By Hamza Shaban
The Washington Post
Google has unveiled a host of updates to its search product, designed to make visual information more useful to Web users as pictures and video become more central to the Internet experience.
The new features showing up in searches include introductory videos about public figures, topic videos to help users plan trips or learn about new subjects, and an overhaul of its ranking system for displaying image-based searches, offering users more context and easier ways to shop online.
The revamp uses artificial intelligence to help customers find goods on the Web, relying more on images rather than text. Previously a stand alone app, Google Lens uses AI to identify the contents of a picture without needing words to figure out what it is.
Now, Google will integrate Lens directly into searches, “to make your search experience more visual” said Cathy Edwards, director of engineering of Google Images, in a blog post.
She said the goal of these changes was to help users find information visually and improve specific image-oriented searches: when people shop for products, look for interior decorating inspiration, or tackle DIY projects.
The updates highlight the shift from text-based Web browsing to a more image-heavy internet, now that smartphones and their smaller displays have overtaken desktop computers.
“The growth of mobile devices and small screens made it even more important to be able to quickly scan visual results,” she said.
In a demonstration, a user searches Google for “diy backyard vertical garden,” which pulls up a variety of a backyard garden images. The user then taps one of the images and the display focuses on a concrete planter, which brings up a list of planter products that share the same look as the original “vertical garden” image. Through the demo, Google made the e-commerce implications clear: it’s new visual-first search tools will help people buy products based on the online images that catch their eye.
Other technology companies are trying to take advantage of intuitive, visual-friendly searches. On the same day as Google’s announcement, Snap Inc, the parent company of Snapchat, unveiled a partnership with Amazon.com in which users can shop for products straight from the camera function of Snapchat.
In accompanying images, a user points their smartphone camera at a friend’s sneakers, and then presses down on the display where the shoes appear. Once the item is recognized by Snapchat, an Amazon window will open within the app, offering a link to that product or similar ones that are sold on the e-commerce website.