Magazine article Information Today

Searching for Images on the Web

Magazine article Information Today

Searching for Images on the Web

Article excerpt

Searching for "information" usually implies searching for textual information. Generally speaking, for example, a textbook on information retrieval will probably discuss the principles and methods of retrieving text. A course on database searching is likely to discuss text files and ways to access them. Textual is typically the implied qualifier for information, searching, and databases. This certainly has to do with the fact that cataloging, organization, indexing, and abstracting of pictorial (let alone audio) information lags light-years behind the same processes for textual information.

No one would dispute that the Internet-especially its World Wide Web-has revolutionized the publishing of and access to textual, audio, and graphic information alike, though to a different extent for each. Information in itself still implies text, even though the most characteristic attribute of the Web is its graphic, visually appealing (sometimes appalling) form. While there are literally hundreds of search engines and meta engines that offer sophisticated ways to search the Web for textual information, such tools for searching image and audio files are much less common.

Likewise, articles about Web search engines are a dime a dozen, but they rarely discuss searching for image and audio files. And comprehensive treatises about the topic do not exist, with the remarkable exception of Paula Berinstein's book published recently by Pemberton Press (see sidebar).

In the upcoming installments of Multimedia Medley, I will be looking at various search software solutions that facilitate access to image and audio files on the Web and on CD-ROM. As for online images, I refer you to Berinstein's book, as I'm going to concentrate primarily on image search tools that appeared after her book went to press or that did not fit her book, i.e., CD-ROM search engines.

Images on the Web

What types of images are there on the Web? Every type that you can imagine! Photos and paintings, blueprints and architectural renderings, logos, trademarks and patent drawings, clip art and cartoons, maps, and flags. The problem is that they are scattered across hundreds of thousands of Web pages, some with tens of thousands of images, others with just one or a few. But you may need just that one reproduction of a famous painting, or that shot of a particular landmark.

How do you find it? There are more ways than one.

Web-Wide Browsing and Searching It is fairly easy to get to to some of the well-known image collections using Web directories. The classified Web directories may guide you to such image warehouses as Art Today, with its 500,000 images-if you realize that you have to follow the directory path "Business and Economy\Companies\Computers\Softwar e\Graphics\Clip Art." Similarly, you can get to the gigantic stock collection of PhotoDisc through the path "Business and Economy\Companies\Photography\ Stock Photography." However, with the exception of Yahoo!, these directories don't have sophisticated cross-referencing tools, and you may get lost clicking your way through the maze. Images sites can be classified under hundreds of different categories.

Textual Query with Image Qualifier

You may also do a quick-and-dirty search for Web sites and Web pages using the query "image collection" or "stock photographs," but you will have to wade through a lot of irrelevant entries in the results list. You can easily miss important Web sites unless you formulate a really comprehensive query that includes the appropriate synonyms (pictures, photos, gallery, portfolio, etc.). This, on the other hand, may significantly decrease the precision of your search unless you use advanced search operators to specify mandatory terms and their location (such as the title of the Web site).

Considering the graphic emphasis of the World Wide Web, it is ironic that for quite a time you could limit your query terms in many of the Web-wide directories to the title field, the URL address, the first paragraph of a Web page, or to its summary, but-with one exceptionthere was no option in these finder tools until recently to limit your search to caption fields or to Web pages with images. …

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