PicLens should be gimmicky, but somehow isn’t. It’s a browser add-on for viewing images (plugin for IE, extension for Firefox), that understands the major photo sites. This means it can display all relevant pictures, rather than just those currently visible. It’s easier to explain with an example:

I was making mockups for a uni project this evening, and needed a picture of a juggler, with specific criteria: it had to be a full-length, side-on view. I searched for ‘juggler’ in Flickr, and the search results showed me 20 pictures per page. This was a bit slow, and by page 10 was getting frustrating – it turns out most people don’t shoot jugglers this way. Eventually it occured to me that PicLens might help. It places a small ‘play’ icon over images from supported sites, and once clicked brings up a full-screen, 3D wall of images:

PicLens screenshot

PicLens understands that I’m on a Flickr search page, so performs the search progressively as I scan along the wall. The scroll wheel zooms in, and dragging left/right pans along at variable speeds. This is approximately a billion times faster than going through individual pages. I glanced at hundreds of pictures before spotting something appropriate, at which point I double-clicked it. This downloaded the high-res version and displayed it full screen – I could then jump to the photo’s Flickr page via a button at the top of the screen (although I only discovered this later after watching the tutorial video – it could do with being a little more obvious).

I’ve been merrily browsing my contacts’ photostreams and sets all evening – the wall is visually gorgeous, and it’s just good fun. Plus, photos generally look better on darker backgrounds. It’s technically polished, too: the wall appears extremely quickly and I’ve experienced no processing delay when browsing, which is impressive for a full-screen app1. It’s possible to scan faster than new images can be downloaded, but they appear fast enough that this is rare. I should mention that it’s stalled on me a couple of times, but re-clicking the play button solved it.

PicLens supports Google Images, Yahoo Images, YouTube, Facebook and deviantART, amongst others. There’s also a WordPress plugin to add support to individual blogs. I predict somebody will buy this company pretty sharpish. Definitely worth installing if you spend any time browsing images, imho.

  1. having said that, my Firefox install is less than a week old and everything’s quick at the moment []