Search Lives Visually In The Future

Brett Brewer

Microsoft Labs will release a Sliverlight plug-in within the next month that enables people to use the Redmond, Wash. company's visual search application Pivot across any search engine, such as Bing and Google, according to Brett Brewer, general manager at Microsoft Live Labs.

Pivot creates a new way to browse and arrange massive amounts of images and data online. Brewer told Search Insider Summit (SIS) attendees on Thursday in Captiva, Fla. that Pivot -- a technology built on Seadragon -- enables the discovery of patterns and links invisible in standard Web browsing. Think of a mosaic where pictures represent pixels that make up bar graphs.

When developing the technology, Microsoft Labs took a step back to create the tool to find a method where people could interact visually with massive amounts of data. That research created Pivot, which Microsoft officially announced in March at the TED conference in Los Angeles area.

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When Microsoft integrates Silverlight, anyone will have the ability to combine visuals and structured data to create this new type of search and visualization of discovery and marketing patterns.

Expectations for search continue to change, and with it the applications fueling content. Display ads have begun to move past text to add interactive elements and ability to search in the graphic.

Taking a cue from display advertising's ability to build strong emotional ties between brand and consumer, Yahoo has been working to integrate graphics and text in search ads. The Sunnyvale, Calif. company has been experimenting with Rich Ads in Search for a little more than a year, where a visual symbol is placed in a text search ad. Companies participating in the program have seen results.

Yahoo's internal tests reveal that visual search helps increase click-through and conversion rates. Advertisers participating in the Rich Ads in Search program see click-through rates between 25% and 75%, as well as conversion rates of about 50%. By the end of the year, Rich Ads in Search should bring Yahoo about $75 million, according to Chi-Chao Chang, vice president of search advertising products at Yahoo.

Chang says Yahoo has been working on other visual search products too, such as Sketch a Search, which launched in Apple's iTunes store in March. The tool requires no typing. People using the tool simply draw on the iPhone screen with their finger to identify where they want to search. For example, the tool provides a view of restaurant results located near their destination.

As the amount of Web content continues to skyrocket, visual search will not only enable people to find the information they need more quickly, but will integrate into vertical search -- search that takes place off traditional search engines. Graham Mudd, comScore vice president of search and media, says comScore December 2009 data puts vertical search at slightly less than 50% of all search.

As specialty search engines continue to add visual and vertical search features, this will force traditional search engines to build in presentations pages based on intent of the query, Mudd says.

"I want a search engine that understands how my brain is wired," says Lance Loveday, Closed Loop Marketing chief executive officer.

The future of search will support visual applications that integrate on core search platforms. Teasing structured data from unstructured data will become more important. And companies will have a variety of challenging media content and privacy concerns to overcome.

The expanded definition and use for search also requires marketers to think in new ways. While most agree the "10 blue links are not the future of search," marketers need to start thinking of search engines as "personal assistants," says Mark Watkins, Goby founder and chief executive officer.

The traditional definition of search has begun to blur with visual content, Watkins says. Search engines will begin to look more like applications and this will present certain challenges marketers will need to heed, he says.

"If you're a marketer your job will get harder but more fun," Watkins says, pointing to an array of diverse media and creative requirements. "You won't have the ability to repurpose creative work as much as you have in the past."

Watkins says expect to see more ads that you can search inside and type in, as well as the rise of content exchanges or networks such as where.com, OwnerIQ, there companies will have an option to more closely target consumers with specific intent, such as those who will travel to Captiva, Fla. in August.

1 comment about "Search Lives Visually In The Future".
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  1. Dan Roberts from Hearst Digital Media, April 15, 2010 at 9:33 p.m.

    Great article, very solid insight. This is indeed where search is headed - the query will only be the beginning. The next innovation won't be algorithmic but rather presentational, with refinement through visual cues and touch-based navigation. Relevance might be replaced by reveal-ance - how can we best expose the connective fiber of data whether its images, video, articles or plain queries. May the best app win!

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