Image search isn't top of most people's lists when it comes to searching, but when you do need images, you need images! Bing produced a blog post the other day which was talking about a comparision of Bing and Google image search functions and thought I'd take a look myself. Is Bing better than Google when it comes to search?
High quality images. In the blog post, Bing claims that they have higher quality images than Google, and have used the example “photos of yunnan” and show screenshots from both sets of searches. It's certainly true that Bing has very good quality material, but equally I found the material from Google image search to be just as useful; a key point is that BOTH engines produced very different sets of images for me to look through. Bing makes the point in their blog and screenshot that Google images primarily show maps. This only happens however when you remove the phrase search option, and just search on photos of yunnan. It's absolutely true at that point that Google provides a lot of mapped images, but there's also a fair smattering of maps in the Bing results as well. I'm therefore in two minds over this claim; a good searcher will get good results, a novice searcher, not so much. However, a search for "photos of birmingham" with or without the double quotes produced good quality images with bosth search engines - but again, very different results. The point that I'd make here then is if you're looking for images, you want to search BOTH Bing and Google, and not rely on one or the other.
Understanding objects. Bing says "Historically, search engines have relied on information provided in the surrounding text of an image or on the corresponding web page to assess what is being captured in a given image." That's perfectly true, and they're making the claim that they can now isolate the image from the rest of the photograph, and work out what it is. However in my 'jet' search (one of the Bing examples) Bing and Google were as good as each other. The main difference is that Bing gives a variety of suggested options at the top of the screen in text form, Google gives them in image format, but fewer of them. I'm really not convinced by Bing's claim here to be honest, and once again my advice is 'search both'.
Understanding colour. Here the claim by Bing is that their image search engine has a better understanding of colour. So if I search for a pink car, that's what I'll get - not a white car on a pink background. It's perfectly true - BUT if I do the same search on Google, I get very similar results. Searching by colour is very useful; both Bing and Google do it well, and I absolutely would reject Bing's claim that they are doing it better than Google.
Filtering Image Characteristics is the next item that Bing covers. They say "Using image understanding we let you filter your search by size, color, layout, date and even license (e.g. Creative Commons)." They use an example of George Clooney, but with Google I was able to do a black and white search just as quickly, with as good results. Yet again, no difference in quality of search, but different results - search both for more comprehensive results. To be fair however, while both engines have the ability to filter by 'face', Bing has the option for 'just faces' or 'head and shoulders'. However to counter that, Google is providing the search with a series of options at the top of the results for 'movies', 'young', 'girlfriend' and so on - which I'd say is just as useful, if not more so.
Image styles. I'd agree with Bing that it's important to limit to image style, so 'clip art' is a really important option. But Google has exactly the same choice as well. However, if we compare the 'type' option in both search engines Google provides us with Face, photo, clip art, line drawing, animated, while Bing only gives us photograph, clip art, line drawing - which isn't as helpful.
'Smart cropping'. This is something that Bing says is quite important - showing us the key element of the photograph, while getting rid of the rest. They use the example of a particular actress and I'd agree - the results are good; clear and centred on her face. Once again, I don't really see that much difference with the same search on Google.
Thumbnails. Bing tries to make the point that if you do a search (and why oh why do they always have to use actresses? It's tedious, tiresome and quite frankly in this day and age, boring) you get some thumbnail images in the default search box, (rather than images) which are better than Google's. At this point I think there is serious straw clutching going on. It's a thumbnail! I really don't care that much about the quality at that point - that becomes important when I look at the quality of images themselves.
Building hero image experiences. Trust me, that's Bing's terminology, not mine. The idea is that the key image that comes up first is bigger in size, up in the left hand corner, so that people can see it more easily. That may well be the case in the United States, but it's not the case elsewhere. I was seeing all of the images displayed with equal weight. So it's one of those 'the Americans need it, the rest of the world can go whistle' things. In fact, when doing the searches (for giraffes) I found the Google option of different sets of images which are displayed AS images far more useful than the text alternatives that Bing was offering me.
In summary, I simply do not see Bing's claims being born out in experience. Yours may of course be different, and probably will be. However, if you're going to make claims, make sure that they stack up, because Bing's just don't.