If you’ve ever done an image search on Google, you’ve probably gotten back a page filled with the same or similar images as the top result. If that is what you are looking for, then that’s great. If it’s not, then you have to keep clicking through until you find a decent image, and it can be a real chore.
Google already lets you sort by image size, type (face, photo, clip art, drawing), and color, which helps, but is still not perfect. Today, Google announced a new way to sort photos by subject that will roll out during this week, and it’s better than any of the previous sorting mechanisms. If you search for “dog,” it will sort the pictures by different breeds. If you search for “coffee,” it will sort by pictures of coffee in cups, coffee beans, people drinking coffee, and so on.
All of this is done algorithmically of course. The effect is to finally clean up image search, and help you drill down to exactly the type of photo you are looking for. One sorting filter it is still missing in the left-hand menu, however, is to be able to search only for Creative Commons images. (You can do that with advanced search, but it would be better if it were a sorting option in the main UI).
Of course, Bing has long done the same thing with visual search for certain categories and topics. Whether this is a catch-up move or leapfrog move will be hard to tell until the feature rolls out on Google, but it certainly is an overdue feature.