Google: Find Similar Images

April 19, 2009
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I spend a fair amount of time critizing Google for not embracing exploratory search. But today’s launch of a similar images feature is all about exploration, and I’m impressed with what I see.

One of the applications is clarification of ambiguous queries. Rather than using cliche examples like jaguar or apple, let’s try some original ones:

According to a TechCrunch interview with Google engineering  director Radhika Malpani, the approach is based on indexing visual similarity,  perhaps along the line of this well-reported WWW 2008 paper co-authored by Googler Shumeet Baluja.

The feature is neat, and I think similarity search is a great fit for image search. Regular readers may have read previous posts here about Modista, a startup specializing in exploratory visual search.

Still, I do have three criticisms. First, I find that many searches don’t return enough diversity to make similarity search helpful, e.g., blackberry returns no images of the fruit. Second, the

I spend a fair amount of time critizing Google for not embracing exploratory search. But today’s launch of a similar images feature is all about exploration, and I’m impressed with what I see.

One of the applications is clarification of ambiguous queries. Rather than using cliche examples like jaguar or apple, let’s try some original ones:

According to a TechCrunch interview with Google engineering  director Radhika Malpani, the approach is based on indexing visual similarity,  perhaps along the line of this well-reported WWW 2008 paper co-authored by Googler Shumeet Baluja.

The feature is neat, and I think similarity search is a great fit for image search. Regular readers may have read previous posts here about Modista, a startup specializing in exploratory visual search.

Still, I do have three criticisms. First, I find that many searches don’t return enough diversity to make similarity search helpful, e.g., blackberry returns no images of the fruit. Second, the images returned aren’t organized–which seems like a lost opportunity if Google knows enough to cluster them based on pairwise visual similarity. Third, similarity is too fine-grained: I find that similar images are often near-duplicates or the starting image.

Nonetheless, this is a solid launch, and I’m delighted to see Google do anything related to exploratory search.

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