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The Future of Image Search?

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I use image search often, mainly with Google. I use it to find inspiration in design or better clipart for this SEO blog, but occasionally as a content searching feature. If I’m looking to find info about a new guitar, I might use the image search, then once located, continue on to the content around that picture.

If you use image search, you probably already realized that it fails compared to text search. The first handful of results are often in the ballpark, but it quickly goes extremely south from there. Unlike text search, where a few content-rich sites can often suffice (depending on specifics of your search), in image search a much larger set of like-results is usually desired. I can almost guarantee, though, that without the ‘adult content’ filter on, you’re going to get some kind of completely unrelated adult picture a third of the time. When using image search at work, be careful that nobody is standing behind you. Those pictures can be freaky!

Obviously, it’s hard to favor image search and really back it if it’s so wonky.

But the future of image search always sounded interesting. The idea of engines using apps to map the parts of a picture even better, determining the shapes (i.e., faces), and using it more confidently as part of the algorithm sounds pretty darn groovy to me. Imagine – no matter what the image file was named, or the content around the image file on websites, by image searching for “Frank Zappa”, the maestro might show up consistently, instead of unrelated R-rated images.

Or what about giving an engine a picture and asking it to return similar pictures? This technology is being used commercially with Like.com (like that red shirt on your friend’s myspace page? Just show it to Like.com and they’ll present similar items you can buy). In my opinion, this would really improve search for the better. Describing things in the present state doesn’t typically fine tune the search the way it should, in part because of blended search; ultimately, I find it making the search process longer. But if I could show the engine what I was looking for, well, that would be swell.

Google can read. Google can listen (1-800-GOOG411). So why not see?

Update: Good article over at Google’s blog – New Search By Style Feature.