Picture the Future: Mobile Visual Search

I’ve never really been one to ask many questions at search conferences, but during SES Chicago in December of 2006 I asked what I thought was an obvious one to the panel of mobile search optimization experts present: “How do you think voice search will change mobile SEO?” I don’t think the panelists were ready for the question, as the answer that I got was that voice recognition doesn’t really work.

In the next panel on Meet the Mobile Search Engines someone from the audience of the previous session asked a version of my question to the mobile search engines, and the Google rep replied that they did, in fact, have something in the works.

A few months later, Google introduced Goog-411, which allowed users to access Google’s local information through voice search. And yesterday, Greg Sterling of Search Engine Land called Mobile 411 the “mass-market entry point for mobile search”.

I’d have to be a visionary to be vindicated, and I’m making no such claim. It’s just hard to ignore that most people prefer talking in their phones to typing on them, and a mobile search engine that made voice search possible might have an easier time finding an audience.

This is about the same point that Sterling makes in his post on Mobile 411: “The appeal of mobile DA/voice search is its simplicity, familiarity, and convenience for callers.” I couldn’t agree more, and it’s for this reason that I think mobile visual search could be as big as or bigger than voice search.

Mobile visual search is search without keywords—without words at all, in fact. A searcher initiates a query simply by snapping a photo of something with their phone, which the mobile search engine then processes with algorithms and returns relevant digital content based on its interpretation of the user’s visual query.

It may seem like science fiction to some, but mobile visual search is a thing of the present. Vodafone made headlines today by introducing its own mobile visual search engine, Otello; and startups like SnapNow and Mobot have actually been doing this for a few years. Google has their own Mobile Visual Search engine in Neven Vision, which I suspect had something to do with their recent patent filing for reading text in images and video.

Of course, the audience for mobile visual search is currently not so large as to warrant an optimization strategy for most brands just yet, but, as with mobile voice search (and mobile search in general, to some degree), it might be just a matter of time.

The next question becomes, who is best positioned to help marketers leverage mobile visual and voice search? Is it the mobile marketing agencies? Or the search agencies? Or is it a function of the carriers and search engines?

Here at Resolution Media, we define what we do and don’t within the framework of Query Marketingsm. Basically, if a platform is query-based, digital, and non-interruptive, then we consider it part of the Query Marketingsm landscape and, therefore, a service we are well-positioned to deliver based on our experience stimulating consumer response in this environment.

In this case, as opposed to the traditional keyword, the query comes in the form of a picture or voice prompt. But it’s a consumer-initiated query nonetheless. And it’s certainly a digital proposition. So as long as the advertising and content-placement opportunities within mobile visual and voice search remain non-interruptive, then it makes sense for us to incorporate it into our solution set.

Posted by: Bryson Meunier, Product Champion, Natural Search


Anonymous said...

Hey Bryson, thanks for mentioning SnapNow. We're very excited about Mobile Visual Search! You can check out our new website at SnapNow.com

Copyright © 2008 Resolution Media, Inc. All rights reserved.