Google has acquired small visual search-related startup Undecidable Labs for an undisclosed amount, putting the firm's founder Cathy Edwards (a former engineering director at Apple) in charge of its own image search engineering and product development efforts, Bloomberg reports.
Designer Stephanie Kraus, who reportedly works with Undecidable in a UX design capacity, said on her own website that its online purchasing tool involves “a filtering system that takes 'nice to have' and 'ideal' into consideration” to make searches more meaningful.
The Undecidable Labs acquisition report comes about two months after Li Fan, who previously was in charge of engineering for image search at Google, left the company to join social network Pinterest.
It is not so clear yet what Undecidable Labs even does, though the mention of “image search” and Kraus’ website description suggest some clues. Visual search tools, the broader science of leveraging online images in e-commerce search functions, and product filtering and recommendations all have been areas of much activity in recent months. Some of this has to do with artificial intelligence and machine learning, and how images are recognized in the search process.
Google itself already has been busy in this area of late. It announced refinements in its visual search capability over the summer.
So why is Google being so attentive to improving an area in which most people already consider it the leader? While it may be default search engine for many people, that may not necessarily be the case when it comes to shoppers searching specifically for products to buy. A couple of months ago, a survey revealed that the majority of shoppers start their product search process at Amazon, and that the major internet search engines actually are seeing their share of initial shopping-related searches decline.
But it's not just that Google wants to win at shopping searches; it also wants to win at shopping. It has made several moves already to position itself as a more direct rival to the likes of Amazon and eBay by doing things such as opening a pop-up store in New York City and creating shopping features like Shop the Look, which leverages image content posted by popular fashion bloggers.
Maybe it is not yet clear how Undecidable fits into to all this, but it is clear that Google is trying to play a bigger role in the shopping process.