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Google Labs Tests User Interfaces For Images, News Search

Google's Similar Images and News Timeline are based on metadata and other information instead of optical-recognition software.

Google Labs on Monday launched two services, one for searching images and the other news, as part of an ongoing effort to build better user interfaces on top of the search engine's massive database of information.

The new services are called Similar Images and News Timeline. The former, as the name would imply, gives users the option of clicking on an image in order to narrow a search to similar pictures; the latter organizes results in news searches by timeline.

In Similar Images, for example, a person searching for "pluto" would get images of the planet, the Disney cartoon character, and the Roman god of the underworld. Clicking on a particular image takes the user to the location of the image, as well as the option on the upper right-hand side of the screen to find similar images. In this way, users can narrow their searches.

The search technology used is not based on optical recognition, which is what Apple recently introduced in the iPhoto image editing and organization software that's part of the iLife suite that ships with Mac computers. Rather, Google taps its huge store of metadata and other information attached to each of the hundreds of millions of pictures in its database.

News Timeline organizes search results within a time span that can be displayed by the day, week, month, year, or decade. People can enter a keyword and search news, news quotes, blogs, newspapers, magazines, photos, video, and more. If Google has a partnership with the publication, then users can see all the content within a magazine or newspaper. If not, then the user is taken to the publication's Web site.

Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Apple Macintosh development team and now a software engineer for Google, developed the News Timeline. During a news conference at Google's San Francisco offices to announce the new services, Hertzfeld said the purpose behind the project is to provide a visual representation of how a subject evolves over time. While results will include information from Google News, which provides breaking news, the bigger vision is to provide a user interface for Google's database of scanned documents and images, taken with permission from libraries, newspapers, magazines, and other sources, as well as the massive amount of information on the Web.

Google has permission to show complete issues of a couple of dozen magazines, such as Popular Science, and a number of newspapers. News Timeline can display historical information dating back to the 1400s. For example, searching for religion in 1450 gets Wikipedia entries on battles between France and England.

R.J. Pittman, director of product management at Google, said the new services are an attempt "to push the envelope on the user experience." If users take to the new offerings in large numbers, then Google will dedicate more resources in developing them further.

To make it easier to gather more user feedback, Google has moved its Labs to a new Web site that's built on the Google App engine. "We actually gutted it and rebuilt it from the ground up," Pittman said of the original Labs Web site.

The new site offers visitors the option of providing feedback to Google engineers on their projects and to rate individual services. The site also includes profiles of the engineers.

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