Why is Microsoft Edge Adding Its Own Interface to Websites?

I will readily admit that I am not a regular user of Microsoft Edge. The browser works fine. But I have been a die-hard fan of Firefox for years. A Chromium-based successor to Internet Explorer never gave me a compelling reason to switch.

So, I was quite surprised by a question from a recent client. I wonder why, when hovering over an image on their website, a small icon appeared. Is this a new feature?

Usually, these types of issues are caused by an overzealous browser plugin. Or (gulp) maybe a malware infection. But neither of those cases applied here. My client noticed that it was only happening with Microsoft Edge.

Sure enough, I fired up the little-used app on my computer, and … huh? Hovering over certain images reveals a UI button. Clicking on it let me do a Bing image search, which opened in a sidebar panel.

This seems like a smart move. And the more I looked into this feature (called Visual Search, enabled in version 95.0.1020.30), the more concerned I became. It begs the question: should web browsers be doing this?

Microsoft Visual Search is the Default Option

Maybe the browser wars were settled a long time ago. After all, Google Chrome is by far the biggest app. As of this writing, it holds 65% of the market, with Edge holding just over 4%.

With that in mind, it’s hard to blame Microsoft for trying to stand out. In addition, they have every reason to direct users to their Bing product (and away from Google). It also makes Visual Search come in handy. But the way it is implemented is frustrating.

Users must opt ​​out of the feature. By default, Search View is enabled and will be displayed when a user hovers over an image. It doesn’t seem to act on each image, however.

For example, background images don’t seem to trigger the UI. And smaller images seem to be left out too (you can right-click and initiate a View search via context menu – Google Chrome does something similar).

Disabling the feature is quite simple within the UI. And it can be turned off on one site or completely. But it’s still an extra step for users – not to mention a potentially confusing source.

Microsoft Visual Search is enabled by default. Its UI is displayed while hovering over an image.

Website Owners cannot Unsubscribe

There are several possible reasons why a website owner may feel uncomfortable with Visual Search. For one, the UI that adds the feature looks like it’s only part of the page. Users may, for example, click on it expecting to open a photo gallery. Not to mention that the UI literally shows photo galleries as well.

When the user initiates a Visual Search, the subsequent results are also of concern. What if the search turns up a competitor’s product or a negative review? What if the images it shows are offensive or otherwise inappropriate?

Perhaps the most concerning issue is that websites cannot opt ​​out. This means that website owners are stuck with implementing the Visual Search UI – whether they like it or not.

This kind of “improvement” is unlikely to be welcomed by everyone. And not all users are savvy enough to understand its purpose or origin.

In the end, site owners and web designers may have more questions as a result. The worst part? The situation is completely out of our control.

Performing a Visual Search on a car interior image creates images of competitors
We visited the Honda website and did a Visual Search on a product photo. It returned similar images from competing products.

Where is the Line? Did Microsoft Cross It?

Features such as Visual Search are expected to encourage productive discussion. Is it acceptable to put a browser-specific UI on a website?

Users must draw a line between convenience and intrusive behavior. Visual Search may be just the beginning. Web browsers could take this concept and go even further.

What would happen if browsers started highlighting specific words within content? Or do they add UI elements that break a website’s layout? Features reserved for browser extensions may appear as the default. Are we ok with this?

Maybe Microsoft is trying to see what we are willing to tolerate. Users are expected to listen to their opinions.

In the meantime, I’ll happily stick with Firefox – and continue to recommend it to others.

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