- Google expanded its visual search functions with a feature that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to string together images automatically into "stories," the format that Snapchat and Instagram have popularized among social media users. Google's stories will at first focus on celebrities and athletes whose pictures are popular search topics on its website and mobile app, per a blog post by Cathy Edwards, director of engineering for Google Images.
- The company also added video previews to its search results that will play a featured clip that computer vision technology has helped to assess for relevance. That means a person planning a trip to a national park can see featured videos of the area, including more specific videos about subtopics like key attractions to visit, per Edwards' post.
- Google expanded the availability of contextual information about images that show up in its search results. The information — including captions, the title of the webpage where each image appears and suggestions for related search terms — already was introduced on mobile devices and is now available for desktop search.
As Google celebrates its 20th anniversary, the company is improving its image search features to make them more useful and engaging. The stories format that Snapchat pioneered — and Facebook copied for its apps like Instagram and WhatsApp — is highly engaging for audiences who want to see more pictures and videos about a person, news event or other topic. More than 400 million people use Instagram Stories and 450 million people use the WhatsApp version of stories, called Status, every day, Recode reported. Google is a late entry in the field but could still benefit from the format's popularity among mobile-savvy consumers.
Given Google's history of placing ads in search results or YouTube videos, it's very likely the company will someday try to monetize its stories feature with ad placements. The emphasis on video will give brands the power to engage Google users with ads that are highly targeted and more compelling than paid links or banners. Facebook said its stories are more popular with users than advertisers, and the social network has recently added software tools that help advertisers easily transform still images and text into mobile-first video ads.
Google's announcement about expanded image search functions comes the same day Snapchat introduced a visual search feature to lets people scan real-life items via smartphone camera and browse items on Amazon. If the item is recognized, an Amazon card appears to connect the user with a product page on the e-commerce giant's app or website for purchase. Google also has a visual search app called Google Lens that works on its Pixel smartphones and some Android apps, while Pinterest's Lens has seen visual searches jump 140% to 600 million queries every month, pointing to the growth in the increasingly competitive visual search space.