there’s Plurk, Tumblr, Pownce, and Jaiku (owned by Google), to name a few. We do need one that works reliably with a critical mass of users. Microblogging would benefit tremendously from Twitter surviving, since marketers are just getting familiar enough with Twitter to know they don’t get it, and that’s a great start. Once there’s a fully functioning proof of concept, then the competition can ratchet up.
It’s hard to find the line between innovation and supersaturation. Even if Cuil worked perfectly, it would have a hard time convincing consumers they need a new search engine, but there’s untold opportunity in categories not yet defined.