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Cuil: Why I'm trying to get off of the PR bandwagon…

Sarah Lacy, tech journalist for Business Week, has a post that demonstrates well why I am really trying to get off of the PR bandwagon.

See, on Sunday night a ton of blog posts all went up. Most of which were pretty congratulatory and hopeful that there was a “Google competitor.” Tech journalists desperately want there to be a competitor to Google. Why? Monopolies are boring to cover. The best tool a story teller has is when there’s conflict. I like to tell people this world is just like high school. Think back to high school.

In your high school, did anyone talk about the geeky kid who stayed after school to build a science fair project? In my school, which had lots of geeky kids, no, not usually. But if there was a fight in the quad would everyone talk about the fight for days afterward? Yes.

Journalists thrive off of conflict. That’s why we want a competitor to Google so badly and why we play up every startup that comes along that even attempts to compete with Google.

The problem is that competiting head on with Google is not something that a startup can do.

Let’s say someone really comes out with a breakthrough idea in search (which would be a feat all on its own, since Microsoft and Yahoo are spending tons of engineering time trying to find something breakthrough too). If they got all the hype that Cuil did (NPR and CNN played it up, not just tech bloggers) and people really liked it, they would spread it around like wild fire.

Do you have any clue about the infrastructure that Google has in place to handle the kind of scale that it sees? Try half a million servers. Half a million!!!

Think about that. How much money does that take to build out? Hint: a lot more than $30 million that was invested in Cuil.

So, Cuil set itself up for a bad PR result in the end. Either it wouldn’t meet the expections (which is what happened after people started testing it) or it would fall over and fail whale like Twitter has been for the past few months (because it wasn’t built to handle the scale).

Notice that other search companies don’t build up their PR like that. Mahalo never says it’s going to be a Google Killer, just that it’s going to do some number of searches better. In fact, Mahalo uses Google on its own pages.

Why PR works and why I want off

Note that Lacy said she wasn’t pre-briefed on Cuil (Techcrunch says that the company briefed every tech blogger and kept them from trying the service before release). That’s not true: I wasn’t briefed, either. But now, go back and look at the TechMeme rankings. Were either my post (which was harsh, but fair, but published several hours after the original wave of PR-briefed bloggers and journalists) or Lacy’s on there? No.

See, if you want to earn links and attention in this world you’ve got to be first, or at least among the first articles to go out. I’ve seen this time and time again. I call it the Techmeme game.

But it affects Digg and Reddit and FriendFeed, too. The stories that got discussed the most on those were usually among the first crowd.

I guess what I’m really saying is that I’m going back to what makes me passionate. I don’t get passionate when reading a press release, or listening ot some executive on a conference call (I was dragged onto one of those the other day and I stopped it mid-stream, saying, “can I come and see you face-to-face?”)

I also find that I’m getting back to reading my Google Reader feeds, looking for other people who are truly passionate about technology or business and who are looking for innovative approaches to either.

There’s a TON of interesting blogs there that never will get to Digg or Techmeme. Same thing over on FriendFeed. Lots of interesting stuff being discussed on the Internet that never will get the “Cuil” treatment, but is worth your checking out.

For instance, I’m just over the top about Evernote. How did I miss that for so long? Funny that a PR team brought me that, too. So, sometimes this game DOES work out, but note that I didn’t try to be first to get Evernote, I just kept seeing it getting praise from the bloggers I read.

Anyway, help us all get off the PR bandwagon. What are you passionate about? If you could go anywhere in the world and meet with any geek, executive, or company, who would it be?

What are you finding is bringing real value to your life? Hey, even go outside the tech industry. Is there something we should all be checking out and giving as much attention to as we’re giving to Cuil?