I know that the ability to design custom search engines for Flickr has been around for several years. Many designers have played with this technology and many publications have written short features about these mash-ups. That said, I have not found a recent comprehensive list of the most interesting image search engines out there. So this short post is my stab a creating a list of the best ones out there. I am going for quality rather than quantity here but please let me know if there are any ones I missed (as I know I must have).
Tag-Based Search Engine (Compfight)
Let’s start with the simpler search offerings. This applications allow users to search Flickr images by tags and text. The benefit they provide is that the results are displayed in a way that makes it easy for users to scan a large number of images efficiently. This is especially helpful for art directors and designers who are looking for images for their comps or layouts. There are several search engines out there that offer this type of functionality.
Color-Based Search Engine (Multicolr)
Next up is a color-based search engine from Idee Labs. This application allows users to search for images based on colors and color combinations. User interaction is centered on a small pallete of colors located on the right-hand side of the screen. A matrix of images, located to the left of the pallete, displays the search results based on the color selections.
Visual-Based Search Engine (Visual Search)
Visual search is another application from Idee Labs. It enables users to search for images using a combination of text-based input for tags and image based input (e.g. selecting of a representative image from a results page). This search engine allows people to use an iterative process to find the image they are looking for – first they can search by tags, then they can select one of the resulting images to further filter the results. The one issue is that Idee does not support flickr via this search application (they only support searches on the Alamy image library). A similar search engine offering from Idee Labs (called BYO) allows users to upload images to kick-off their search.
Sketch-Based Search Engine (Retrievr)
This search engine takes the idea from the Visual search one step further by allowing you to create a sketch that serves as the search query. They still have to work out a few kinks with this one as the interaction was often sluggish. However, when you get the sketch tool to work properly it is pretty damn cool.
Galaxy-Based Search Results Interface (Tag Galaxy)
You are probably wondering what the hell I mean by Galaxy-based search results interface. It’s hard to explain how this interface works but let me give it a shot. Tag Galaxy allows users to search flickr tags using a visual interface that is akin to a galaxy. Every time the user selects a tag the application automatically generates a new galaxy where the main planet is comprised of all images containing the tag that was searched for, while the smaller planets represent tags that are related to the original tag (or main planet). Check it out so that you can make sense of my rambling.
3D Wall Search Results Interface (Cooliris)
This cool search application allows users to search multiple sites including flickr, yahoo!, and google. The really cool feature that it provides is that it serves the results of each query using a 3D wall interface. Unlike the other applications that I’ve called out here, users need to actually download and install an add-on to their browser in order to use this search engine. Though this is a bit annoying I found that it was definitely worth it.
Now Build Your Own
Here is a tutorial from Tech Labs on how to make your own Flickr search engine. This will at least get you started with an understanding of the Flickr API. Though the API seems to be simple enough, the work needed to bring your creative idea to life will probably be more complicated especially if you are trying to create an experience like the Tag Galaxy and Cooliris. I haven’t tried to build one of these myself, so I can’t vouch for the ease (or difficulty) associated with designing one of these.