Microsoft’s Bing has unveiled Visual Search: a feature upgrade that allows users the option of browsing images rather than text snippets. Although the update is intended to allow searchers to find results more quickly, it’s clear that Microsoft has cooked up something that could be intended for retailers.
At first glance, Visual Search seems closely related to Google Image Search (Bing has one of these too). Quickly, however, it’s clear that this is something new altogether. For starters, the experience is quite pleasing to use, closer to Cool Iris than regular image search. Images are arranged by category for a number of broad topics ranging from Billboard’s number one albums from the 1950s to dog breeds.
Clicking on an image brings up a number of more specific, closely related images (“Airedale Terriers”), until, after three or four clicks, you end up at a Web page as in a normal Web search.
It’s not immediately clear whether it’s possible to optimize images for Visual Search (results are displayed in Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin, a competitor to Adobe Flash). So far, Visual Search results are so flawless that it would seem that these images were somehow tagged or at least arranged by hand. Stay tuned.