free html hit counter Ex Googlers Using Google Lucre to Make Google Competitor | John Battelle's Search Blog

Ex Googlers Using Google Lucre to Make Google Competitor

By - September 05, 2007

I love this. Love love love it. From TC:

The murmurs about new stealth search engine Cuill (pronounced “cool”), which were barely a whisper earlier this year, are gaining strength and are starting to reverberate through Silicon Valley gatherings…



Cuill was also founded by highly respected search experts. Husband and wife team Tom Costello and Anna Patterson were joined by Russell Power. Patterson and Power are ex-Google search experts, and Google must be fuming that their inventions were not added to Google’s intellectual property library. Costello was the founder of Xift.



Cuill met with venture capitalists, but we’re hearing that Costello and Patterson eventually self-funded the company with a $5ish million injection of capital. They now have 10-15 employees and offices in Menlo Park.

Another rumor circulating is that Google already took a shot at acquiring the company with a very healthy offer, showing that they take this potential threat seriously.

This reminds me of another stealth search startup that Google quickly acquired: Applied Semantics. Ex Googlers who rejoined, much richer. Isn’t that why Sergey started that Founders Award?!

No matter what, it’s going to be hard for Google to keep its best folks, because the grass is always green where the horses aren’t. Er, or something.

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21 thoughts on “Ex Googlers Using Google Lucre to Make Google Competitor

  1. Andrew Goodman says:

    John, can you elaborate on what you mean as to the Applied Semantics example?

  2. ste says:

    Cuill have been crawling my sites for quite a while now, and i think if they are to go mainstream they will have to change the frequency of its deep crawls as its quite a bandwidth hog.

  3. nmw says:

    So where’s the beef?

  4. JG says:

    Yeah, I agree with nmw. What’s the “killer feature” that makes Cuill different? NLP is to Powerset as what is to Cuill?

  5. SorenG says:

    The larger story I think is that we will see more ex-googlers following this path. This is just the beginning, as most people crave to go it on their own where they control their idea instead of work in-house, particularly as the Economist quoted one employee as saying that the chances of having your idea executed at Google “are basically zero.” Sure, Google can keep some people/ideas and do their best with awards, which is great, but being your own boss (instead of working for one) is a pretty strong desire.

  6. D. C. says:

    John,

    The obvious glee you take when you “love, love, love” any little setback Google experiences is unbecoming, especially considering what Google has given to you in the past.

    Go ahead and revel in schadenfreude if you wish, but for the sake of your own image you might want to tone down the mean-spirited tone in your recent blog entries.

  7. Gerald Buckley says:

    Oh, I dunno D.C., if Mr. Battelle wants to see someone finally give Google a run for their money… why not cheer on the underdog. Kinda like the Dallas Cowboys in the 70′s. I sure did like them. But, after a while I wanted the Steelers to show em what it was like to lose a SuperBowl every now and again. Just to keep em hungry and scrappy.

  8. John Battelle says:

    Glee? Sorry, I guess I was referring to my own writings, in the book and elsewhere, stating that this was going to happen. That Google was mortal, and subject to the same forces that IBM, Microsoft, and other great companies must endure.

  9. Sky says:

    I don’t see the value in another search like this. Personally I think a company like http://www.SearchEngineCorp.com hold a much better advantage in gaining users respect by bringing something of value to the search industry table.

  10. Matt Ellsworth says:

    I noticed that this spider has been crawling my site a lot – just not sure when they are actually going live…

  11. Mark says:

    It’s interesting but you know, the quality of the searches we get are pretty good now so i am not sure what the need is to bring out even better searches. It’s like the mobile phone industry. They are so sophisticated now, It’s hard to find a phone that is really good at making a phone call any more :o) What is more always better?

    Regards
    Mark

  12. geoffgo says:

    This industry is replete with “employees” leaving to start their own gigs.

    Bob Noyce, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore (and 4-5 more) founded Intel, after their employer wouldn’t listen.

    Gene of Amdahl and Ross Perot of EDS left IBM to start their own multi-$B businesses.

    I think Google’s BIG disadvantage is that many of their top people are really smart, now filthy rich (independently wealthy) and have track records of success. Moving up gets ever-harder. Add to this pool of talent that there’s huge amounts of capital sitting on the sidelines waiting-to-fund-the-next-big-thing, and Google has a retention nightmare for both the tech and management pools.

    Having been through the “feature race” in many eras (PC clones, single title software, cellphones, etc., I don’t think any new feature(s) can create a sustainable advantage. But, the package could become a target of acquisition by Yahoo or Microsoft. Both need such things, if they hope to compete.

    IIRC correctly from my marketing days, “all races are two horse races.”

    So, new search techniques emerging from ex-employees of all three, which can demonstrate traction, create an instant auction between the three ex-employers; two of whom need to be #2.

  13. JG says:

    It’s interesting but you know, the quality of the searches we get are pretty good now so i am not sure what the need is to bring out even better searches.

    Well, even Larry and Sergei, in John’s book, say that search is only 5% solved. So if the Google guys themselves believe that we still have 95% of the way to go, why would you think we should stop now?

    Frankly, what I am a bit surprised to hear is the person above who writes: the Economist quoted one employee as saying that the chances of having your idea executed at Google “are basically zero.”

    This is surprising to me. I thought Google was all about empowering employees, about letting them get their ideas out there and immediately into the hands of users, instead of just sitting on, never capitalizing on, those ideas like all the Bell Labs and Xerox PARCs of old. Are Google employees really now starting to feeling like this, like they can’t get their ideas out there, even despite Google’s intense user focus?

  14. Mike says:

    It makes a difference when a company has an arsenal of dollars. Google can wipe out its potential competitors now and in the future by using the power of the dollar.

  15. nmw says:

    Sorry: this is gonna be a LONG post.

    Interesting theories — all around (not that I would subscribe to them, but interesting in any case).

    So many people say that Google’s search engine is great. I don’t see all that much that is so special about it. Indeed, I am just now reworking a site that uses frames. It works fine on Yahoo’s search engine and Ask’s too, but for some reason it doesn’t show up on Microsoft’s Live engine and Google has pages in it’s cache that are a couple years old.

    Since we all know that Google manipulates results such as “miserable failure”, it should be quite obvious that plain & simple linked-based engines are history. And most engines still simply continue to be primarily link-based (except when they get manipulated).

    I know many more algorithms that would work equally well or better, and I look forward to when such engines will be launched. In the early days of the net, Google easily beat out the other engines — simply because back then the spam was written for the other engines/algorithms, and Google could easily work around the spam by throwing a screwball (link-based algorithms) — well, actually links have been used for “rating” documents for many years already — just ask a librarian or a university professor (btw, that is probably another reason why Google’s algorithms/engine worked quite well in the early days: they rewarded the norms used in academia — but now the spammers have “exploited” this, so there is no longer any significant advantage to simply ranking on the basis of links [and don't start pretending that Google could employ people to judge whether a link is a "good" link or a "bad" link -- what you end up with then is no longer an "algorithmic" result (which is what they have done in the case of "miserable failure" and similar "bad links" ;D)]).

    I agree with Mr. Battelle that there will definitely be a successor to Google (after all, not all cars on the street are Fords, let alone black). I’ve got some ideas myself. What is preventing such ideas from reaching the market? Now THAT is an interesting question.

    First of all, most of the Internet has been “optimized” for Google (for example: frames are normally considered to be difficult for Google to digest [as Google ranks pages singly (one by one), not groups of pages]). The term “SEO” (“search engine optimization”) may have been valid years ago, but today “SEO” is really about “optimizing for Google”. So there is alot invested in Google — not in money, but rather in content. The “miserable failure” example must have been a pretty surprising jolt for the blogosphere (insofar as it even realize what it really means), but all of those content creation costs that have been sunk into linked-based algorithms are perhaps the primary reason why there seem to be alot of stakeholders in this way of ranking websites. It’s quite amusing that people thing the top 10 results for a search that produces “about 1.74 million results” (like this one: http://www.google.com/search?as_q=miserable+failure ) would be very much better than the next 10 (or the next 100 or the next 1000 — or, if they are better, then who cares whether there are “about 1.74 million” webpages with both the words “miserable” and “failure” on them?) Incidentally, the top ten words on the top 10 Google SERP for that search are:

    22 the

    19 failure

    18 google

    17 miserable

    11 pages

    10 to

    10 similar

    9 com

    9 bush

    8 k

    Note that the term “Google” currently shows up twice as often as “Bush” (and that is due to the actual results, not the formatting of the page)!

    Then there’s the issue that other companies get bought up. I also agree with Mr. Battelle that alot of the future growth in search probably lies in vertical search (YouTube.COM was one example of this, but I think YouSomethingElse.ORG is probably not far behind). But we shouldn’t fool ourselves: search is text-based — and it will probably remain text-based (at least for the rest of this century — or in any case until we all get “beamed up” by Scotty ;).

    And Google is also very busy cementing and/or building a strong foundation to get people to put there information onto Google’s computers instead of being out in the OPEN (i.e., out on the Internet). So it is quite funny that Yahoo ranks my frame-based site in the top 10 for it’s target audience, but that Google seems to be dumbfounded and can’t seem to figure it out (indeed, the pages in Google’s cache no longer exist, so Google is actually misinforming the public with it so-called “great” engine). But I see no reason to call up Google. I don’t really WANT a personal consultant to help me, I just want a search engine that works they way I would expect it to (the way Yahoo does, and the way Google used to work before they got into the business of manipulating the results).

    Well, so anyways: If anyone wants to develop an engine, I’ve got some ideas that would be rather simple to implement — and it almost seems like there are some companies that have computers lying around which they wish could be put to use — where did I hear about that again?

    ;D nmw

  16. JG says:

    nmw: Great post! You make some very good points, esp. the ones about how there has been so much SEO optimization for Google, and how that affects the entire ecosystem.

    Almost reminds me of MS’s dilemmas around Windows. The same thing that keeps consumers locked in to Windows (the fact that consumes own too much software that runs on Windows, making it difficult to switch) also keep MS from coming out with a new OS that is too different from existing ones; they need to insure backwards compatibility.

    Could it be that Google is actually facing a similar dilemma, with searcher/SEO lock-in that both keeps them at the top of the pack, but also keeps them from innovating as much as they could? The fact that most websites are optimized for Google makes it harder for consumers to switch to a different search engine, and it makes it harder for the remaining websites not to optimize for Google. But it also it makes it harder for Google to attempt any real, significant leaps forward. Change too much, and you’ll mess up all those websites that have been optimized for your previous algorithm.

    Lock-in all around.

  17. nmw says:

    JG,

    you HIT the NAIL on the HEAD!!

    And the picture you paint is utterly bleak (WRT technological progress): We are ALL sinking in a quagmire of link-spam. I think the unspoken wisdom on the street is that currently generalized algorithmic search is obsolete (I shouldn’t be surprised — after all, I have argued for quite some time that “one-size, fits-all” is also well overdue to get scrapped).

    What is strange is the SILENCE. It almost seems like if people don’t talk about it, then no one will realize it, and the NASDAQ will stay more or less intact. The problem is: This way new / “alternative” ventures might not get going all that well (especially if 9/10 people believe that everything is “hunky dory” WRT search). GOOG has moved more or less sideways for about a year and a half now, and it almost seems like whats “supporting” the price is *hype* (I think I recall some people mentioning at last year’s 2.0 that “search is broken” — meaning, of course: Google…. — has anything changed in the past 12 months? [that's a rhetorical question which you've already answered with you final summary]).

    So if the web is not supposed to drop into an EMPTY abyss, then alternatives have to be developed. And I think Mr. O’Reilly’s concept of how development needs to involve users is already happening in some “baby steps” (e.g. Facebook as a new framework being built up by the people who use it) Perhaps (?) users have also been involved in the development of applications for other “platforms”.

    I think the crux of the matter is that the *FINDING* mechanism is beginning to crumble under the weight of MMUGO (massively multiplayer universality of Google optimization). New methods of search (or at least: navigation) need to be developed — or else online will be “out”.

    What I’ld like to hear about from others is whether they think this requires a new business model, or whether it might even mean returning to earlier business models, or perhaps whether the current business model could simply be replicated a dozen or a hundred or even a thousand times (but certainly not a googol times ;) — and thereby putting the entire online industry on a more “stratified risk” foundation. For example: Is Federated Media an example of a “new model”, and “old model”, a “replicated model”,… — or SOMETHING ELSE?

  18. JG says:

    What is strange is the SILENCE. It almost seems like if people don’t talk about it, then no one will realize it, and the NASDAQ will stay more or less intact.

    Well, I’ve been saying things like this on this blog for at least a year and a half, now. And I have been saying similar things, offline, to friends and colleagues, since late 2002/early 2003. Google’s approach to all things “search” and “relevance” raises many interesting paradoxes, almost none of which ever get talked about in any mainstream way.

    So I agree with you; the silence is deafening. Which is tragic, because it is not like Google is a bad company. They do many great things. But combine the obvious Google-silence around issues like search lock-in, with an unknowing (at best) or apathetic (at worst) public, and you’re right: I don’t see a lot of prospect for change or advancement. Things like Universal Search are relative placebos compared to the kinds of things they could be doing.

    How long has Microsoft been at the top of the consumer OS pack? Long time. Google has the potential for a similar lengthy tenure in search.

    What the effect of all this is on business models, I couldn’t tell ya. Not my area of expertise. What I will tell you, and this is like the fourth time I have said this on this blog, was that in 1999ish, whenever it was that Google started showing their first AdWords ad, I wrote to Google and told them that I would pay them a monthly subscription if they would just keep their site ad free.

    I think ads lock you into a certain innovation model that is difficult to break out of. You cannot introduce new features that interfere with the ads, or you shoot yourself in the foot. On the other hand, if Google had been supported by subscriptions since 1999, their monetary impetus would be coming from the users, the subscribers, rather than the advertisers. There would be a lot more willingness to try new things, because you at least would not have the advertiser component of the current lock-in.

  19. nmw says:

    Well, I can shoogle wit dat info! ;D

    Why not try it? The main reason USED TO BE that users got ANTSY about big brother scenarios. Is anybody worried today? Just the other day I was chatting with some guy on some site EXPECTING to be monitored (look at it as a sort of UGHelpline) — and miraculously: the problem was fixed when we got done! ;D

    So why not make link-based search a subscription service? Load it up with banner ads for the poor folks and for the others with money to spare: squeeze their — um… — wallets! “For each/every $1 per month, you can block 1 banner ad (and of course we’re going to open an ad agency, too — or at least a consulting firm). For $X per month, you get a completely ad-free service (and rest assured: the upper limit on X is probably no higher than 1 googol).”

    Is this a business model? Can anybody “get rich quick” with this idea? I don’t see why not (any then we would at least have an alternative — perhaps more reliable — engine). But I don’t think so: I think THE LINKS THEMSELVES are kaputt (or at the very least they are no longer the “KILLER metric” they were [and perhaps to some degree still are] in ACADEMIA).

  20. nmw says:

    Want another idea? How about selling screen names? If anyone (especially people with a good command of the Polish language) want to co-develop this idea, maybe we could do something with słowo.com and/or słowa.com (and/or similar domains)…

    Just brainstorming, really — I’m not VERY serious (just a LITTLE bit ;)…

    ;D nmw

  21. nmw, below is just a few of the many reasons why a SE may not want to index framed pages:
    1. hated by users so why include a page in the results that most users will back out of the minute they see the abomination load!
    2. in the past frames have been used to spam
    3. Yahoo! likely indexes them because their dumb as a fencepost crawler dosn’t realize it’s indexing an HTML abomination!
    4. I have never seen a page that couldn’t be built to have the same functionality as frames without using frames. It just takes a litle initiative by the author. With Div having scrolling functonality and JS to populate page areas it seems frames are just the result of lazy uninspired design so why reward it given all the above?

    When the next best thing comes along they will be just as susceptible to all pages being optimized for them because it’s inevitable that this happens. Just like it was inevitable that SEO’s would buy links to manipulate PR, that’s what we are paid to do and figure out. Yahoo! even though it was a directory and near impossible to manipulate did succumb when it started parsing – as space. That is just the nature of the SEO mindset. There were also descriptions etc. written specificaly to eploit its alphanumeric ordering.

    John, the bottom line is that even if they have the next best thing they still have to monetize it for it to be viable. It will be quite some time before anyone comes close to matching the advertising platform G has developed. Sure they can team up with one of the others but then they’ll hav the best search with the worst ad platform. All the others are equally inept and a pain to use.

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