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The Audacity of Tom Costello (Part 7)

Posted on Tuesday, Jan 13th 2009

SM: If I were planning a trip to Ireland, where would Cuil take me?

TC: I would hope we would take you to the more interesting places and to the path less traveled. My parents run a bed and breakfast north of Dublin. Everyone lands at Dublin and goes south. A summer would go by and we would not see a single tourist. Much of that is because the immigrants to the United States came from the poor parts of Ireland in the south and the west.

SM: You are hoping to be the more eclectic search engine?

TC: Exactly. I want to give people a sense of what is actually out there. You can take a package tour of India where they will show you the Taj Mahal, but they will not show you the real India.

SM: I get what you are trying to do. My blog goes very deep into content, and I do not focus on gaining a lot of links. If I did focus on links, I could increase organic traffic.

TC: I would hope we would show your blog over link-heavy, content-light blogs. Just because McDonald’s sells more hamburgers does not mean they sell the best hamburgers. We would like to be a more interesting restaurant and do more interesting things with cooking. People who start a restaurant all start hoping to create a great restaurant, not create a restaurant which has “1 Billion Served.”

SM: Where are you in terms of go-to-market?

TC: We launched with a lot of press, which gave us a lot of traffic. Right now it is growing steadily.

SM: What are the numbers?

TC: We do not track IP addresses or people’s personal information. I would say we get 500,000 searches a day. That is terribly tiny in the realm of search engines. That means we are serving millions of people each week. Because search monetizes well, it would monetize with a significant amount if we were doing that. We certainly have a good base to grow it.

SM: Rather than going out too quickly with mediocre results, it gives an opportunity to do a constrained experiment and figure out what you are doing right and wrong.

TC: It is a great way to do that, and it is not necessarily a small experiment.

SM: Is there something I should have asked you but didn’t?

TC: Privacy is a strange thing and something I have always been careful with. There is a flip side to it. Privacy can come across as having something to hide, but that is not necessarily the case. There is a reason people have curtains, and it is not because they are doing anything wrong behind them. Privacy is a nice thing to have.

SM: I agree with you, but I think you have an old-fashioned value system.

TC: There is a danger that privacy will wake up after we have given up too much. This is especially true as companies get larger and spread into other things. If the company only did one thing that may not bug you, but when the company suddenly starts doing plenty of other things you may begin to worry about your privacy. I would hate to see your credit score affected by the searches you did on a search engine.

SM: I think your instincts are European instincts. I have similar instincts in general and am appalled by what people put on Twitter.

TC: There will always be people who want to live in public. Twitter is a very strange thing to me. I think it is very niche. It has taken off with the set of people who want to be those types of people. Perhaps I am just out of touch, but it could be less than 10% of people. I think the general run of humanity does not have that level of exhibitionism.

SM: Exhibitionism is not a natural tendency, and very few people probably have it.

TC: I think Twitter has that. There are always some people who need to be noticed. Twenty years ago they would have been dyeing their hair blue and putting safety pins through their noses. I don’t think it is people at their best. You can do better writing in other media.

SM: Great. I look forward to tracking how you progress.

This segment is part 7 in the series : The Audacity of Tom Costello
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