Two days into general public use and startup search engine Cuil is already in hot water.
Thanks to quirks in Cuil's search algorithm, search results of some brands are popping up with pictures of competing or even irrelevant brands.
Cuil Vice President of Communications Vince Sollitto just told me Cuil's engineers are working on the problem. Sollitto indicated that the bug was a bump in the road of the company's challenge in trying to provide an image next to every search result.
The point of this is to offer a visual aid to help the user determine if that result is one the user wants to explore further. Instead of reading the 200-word snippet about the result next to the image, the user can use the image to decide if the result is click-worthy.
"We are 36 hours in and are no doubt discovering bugs and fixing them left and right and we'll continue to improve," Sollitto said.
Fair enough, but if Cuil doesn't rectify the problem, people won't get to the search results. They won't go to Cuil, period.
Sollitto also apologized for the July 28 access issues, noting that overwhelming traffic hampered the company's servers' ability to make the search engine available 24/7.
The brands that pop up may be related to the search result, but it's mixed marketing messages that users are concerned about, according to comments I received in my Cuil review earlier today, July 29.
Trenton Baker, a marketing manager for network storage vendor Aberdeen, said several of his company's industry-specific search results ended up with misused Web site photos and misleading content results.
For example, a search for "Network Attached Storage" returns a result from NAS Network Attached Storage Server Review.
The problem is that the picture associated with this review on the results page is one of Aberdeen's own NAS devices, but when you click on the image, it takes you straight to the review.
A search of "Storage Servers" returns a news release about a product from Aberdeen rival SMC Networks. Yet the product picture Cuil gives for this result is lifted from an array on Aberdeen's front page. Click on the picture link and instead of going to www.aberdeeninc.com, you go to the SMC press release. You get the idea.
"Unfortunately for small companies such as Aberdeen that try to compete with the likes of Dell and IBM, this search engine creates more harm than good," Baker told me. "The branding that Aberdeen is attempting to create is quickly eroded with the product imaging misuse and content confusion."
Or take the comments from Jim Lapic, who said when one of his company's keywords was searched on Cuil, "several of the other sites listed had images from our site next to their names."
Lapic claimed this was a keyword that gets over 10,000 searches a month, so it is not an obscure keyword with minimal results. He tried other keywords his company ranks well for and found several sites that had his company's images next to them. Lapic concluded:
"This seems to me to be very deceptive. Our competitors will be shown with our images, many of which [sic] unique to our company. With Cuil I found myself clicking on results based on the images as I could readily determine "yes, that's what I was looking for". I wonder how many have done the same thing clicking on our images but ending up on other websites."
There is definitely a search algorithm issue going on with Cuil, where the pictures are fairly, if not entirely, irrelevant. Cuil must address this and soon.
I asked Sollitto when Cuil might fix the misleading image issue. He said he can't promise that it will be perfect tomorrow, but that Cuil will "take dramatic steps on it in the next 24 to 48 hours."