Why can’t search engines make it easier to find icons?

While re-designing the archives, I needed some icons to help illustrate the different story types.

I’ve drawn icon sets before, such as the ViewPoints set. That was around 7 years ago, when I had more time on my hands to do such things. I needed icons in a pinch. Search engines should solve this problem.

A straight search on icons in Google’s web search brings up some free and commercial libraries in the top hits. But most of these icon sets were fully computer metaphors (burn CD, update database, etc.) I wanted natural metaphors– lightbulbs, footprints, megaphones, etc. If I somebody had those available, I’d even be willing to pay. I just couldn’t find it.

Among Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Ask (at this time, four separate corporate entities), all provide image searches, but none provide anything helpful. All allow the user to choose amongst small/medium/large. But I wasn’t merely looking for small images, I was looking for 16×16 images. The only saving grace was that Google appeared to sometimes group images in clusters according to some similar aspects, so deep into the results I was able to see a whole page of icons in the desired size.

It’s hard to fathom, but the search engines have apparently missed the whole rhetoric of the “long tail” of infinite customization possible on the Internet. These aren’t T-Shirts or fast food drinks.

Also, of course, I want to search for content based on its licensing terms. There was a whole hullabaloo in 2005 when Yahoo announced that they would use Creative Commons licensing tags in their web search. Three years later, the Yahoo image search still doesn’t include it. It’s too bad, because images are probably the digital content most likely to be included wholesale by other publishers. You can excerpt a paragraph of text or a clip of audio or video to write your story; but you most likely are going to use the whole image.

There’s been no shortage of opinions on Microsoft’s acquisition of Yahoo this weekend. So let this be my humble addition. Tim O’Reilly revives a seemingly sagacious quote from Paul Graham, venture capitalist, as regards to the secret of success: “Make something people want.” Well, I want an icon search that works, dammit. Somebody tell me why that doesn’t exist, today.

(As for searching for software utilities, that will be a post later today…)