Pic Lens - Best browser extension?

Just last night after I installed FF3 I came across a new Firefox extension from Cooliris called Pic Lens and I was instantly moved to consider it one of the most inventive and brilliant Firefox extensions I’ve ever come across.

It’s going to be fairly hard to explain it in text form, and the best suggestion I have for anyone using Firefox is to head on over to Mozilla Add-ons and install it straight away. If you’re not a Firefox user, then this is a damn good reason to try it out and see how good things can be! Get on over to Mozilla.com and download Firefox.

What is it?

I’ll borrow the description from the PicLens website here as I don’t think I could sum it up quite so well:

PicLens instantly transforms your browser into a full-screen, 3D experience for viewing images on the web. Photos will come to life via a cinematic presentation that goes well beyond the confines of the traditional browser window. With PicLens, browsing and viewing images on the web will never be the same again.

Sounds interesting? It’s gorgeous! Again, even a few screen shots won’t really do it justice here and whilst it sounds nice in words, it’s even nicer in actuality. The first screen shot I’ve included in this post shows a wall of images with the results of a Google image search for Pixelapes.

Pic Lens vs Google Image Search - side by side

I think this next screen shot gives an even better idea of the giant leap ahead this extension provides in improved user experience - an infinite continuing wall of image thumbnails that you can scan through at speed with barely any load time noticeable.

Again I’ll pass the ball over to Cooliris to describe their 3D wall effect.

Our new interactive “3D Wall” lets you effortlessly drag, click, and zoom your way around a wall of pictures for an extraordinary, full-screen viewing experience. Why mundanely flip through online photo galleries or squint at thumbnails from Google Image Search when you can fly through an immersive, full-screen experience instead?

It’s certainly quite a change from what we’re used to, and I think they’re going to win a large user base very very quickly. I’ll come back to some thoughts on the pros and cons of PicLens vs. Google image search in a moment, but I want to first point out that this isn’t just image searching we’re talking about.

Image galleries too

PicLens automatically picks up whole image galleries as you browse. Say you’re wandering around Flickr or Photobucket. Instead of browsing someone’s album using what is really quite a counter-intuitive way (view thumbnails, click image to open larger image on new page, click next to load the next page), you can click a little play button to load up the PicLens image browser and zoom around image to image, jumping from one end of the album to another. Much like how you might browse a physical photo album, but better.

The perfect plugin?

Of course it’s not perfect - it’s really very nice, but there’s always room for improvement, and I can see this plug-in developing very nicely over the next while. There’ll need to be a careful assessment of the balance of visual experience and the provision of easily digestible information.

To explain this a little better, let’s go back to the comparison of PicLens as an image searching tool as compared to Google image search. At the moment, PicLens is focussed entirely on the image as king - there is no additional information displayed (that I can see). There’s a small arrow in the top left of the screen which will direct you to the source website, but it’s losing against Google on the provision of simple meta information. Whether it’s just familiarity speaking, I certainly do appreciate seeing the domain of origin, the image file type (gif, jpg, png) and the image size.

Perhaps with later versions of this plug-in we’ll see some form of info box which will take the form of a retracting tool bar or hover box. I think this is all they’re missing at the moment.

[via pixelapes]

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