Sometimes in my line of work, I find it necessary to hunt down images.
Searching for an “image” is somewhat of a dark art. While there have been many advances over the years, computer do a horrible job at recognizing the contents of a image. One only has to look at the error rate in most OCR software to see that even on something as plan text, machines have trouble distinguishing between “$” and “S” or “l” and “I”. So asking a computer to find me a picture of a woman with black hair standing at the western face of the Siegessäule in Berlin is a bit of a stretch.
For some time Google has had image searching system, but has worked primary by guessing the content of an image based on the context clues of the page on which that image sits. The search can be refined a bit by specifying size and overall color composition, but in the end I’m still left sifting through dozens if not hundreds of images looking for something that may or may not exist hoping that someone both has posted the desired image and described it contents in minute detail.
Today was such a day in which I was on a bug hunt for an image. I had a small thumbnail of an image, but needed to confirm details within that image which had been lost when the image was shank. I spent some time on Google, but could only find other thumbnails of this same image. One of the things about the internet is that is constantly copies itself. If information is posted, it will be copied, stored, and republished elsewhere. This is one of the great strength of both the technical and social elements the network. (and the biggest reason why current copyright laws don’t work in the digital word). In my case, the thumbnail of the image I was after could be found in Google images, but the full-size version was proving more difficult to locate.
After some time I decided to check Microsoft’s Bing image search. To my astonishment, using the same search terms as I did with Google, the full size image I was looking for was the third choice on Bing Image search. No only did I find the image I as looking for, but I also found several related full size images that were part of the same set that I did not know even existed.
While this incident has not persuaded me to move from Google to Bing for my search needs, I do feel more like Bing is becoming a legitimate competitor to Google. Microsoft has publicly stated that they will destroy all traffic records after six months, and this bodes well for my need for privacy. I also feel better knowing that Google is standing up to China’s draconian censorship policies. Maybe the worm has turned.