Google Gives Image Search an Overdue Refresh

At a press conference today at its San Francisco office,¬†Google (s goog) launched a redesign of Google Images that includes “infinite scroll” (aka many, many more results per page) and image-based advertising. Though Google Images currently contains more than 10 billion images and sees more than 1 billion page views every day, it had been largely untouched since 2001, when it launched with 250 million images, a number thought to be comprehensive at that time.

The new quick-to-load Google Images shows up to 1,000 results on a single page, with larger thumbnails and without text metadata taking up space until you hover over a specific image. When you click through, images display in a lightbox instead of a frame over the page. The new version is rolling out on recent versions of Chrome, Safari, Firefox and IE now and will be available to all desktop users by the end of the week (it is not ready for other devices yet).

Google is also giving advertisers the ability to place ads that include images onto Image Search results pages (there were already text ads in Image Search, but figuring out how to monetize the product has been a question for years).

Why did these updates take so long? Google’s explanations were a little thin. The lightbox feature, for example, “honestly took only a week to implement,” said product manager Nate Smith. But, “It took us years to figure out what the right way to do this was.” Google also found it a challenge to avoid giving users a sort of vertigo when they viewed “infinite scroll,” a feature that pre-loads results on a single page without requiring a user to click through to another page. The company settled upon “packing” images together by understanding their aspect ratio to create “a cohesive page while you scroll,” said Marissa Mayer, VP of search products and user experience. Infinite scroll was first implemented for Google Reader, and could someday potentially roll out to Google’s main search, Mayer said.

Despite increasing pressure to make search more real-time, the new Google image search does not include a way to sort for the most recent images, though Mayer said Google makes an effort to crawl news sites to get their pictures in a timely fashion.