The Future of Image Searching

If you manage digital images on your home computer, if you look for images on sites like Flickr, Photobucket, or DeviantArt, or if you have ever searched the internet for a picture — then you absolutely must visit Xcavator to see the future of image searching.

We all know how frustrating it can be to find a specific image. Size, color, angle, lighting — all of these details are dependent upon the limitations of language, the keywords a photographer might apply to an image, and the ingenuity you have in dreaming up the keywords that someone else might have used to describe the image you’re looking for. (For a great object lesson in how differently people will see the details of an image, I invite you to go play in the sandbox over at Google’s image labeler.) Stock photography sites have some search features that help to narrow down images by color and a few other details, but users are still forced to hunt through hundreds of images before finding what they’re looking for. Last year, when I was selecting images for Connect (a therapy tool for the memory impaired), I spent several hundred hours looking for the specific images I wanted and then the graphics artist expended another dozen hours getting them closer to the specifications.

How I wish I had Xcavator, a new application that allows users to look for images with visual tools that are much more intuitive and far less dependent upon keywords. I first encountered this tool back in 2006, when it could barely be called a beta site. Its creators at Cognisign were inviting users to play with this new tool using a image sets of butterflies and the Golden Gate bridge. I fooled around with it for a bit, threw in my two cents worth of feedback, subscribed to the blog feed to await further developments, and then promptly forgot about it except for the occasional posting that showed up. All was quiet for about a year, until this morning when I noticed a few new entries and wandered over to see what was up. Whoo! The site is out of beta and boy, do I love it!

View the demo here. Xcavator is not a stock photography site, it is an application that simultaneaously searches the content of several existing stock sites (e.g., Istockphoto, Photo Vault) and at lightening speed: results are returned in less than 3 seconds and you can page along through the results as quickly as turning a page. Hover your mouse of an image and you get a larger thumnail. Double-click on the selected image and it takes you directly to the stock site for the original view and purchasing information.

I ran a few test searches for image categories that had given me such fits when I was putting together Connect. The results made my eyes water. Hours could have been minutes. My graphics artist might have some hair left.

Although this application is only available for stock sites now, I’m hopeful and optimistic that we’ll be seeing an expansion into “amatuer” sites such as Flickr soon. It can’t come a moment too soon.

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