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.