In a dizzying round-up, Reportr alerts us to 10 tech trends, the 11th presumably being to drop letter ‘e’s now that single-word domains are in short supply (cf. Flickr, Dopplr, Tumblr…)
The thing that caught my attention was the mention of visual search. I’ve been playing with a new search engine, TinEye, for a couple of months. It claims to be the first on the web – it’s probably the best example so far.
You submit an image to TinEye and it returns similar images from all around the web, based on pattern matching.
Their page of cool TinEye searches is a good introduction.
This is a nothing shy of a REVELATION. It’s funny how tech journalists remain all cool when they see something like that. Well I’m going to point out it’s AMAZING. Inevitable maybe. Given there is so much information on the web, there do remain undiscovered and undeveloped ways in which we can retrieve it. Visual search is a known problem – it just required somebody to sniff out the winning search index algorithm, for accuracy and speed.
In the life of the web, we have become accustomed to fairly good text-based search. The search box has become a second brain for many. We live in a post-search world. (At least, those of us who live in countries with easy access to the web do.)
How does Google find the stuff we want? At the moment a particular page or file has a URL. It may have other metadata such as a filename and keyword tags or alt tags. And unless you’re talking about a video or image, it could be a document with some kind of text body. It also has the pages from around the web which link to it. Those are the only clues, unless I’m forgetting any.
It’s pretty easy for computers to do pattern matching on text. Good search algorithms that work on text databases have been known for decades. But it’s the indexing of the whole web that’s always the big challenge. When you do a Google search, you’re not really searching the web itself, you’re searching Google’s indexes.
What is so amazing about TinEye is they are introducing another clue into the search – the content of the image – and found a quick enough way to index it.
Before I get too excited about TinEye, right now you can hope for hit-and-miss results at best, particularly as the pool of indexed images is relatively low. Since some early announcements of the service this has increased and they recently widened this pool to 901 million images, some of which might be yours.
It remains at the beta test stage, but it’s already quite useful. Some photographers and other visual artists have already been able to track down where their images have been used.
Visual search is still in its infancy and we can expect other players to possibly rival TinEye. There’s a shopping service called like.com mentioned in the Reportr trends piece, but I can’t seem to get past the nauseous feeling of entering a glitzy shopping mall the minute I arrive. It does pose another question for me.
What about the commercial outcomes of visual search? How will companies try to seek traffic from visual search? Will there be attempts at search engine optimisation? Will we see images being priced and ads being sold like Google AdWords? (GOOG)
TinEye doesn’t do human face recognition yet. Could it be just a matter of time, processing power and a dash of ingenuity? Let’s imagine a world where it is possible and it becomes a commonplace thing for use and abuse. Permit me to do some wild speculation.
What about finding doppelgangers and lost relatives? Missing people? It’s possible that a missing person could be an incidental feature of a photograph that somebody posts online.
Could it be used for casting films or theatre, when a new Kubrick absolutely has to find an actor with distinctive facial features?
What about looking for a partner? In a world already filled with all manner of weirdness, would someone try to seek a replacement partner who looks like their ex?
How could police use and potentially misuse this technology? Could they find missing suspects? Match fingerprints?
The future of TinEye and visual search could be like having eyes everywhere… It’s very promising and possibly a bit unsettling.