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Wednesday, August 3, 2005

When Does Google Display Thumbnails in Web Search?

For some keywords, Google displays image thumbnails right on the web search result page. This happens for example when you enter “Google logo”, “Starbucks logo”, “jester”, “horse”, “horse logo”, “Van Gogh”, “paintings”, “Daniel Clowes”, or “sadness”. How does Google decide when to display these thumbnails – which algorithms do Google engineers trust to understand when image thumbnails are relevant and wanted?

I suppose the answer to when Google displays thumbnails is simple; when the same phrase as entered in web search is very often entered in Google’s image search too. Google may either be taking the absolute percentage, or more likely, they’ll take the relative amount of searches happening in Google Images. A lot of people may be looking for “starbucks” in web search while only a small percentage may be looking for it in Google Images (maybe the ratio is 100,000 to 1). However, a much higher portion of people searching for “starbucks logo” search for this phrase in Google images (maybe the ratio here is 1,000 to 1). Furthermore, Google may attach this “ImageRank” to single words within a phrase, so that words like “logo” have a strong likeliness of triggering direct search result thumbnails.

Another related approach Google may be using is they’re looking at how people wander from one search type (web) to another (images). Imagine all you know is the user entered X in web search, then they didn’t click on any page in the results, and 5 seconds later clicked on Images. The query X may therefore yield unsatisfactory results in web-only searches, and much more successful results in an image search.

Of course, this approach of attaching “Search category ranks” works with searches other than images. Google also at times displays Google News results on top (for example, when you search for “George Bush”). This may also be related to the amount of this word appearing in news stories for that day or week.

I wonder about one thing; as much as it’s possible to Googlebomb a specific page to the top in Google, would it be possible to Imagebomb someone? E.g. would you be able to convince Google that it’s reasonable to display a picture of X in web search results whenever the user types Y? An Imagebomb, just like a regular Googlebomb, could be politically motivated. One might want to display an image of [enter name of politician you dislike] when one enters “stupid politician”.

And how would an Imagebomb be planted? Well, if some of the theories proposed here have some truth in them, then if a large group of people would search for “stupid politician” on Google Images, Google may increase the “imagerank” of the phrase; once it reaches a certain point, images of a politician would pop up. To decide on which image, you would need to Googlebomb a regular image to the top – e.g. by linking to an image on your site using the words “stupid politician.”


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