I spend a lot of time on stock photo sites and have logged hundreds of hours searching for that "perfect image" to adorn one of our websites. There have been many advancements in online stock searching over the years: search filters that allow you to refine results by composition, color, style, image technique and keywords; light boxes for organizing and saving your searches; image tagging and inline thumbnail enlargement just to name a few. But most stock sites seem to "borrow" new search features from each other; providing none of them with any real advantage. Until now, perhaps.
I've been playing with Masterfile's new proprietary search tool named Endless Media and it is a significant improvement over its competitors' offerings. Masterfile has rethought image searching from the ground up rather than simply adding new features to an existing engine.
The first thing you'll notice is that search results are displayed in a horizontal strip and advancing to the next "screen" of results is as simple as clicking the arrow button in the navigation strip above the results. It's wicked fast and beats waiting for a new page of results to load in the browser window.
Clicking on a thumbnail places it in a large preview window to the left and maintains the search results to the right so you can continue scrolling through them. The preview area displays licensing and model release information as well as tools for adding the image to a light box, downloading a comp or adding it to a shopping cart.
Masterfile has also brought searching for similar images up to the same level as your initial search and displays them in a smaller horizontal strip (dubbed Sim Search) beneath your search results. Clicking on any image in Sim Search will move it to the preview area and will adjust the main search results accordingly.
Once you've registered with the site you have access to large, watermark-free comps. This is useful for designers like me who do a lot of image manipulation and don't want to be stuck purchasing images that will ultimately not make it past the first client review.
While the Sim Search is a great user interface component, it suffers a bit in usability. The demo video states the Sim Search results are based on a similar look and feel to the image currently in the preview pane. But "look and feel" is a broad category that could be divided into composition, color, lighting or theme. The Sim Search would be a more useful tool if you could filter the results.
The preview pane displays some tools below the image but only provides icons with descriptive tags that appear on mouse over. There is enough real estate to display words instead of cryptic symbols (this is a clear violation of the "Don't Make Me Think" principle).
Even though Endless Media allows you to work with multiple light boxes simultaneously the light box feature is nothing new to stock sites. This feature would be even better if you could add a new light box on the fly rather than clicking away to another page.
These few weaknesses aside, I really like the Endless Media tool and plan on spending some serious time taking it through the paces with some client projects.