IT WAS not the sort of do-it-yourself activity that Castorama, a French home-improvement chain, usually promoted. The search engine on the firm’s website started offering customers puerile responses to their inquiries. Its auto-complete text function suggested such intriguing products as a “bollock hammer” or “cock sander”. It also returned offensive anti-Semitic phrases. The firm blamed manipulation by unnamed actors and had to briefly scrap its search function.
That incident, two years ago, was a reminder that much online search occurs within websites. Internet giants such as Google excel at bringing users to sites but once there customers often rely on websites’ own search functions to find products or services. Some firms build their own engines; others use open-source software, such as Elasticsearch, to supply them. The results can sometimes be painfully slow and undiscerning.