Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Should we really care for Recent Images in Universal Search?

Google introduced Universal search back in May 2007. The whole idea behind the Universal Search Page was to break down the walls that separate various search properties and blend content from Images,Maps,Videos,Books,Blog posts and News into their web results. Since its launch, we have seen many useful additions to the universal search page.Very recently in Dec 2009 Google integrated Realtime tweets in their universal search page. Today if you search for world series you could see important statistics like game scores and team standings.

How Universal Search works?

Universal search does not include results from all search verticals in web results for all queries.It will pick top results from only those search verticals which are closely related to the search query.For example, a search for 'paris' will show google maps result at the top.Conversely if a query like 'earthquake' is not related to maps, you will not see google maps results blended in web results.If a query gains enough momentum in News results,couple of most popular news sources are shown in web results and likewise for other search verticals.

Currently, Indonesia is experiencing one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.Earthquake, tsunami and volcanic eruption battered the island in less than 48 hours.Lets have a look at what Google,Bing and Yahoo’s universal search results page has in place for one of the most searched term "merapi volcano" this week on the internet.

Google’s Universal Page for “merapi volcano”

You get to see results from Google News, latest videos from youtube and bbc and latest blog posts along with 10 blue web links.So far Nice. But this is a type of query where you would also expect to see latest images of merapi volcano.There are probably thousands of recent images on blogs,news sites and on microblogging sites for this search term but Google fails to pick the best images from these sources for its universal search page.They do show a decade old images of merapi volcano but we want fresh content.

Bing’s Universal Page for “merapi volcano”

Like Google ,even Bing fails to get show recent images of merapi volcano.

Yahoo’s Universal Page for “merapi volcano”

How is Yahoo doing for this query? The newly launched Accordian box does the trick for Yahoo.It shows recently published news articles,videos,tweets and images.All in a beautifully organized box just one click away from each other.What i din’t like about Yahoo is, they show all the content from Yahoo Sites only.Which means if you search for something for which Yahoo Sites does not have content they will probably not show you the accordian box even if recent content is available on other sites on the internet.For example,search for macbook air on yahoo. They display latest news articles at the top but i was also expecting latest images of the new macbook air.

It is even more disturbing for search terms like ‘halloween costumes’ and ‘pumpkin’’. Currently,Microblogging sites are flooded with high-quality images for these terms.These images certainly should have been there on universal search page until the halloween week gets over.

Not that google is not making any efforts to index recent images from the web. You can certainly go to Google News, do a search and click on images to see recent image results.For recent images from microblogging sites, google recently launched an ‘update with images’ feature in its realtime search.Now both these sources of recent images has loads of noise. So the challenge here is to filter out the noise and pick the best images from these sources and show them on universal search page when it really matters.