Bing Visual Search is not a Revolution—It’s a Coup

“Why type when you can see it?”

Because I’m probably not a genius, and I’m definitely not a moron.

Bing’s visual search is doesn’t do anything useful. It doesn’t make your searches any easier, and it certainly doesn’t make it faster. It adds a layer of visual appeal, but even that appeal isn’t so appealing. For example, try searching for Obama in the list of US politicians, which they suggest as a good search. Here’s what I see:

Bing US Politicians Search, showing Barack Obama and a bunch of generic people

(Click for a larger image)

Compare that to the normal Bing search results:

>Bing's organic search results for Barack Obama, including a spam site

The first obvious difference is the spam site in Bing’s organic search results. Seriously—how deep do I have to dig in Google to find a news scraper site with Reuters headlines and nothing else? But that’s not a big deal.

What is a big deal is that Bing’s keyword-based results are useful. They tell me what I want to know. And if they don’t tell me what I want to know, it’s not hard to change the query so I do get what I wanted.

Visual search doesn’t help you narrow things down. It doesn’t help you rephrase. Visual search lets you free-associate, in a very limited way. It lets you stop thinking about what you were doing when you started searching, and lets you start obsessing about the search process instead. And it’s an incredible waste of time, and a technical dead end. It’s the pre-school version of the hubristic user interface.

A revolution would help me search better. A coup is when the process of searching takes precedence over the results of searching. Google only became ubiquitous because there was so little friction involved in using them; has about as pushy a design as about:blank.

If visual search had come out first, and keyword-based search had been rolled out later, keyword-searchers would have been considered power users.

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| September 15th, 2009 | Posted in technology |

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