A visual search engine is similar to a text search engine, because it allows users to search via a keyword and returns results relevant to that keyword. The difference is that a visual search engine does not return text links like a text search engine would; instead, it returns a mass of images that lead to the website of origin. Visual search engines are mostly web-based programs, but a plug-in is generally needed for the search engine to work correctly. There are various ways of displaying images and, unlike text search engines that show links based on algorithms and keyword usage, these search engines allow users to search for images in a variety of ways.
Search engines are used by Internet users to track down a relevant image or website based on a keyword. In the case of visual search engines, the user is looking more for an image than for a website. Visual search engines also are more interactive than text search engines, even if the text search engine has an image search. A visual search engine finds images by looking at the tags website developers use for their images, and it then returns any images relevant to the keyword.
Just like their text-based counterparts, visual search engines are typically web-based, or will work in an Internet browser. Some visual search engine platforms are software-based, or will reside on the desktop, but these are rare. A multimedia plug-in is usually needed to operate these search engines, because of the interactivity, but the plug-in is generally free and easy to install. Those that do not need plug-ins are usually less interactive.
While a visual search engine is aimed at finding images, it also discovers the link between the image and the website of origin. This means users can find an interesting image and then link to the website from which it came. In this manner, visual and text search engines are the same, because they are made to help users find new websites.
There are many different ways for a visual search engine to display images. The images can be on a three-dimensional (3D) cube or in a map, a stack, a list, a cloud or any one of several other arrangements. Users also can customize searches by asking the visual search engine to find images based on date, domain, rating or other factors. This differs from a text search engine, in which links are arranged based only on algorithms and keyword usage and users have little interactivity with link arrangement.