Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dynamic Browsing in PicsLikeThat

A new image search came to my attention today; it's called PicsLikeThat. At first glance I thought it would be essentially a Google Images clone, but it's actually a stock photo archive, similar to Shutterstock. What sets PicsLikeThat apart is its unique search engine that displays pictures grouped by image similarity in a "drag and zoom" layout. You still initiate your search by entering a keyword, but after that point the search process becomes much more dynamic as you navigate through the results and narrow or redirect your search by double clicking on images that are similar to the one you're looking for.

This seems like a great idea, but the reality of PicsLikeThat is that it still needs some fine tuning. The image quality on the search screen is not great, making it difficult to really pick out a likely image, and the wait time both on the beginning search and the preview option to bring up a bigger version of an individual image is much too long. It's a proven fact that today's Internet users have an increasingly short attention span, especially when it comes to load times. If a page is taking longer than a couple short seconds to load, chances are most viewers will not stick around to wait for the sluggish content. The biggest problem, though, is that for laptop owners using a trackpad, the drag and zoom process is still a little awkward.

Stock photos aren't something I use (I prefer to shoot my own pictures), but I think this style of browsing is quite neat and has definite possibilities for a wide variety of search engines in the future. The bottom line, however, is that the technical method used for PicsLikeThat just isn't quite there yet. But it probably should be.

This type of image search reminded me of a program called Seadragon demoed by Blaise Agüera y Arcas on a TED talk several years ago. PicsLikeThat's browsing environment is reminiscent of a similar but simplified version of Seadragon. And clearly it's a long way off from the potential of the superb software envisioned by Agüera y Arcas. Check out the demo video below, or visit the website: to see Seadragon aka in action. (Since it was acquired by Microsoft the software has been rebranded.) This technology is awesome and has already been around for a while; so I wonder why we aren't seeing more of it on the web?

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