The Future of Image Search Belongs to Social Search

MaryFone GirlDonna

[I’m CEO of Zooomr, we are building both a social based image search system as well as a stock photography platform]

Live Image Search advances | Larry Larsen | Channel 10 Larry Larsen over at Channel 10 blogs today about some recent enhancements that Microsoft has made to their image search technology and suggests that they have “greatly enhanced relevance,” and as such deserve a “day off.”

Unfortunately, I’m going to have to disagree. While I like the fact that Microsoft claims an increase in speed on how fast their images load, the relevancy of their results still pale significantly in comparison to what can be done with social search. This is not the first time that I’ve blogged about this and it won’t be the last. The future of image search very much belongs to social search.

What do I mean by this? Well, image search is one of the hardest types of search (audio and video aren’t so easy either). With text search, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft all have their proprietary algorithms where they look for text on a page, see who links to a page, etc. etc. words are in contrast to images much easier to figure out. If Mike Arrington is mentioned 40 times in a post by a highly ranked internet site, then the article probably has some authority to be placed in the results for an article about Mike Arrington.

But photos of Mike Arrington are a different matter. It is very difficult for image search engines to get at what’s inside a photo and how good a quality photo it is.

Accordingly, image search engines that rely solely on algorithms without any human filtering fall flat compared to results that are filtered through social networks.

To see what I mean lets look at some examples:

Mike Arrington, Flickr
Mike Arrington, “new and improved”
Mike Arrington, Yahoo Image Search
Mike Arrington, Google Image Search
Mike Arrington,

Summer, Flickr
Summer, “new and improved”
Summer, Yahoo Image Search
Summer, Google Image Search

(I particularly appreciated the relevance of that third row result on Flickr).

Brunette, Flickr
Brunette, “new and improved”
Brunette, Yahoo Image Search
Brunette, Google Image Search

(ok, so which would you like to date the most, isn’t the difference between Ask and Yahoo dramatic?)

Africa, Flickr
Africa, “new and improved”
Africa, Yahoo Image Search
Africa, Google Image Search

As you can see from the examples above, the higher quality, better caliber images generally come from Flickr. Flickr’s results are screened through their social network. The users validate which photos are best by their social activity around the photographs. Users also tag photos to better identify what’s inside the photo. Yahoo’s image search is largely the worst.

This is the future of image search. It is also, by the way, the future of the $2.5 billion stock photography market. Comparable searches between Getty Images, Corbis and Flickr would produce comparable results. This is why we are working on building the best stock photography search engine in the world on Zooomr right now. It will certainly have application for broader more generic public image search, but it most certainly will be the future of the stock photography business as well.

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  1. Kevin says:

    I agree and often use Flickr as my primary search (even though they don’t emphasize it).

    However, images are much more than just portraits and landscapes.

    Very few versions of the Mona Lisa or a map of ancient Europe will be on Flickr. Google, however, does have some.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Okay, I hate to be the party kill on this, but is it really necessary to include a search of “Brunettes” and talk about how datable they are? Or to use some of them to headline this entry? Your point is valid, and the comparisons you provide are as well. Women (and men) are beautiful, and deserve to be photographed, but like the “Babes of CES” stuff you were running earlier this year, this stuff disappoints some of your female readers. By including these comments you have diminished my role as a person who reads this blog and works in this industry into “potentially datable”.

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    Okay, I hate to be the party kill on this, but is it really necessary to include a search of “Brunettes” and talk about how datable they are?

    Anonymous Just a little levity and humor. It could of course go the other way with “datable” men depending on one’s perspective. It is interesting though isn’t it that all 5 search engines focus more on women than men.

    By the way, I don’t think someone being “datable” means that one need have a lower view of them professionally. I don’t know you of course, but I’ve met many many “datable” women that I have nothing but the utmost respect for professionally.

    If it’s any consolation I did kill a “best of” the Babes of CES post after giving the whole idea more thought and consideration.

    Sorry to disappoint you and I’ll try to be more sensitive in the future.

  4. Dane says:

    Great Article – I used to use Google Image but will now switch to Flickr for my primary photo search.

    And who doesnt like Brunettes (and occasional light humor)? Must be a blond…