Google's New Image Search: Thanks, Bing

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It's good to see the smart folks at Google Search are keeping a close eye on the competition. The company's official blog today announced a series of minor but useful tweaks to the popular Google Image Search, which has mushroomed from a relatively tiny index of some 250 million images when it launched in 2001 to more than 10 billion today.

Some of the new features are, ahem, borrowed from Microsoft's third-place Bing search engine, which has endeavored to out-innovate Google Search ever since its May 2009 debut.

Google's most notable Bing-like upgrade is called "instant scrolling." Rather than view a static page of thumbnail images, and then click a link at the bottom of the page to see more, you can now view images as one continuous scroll. (Actually, this feature predates Bing. Microsoft's long-forgotten Live Search had it too.)

Google Image Search displays up to 1,000 thumbnails per page. I tested Bing's auto-scroll feature, which maxed-out at 985. Take that, Bing.

Another of Google's Bing-esque upgrades is a hover pane that appears when you pause the cursor over a thumbnail. While Bing's pane shows only details about the image, such as resolution and file size, Google displays a larger preview as well.

And then there's Google's new "dense tiled layout" that crams more thumbnails on a page. Bing offers this too, as the flexibility to shrink or enlarge the images. Here's a quick comparison of Google's new and old titled layouts.

First the new Google Image Search:

And now the old:

Here's a view of Bing's titled layout (which is adjustable):

Not all of Google Image Search's new features work just yet, but Google plans to roll them out over the next several days.

Other upgrades include larger thumbnail previews--ideal for today's higher-resolution displays--and improved keyboard navigation. For instance, you can use the Page Up / Page Down keys to scroll through multiple pages of images--a real time-saver.

Also new: When you click on a thumbnail, a new "landing page" launches to display a larger copy of the image; the website that hosts the image is visible behind it.

And for the ad department! Google Image Search has a new ad format called Image Search Ads. Yes, advertisers can include a thumbnail image beside its lines of text. It had to happen sooner or later.

So, Google Image Search fans, how about a quick round of applause for Bing? Competition has made your search experience a little better.

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