Microsoft dropped a major new Bing feature today: "visual search." It does what it sounds like, instead of giving you a list of links with thumbnails, Bing gives you a bunch of images you can sort through. But does this actually help?
Announced at the TechCrunch50 today, visual search is a gallery-based system that helps you refine by clicking through rows of stuff. Microsoft says they developed the feature because images seem to please Web users.
Give visual search a shot, and you'll notice one thing first: you have install Microsoft's awful Silverlight plug-in to use it. Alright Redmond, I'll play along. Once back in Bing, you can enjoy some sample searches. I picked digital cameras. This was a bad idea, since most digital cameras look the same--even to a cameraphile like me. Click on one, and you're zipped straight to text-based list results. So much for the images.
The feature works better for things that stick in your brain because of their aesthetic appeal--things like books or cars. Even so, visual search isn't very deep; when I click on something, I want the visual goodness to keep going, and it doesn't. Still, for some searches--faces, art, and so on--Bing now has another edge on Google.