Google is publicly testing a new image search interface whose results, when clicked on, don't take users to an external web page but instead display the clicked-upon image at the centre of a radiating cluster of similar thumbnails.

Clicking on the centre image takes the user to the external web page where it is hosted. Clicking on one of the 'similar' thumbnails triggers the creation of another cluster around that thumbnail in the Google search results page.

The initial set of results, arranged in the more traditional rectangular grid format, remain on the Google page but reduced in size and moved to the side, so that users still have access to it.

Called Swirl, the new feature is still considered experimental and is thus available in Google Labs, meaning it could change significantly, become temporarily unavailable or even disappear without notice.



"Image Swirl currently works for more than 200,000 queries and we plan to include more queries in the future. Available queries will auto-complete as you start to type in the search box," wrote Aparna Chennapragada, a Google product manager, and Yushi Jing, a Google researcher, in a blog announcement.

Image search is an area of search technology where major progress is expected as image analysis technology advances and this type of engine relies less on text metadata and more on recognition of graphical clues to answer queries.

For example, Google's image search engine recognizes if the main element on a photo is a face, and lets users limit results to that type of image. It can also filter results by other visual parameters, like full colour and black-and-white images.

Microsoft's Bing, which also lets users do this type of search results filtering, is also testing an experimental interface called Visual Search, focused on letting people navigate image results visually.