Move Over Universal Search, Illustrated Search Is Smarter?

Blending images, video, and news intelligently into search results could be a valuable way of quickly informing searchers about the different concepts associated with a search phrase.

For example, if someone searches for the word “Jaguar,” a search engine often shows a large number of results with pages mixed together, about an animal, a car, an operating system, and a football team, as well as others.

If instead, the results were a shorter list with pictures and a few text results that illustrated those different categories or concepts related to the search term, a searcher could choose one over the others, and be provided with a more narrow set of search results focusing upon that particular concept. That could possibly improve the experience that a searcher might have.

Will this be the look of Yahoo search results in the future:

search results grouped by concepts and illustrated with images.

Advertisements accompanying search results might also be more focused upon the particular concepts returned in the those illustrated search results. When results are shown for a jaguar car, ads can be shown for the car in the same area of the search results focusing upon cars, and in the more narrowly focused results about jaguar cars that may be returned if the searcher decides to explore those results.

A couple of recent Yahoo patent applications explore this approach.

Using Images in Search To Illustrate Concepts

The most common types of searches at search engines are keyword searches, where someone enters a keyword phrase into a search box to try to find pages that contain that phrase. Search engines usually show results made up of links to pages which include the the search terms, and short excerpts or snippets from the pages.

We’ve been seeing more images show up in web search results, as a part of a blended or universal search result from search engines.

The major search engines also have image searches where results are displayed in a grid format with columns and rows. Pictures are usually shown with an image file name, size information, and a source web page address.

Images also appear in shopping search results, with a list or grid of products shown in response to a keyword search, with a picture of products and information such as the price and product description.

Using images in web search results could mean more than just blending a different type of search result into what searchers see when they perform searches, like in what search engines often refer to as universal search.

The Yahoo patent applications explain how pictures and multimedia content may be displayed with search results and search advertisments to help searchers visualize different concepts that may be associated with keyword phrases.

Presenting multimedia content such as pictures may help in clustering or categorizing search results and search advertisements based upon different concepts that may be associated with the keywords used during a search.

For example, a search for jaguar may bring up results involving a species of animal, or a kind of car. Imagine the search engine blocking off search results, so that we would see images of the cat with text results linking to web pages and ads associated with the animal, and then another block of results with images of the car and text results linking to web pages and ads for the vehicle.

The patent applications are:

Search results presented as visually illustrative concepts

Abstract

A system and method for providing search results in visually illustrative concept format is disclosed herein. Concepts relating to a query term are identified. The search results comprise a conceptual search result entry for each identified concept. Each conceptual search result entry includes at least a visual content and textual content relating to its respective identified concept. The content for a given conceptual search result entry can come from different sources.

Paid content based on visually illustrative concepts

Abstract

A system and method for providing paid content relating to search results in visually illustrative concept format is disclosed herein. Concepts relating to a query term are identified. The search results comprise a conceptual search result entry for each identified concept. Each conceptual search result entry includes at least a visual content and a paid content relating to its respective identified concept. The content for a given conceptual search result entry can come from different sources.

Invented by Oliver Bayley, Liang-yu Chi, Samantha M. Tripodi, and Karon A. Weber
Assigned to Yahoo
US Patent Application 20080133505
Published June 5, 2008
Filed: December 5, 2006

When someone is performing a search for a particular keyword phrase, the search engine may examine the initial set of results before returning them to a searcher, and attempt to separate them into concepts. The patent applications provide a quick overview of different approaches to organizing search results returned into different concepts, but that really isn’t the focus of these patent filings.

What is important is that the content organized into those concepts can come from a variety of sources, such as news, advertisement, images databases, information databases, and web sites.

The choice of what sources of content, and which content to use in search results for different concepts may be based upon looking at factors such as:

  • User behavior (such as users’ click throughs of particular search results entries from same or similar search parameters),
  • Ranking of initial search results entries for a given concept,
  • Type of content,
  • Size constraints,
  • Default selection of relevant sources,
  • Type of concept,
  • Etc.

Information about past behavior of the searcher could also be tracked by looking at information associated with his user profile, and analyzed over time, to change the results that searcher might see in response to a particular query.

Searchers may also be able to specify user preferences and settings – such as wanting to only see non-commercial search results. Commercial concepts for that searcher might be excluded in the displayed concepts based search results.

Identifying Sources and types of Content for Concepts

Different concepts may lend themselves to different kinds of content displayed. Using the Jaguar example from above:

For the “jaguar” as an animal concept, the best fit might be results from encyclopedias, images, and video to include with web page results.

For the “jaguar” as a car concept, the searcher might see advertisements, images, videos, and and web page listings.

For the “jaguar” as an operating system concept, the best pairings might be advertisements, images, and web page listings.

For the “jaguar” as a sports team concept, a good fit might include news, advertisements, images, and web pages.

Conclusion

The patent applications go into detail on how different search result templates might be chosen for different concepts based upon the sources and types of content displayed.

My favorite section from the documents:

Each of the conceptual entries is configured to provide a wealth of relevant information organized for quick recognition and comprehension by the user. A simple metaphor for the level of information compactness and relevance is a baseball card.

A baseball card typically includes an image of a baseball player and his name on the front side, and the player’s basic statistics throughout his baseball career on the back side (e.g., height, weight, draft pick, position, date of birth, home town, years played, team name, batting record, any special records, etc.).

The basic idea behind including visual and multimedia content along with web page results is to provide an intelligent organization of search results that can help searchers quickly identify major and minor concepts associated with the query terms that they used in their search.

The authors of these patent filings refer to this approach as a “smart aggregation of search results by concepts.” In addition to helping searchers quickly understand different concepts related to their queries,and view different relevant content types from different sources, is also that focused advertisement can be presented.

In a section on jaguar cars, the advertisements would all be about cars. In a section on the jaguar operating system, the ads would be about the operating system. Ads could be links to web sites, price lists, coupions, or special promotional notifications, or use other approaches, but the targeting of those ads may make them more effective.

In present day search results from the major search engines, we do see a mix of different types of results from images to videos to news to web pages, as well as others. Often those are split up so that different types of content from different sources are grouped together, and we might see news results at the top of a set of search results and book search results at the bottom of a page of search results.

Rather than grouping search results by source of content, these Yahoo patents applications would group results by the different concepts that might be related to a query. It would be interesting to see…

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8 thoughts on “Move Over Universal Search, Illustrated Search Is Smarter?”

  1. Bill,

    This is a very very interesting article that I loved reading. I have a couple of questions:

    Has this concept been tested at all?

    If so what were the results?

    Also in my own opinion I would love to see the search engines go this route but I would like to see the option of turning this on and off. For example if I felt like searching in more of an visual and multimedia way I would be able to but if I just wanted the old fashioned way (the way it is currently) I could do that as well.

    Thoughts?

  2. Thanks, Garrett

    There’s no information within the patent filing that describes any testing, and I did some searches on the inventors’ names to see if I could find any associated white papers that go with the patent application. I didn’t find any, though the people who worked on this seem to have some interesting backgrounds and work experiences.

    I’d like to see this approach adopted, too. If a search engine switched over to showing search results like this, I’m not sure that they would provide the option of turning it on and off. :(

  3. Iv had my doubts about having behavioral search results. Id like raw search access to data. I want the flexibility of tuning my search according to how i might be behaving that day ;).

    Small example is Googles geo targeting. Often i really do not want results from the country i am searching from. I know, for example, that in South Africa the web development tech sites are all rubbish and i wouldn’t waste my time so i want only international sites. Now i know it is easy to ignore them becasue i can see the extension but i think you get my point.

    So i too would want to opt for On Off type functionality or look for alternative search engine.

  4. Hi Sascha,

    I have to agree with you here. I don’t like the search engines to make decisions for me that I can’t see or understand. I’d rather do a lot of the work in refining search queries, and adding search terms or changing them on my own.

    I do like the fact that this approach from Yahoo tries to categorize results based upon different concepts, rather than just throwing in pictures and video and news to provide a diverse range of results like Google’s blended search does.

    It would be nice to be able to choose between just Web results and blended results, the on/off functionality that you describe.

  5. “I do like the fact that this approach from Yahoo tries to categorize results based upon different concepts, rather than just throwing in pictures and video and news to provide a diverse range of results like Google’s blended search does.”

    I agree there too. Suppose it comes down to information design, usability. To present all those different data types while keeping the search sites simplicity.

  6. That was one of the fun parts of this patent application, Sascha.

    If you’ve spent some time working on improving the usability and conversions at different web sites, it’s kind of fun to try to step into the shoes of the user interface team that may have worked on developing this approach to presenting search results, and consider some of the issues that they may have faced.

    Things like:

    1. How will people react if all of a sudden, search results started being grouped together into concepts like this? What is the best way to introduce such a change?

    2. Do people consider the search results at the top of the list to be the most relevant, and if results are changed like this, will searchers grasp the change quickly?

    3. Why split the page into two columns, as shown in the drawing from the patent application? Is it to get people to grasp that results are now grouped by concepts, instead of listed by some relevance/quality score?

    4. How would people react to a video at the top of such a grouping, as opposed to an image? The default images shown at the start of a video may not define a concept as quickly as an image. Does that mean that we may not see too many videos heading one of these groupings?

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