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The Audacity of Tom Costello (Part 6)

Posted on Monday, Jan 12th 2009

SM: That is your hypothesis, which is fine. I think there are vertical search cases which have broken out of the pack and been very successful.

TC: I do think vertical search works. There is no question that in places people can manage to get themselves established as an idea. I think that those brands work not because people work out a general area and search it out. They don’t go “OK, I am now going to do a travel search. Who is a good travel search vertical?” They think of Kayak as a better way of starting off. Kayak has managed to make themselves as a better way of doing things.

SM: The experience is far superior. I tried to do a travel search and it was a complete disaster. If I try to do a job search on Google it is a horrible experience.

TC: It is not that vertical search is search in a particular domain, it is a different experience than search. It is the experience of interacting in a different way. People do not think of going to eBay as search, yet much of eBay’s value proposition is its search engine. It is not a search engine, at least people do not think of it as a search engine, they think of it as an activity.

People are very grounded. They can understand the activity of going to eBay and looking around. That is analogous to going into a rummage sale. That is something people get. Giving people different mentalities they can start from, especially if they are concrete, is going to be very powerful.

SM: My thesis is Google’s big weakness is the vertical search domain. There is superior user experience in the big user domains such as travel, jobs and other big activity verticals. Verticals are doing very well there and are building superior user experiences. Your algorithm is actually taking the concept of constrained domain search, so it sounds like you are actually doing vertical search from an implementation point of view. The question is then, what is the user experience you are going to offer to the external world?

TC: One of the reasons Google has fallen behind is because when people go to Google they go with one thing in mind: to do search. When Google builds another property it suffers because people come to Google with a search mentality. They have not established a different brand, mentality or way of thinking.

If you are going to have a good product it has to be one way of thinking about how it works. The way eBay is, you think of it as a way to go to a jumbo sale. Google is where you go to search. That is why Froogle was hurt by its association with Google. If it had pulled off and been a separate property, it could have done much better. That is why we are trying so hard to give people a different way of looking.

SM: What is the positioning of Cuil given where we are?

TC: We are trying to give people a sense of being able to see what information is out there. We are trying to give a sense of perspective and a sense of exploration. Google simplified the web when they said “type something in and look at the top three results”. People needed the web simplified in the beginning.

Now a lot of people have found the web has grown smaller. They are going fewer places and are seeing fewer websites. When you go to Google, Yahoo! or others you tend to get pushed to the same places. We want to give people a way to explore ideas and the concepts related to those ideas. We want them to see how those ideas are connected to other things. We also want to bring people new websites.

Wikipedia is a wonderful resource, but I don’t think you should look something up in an encyclopedia. You have to go somewhere else. Going to Wikipedia is a sign of weakness because it means you could not find the actual source, something real and authentic.

This segment is part 6 in the series : The Audacity of Tom Costello
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