Google debuts even more unbelievably helpful labs

Google Labs today officially announced the "Similar Images" and "Google News Timeline" tools, which have been deepening the well of useful search apps from the number one search provider since late last week.

Similar Images does exactly as its name suggests. When in Google Image search, queries for common or ambiguous terms frequently yield a lot of undesired results. A search for "colt," for example, could return images of a gun, a horse, a car, or an American football player: quite disparate results. By clicking the "Similar Images" tag under an appropriate picture, the search is narrowed to only the pictures that look similar to the chosen result.

Sometimes the results are humorously off the mark, though, especially when the chosen image is black-and-white. Google determines similarity based largely upon the color and "temperature" of a photo, so when it's a greyscale image, almost anything is fair game. For example, a search for "Martin Scorsese" yields a black and white portrait within the first dozen images. If I wanted to find another portrait of the director in a similar fashion, I'd be out of luck, because clicking on Similar Images returns almost exclusively pictures of George Harrison of the Beatles. Photos of Harrison are tied with those of Scorsese because of a documentary film the director was working on about the Beatle several years ago.

Google News Timeline is a Google News lab that takes a search topic and arranges resulting news stories on a scrollable graphical timeline. The timeline provides a good degree of granularity, and can list results by the day, week, month, year, or even decade. The timeline can be scrolled far back into modern history, with news article coverage beginning in the 19th century. The timeline can even be rolled well into history, showing Wikipedia entries chronologically where news stories are not available.

This kind of depth, too, offers some humorous results. A search for "OJ Simpson" by the decade shows all of the coverage of the infamous former football player and actor from about 1968 to the present. Scrolling the timeline back, however, shows search results with both "OJ" and "Simpson" all the way back to the early 1800s. Because many historical documents are scanned and cataloged via text recognition software, the longhand lowercase "F" is recognized as a capital "J", so "oJ" is a commonly occurring word in old scanned documents in place of "of". So a search for "OJ Simpson" reveals a several hundred year long historical timeline, including "Simpson's History of the Gypsies" from 1866, and classified ads from Flinders-era Australian newspapers.

Sure they're both somewhat imprecise, but they're labs, Google's real beta testing ground.

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