Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Image in Images Out - Google's New Reverse Image Search

I noticed today Google was offering me the ability to do an image search,  not by using words, but actually putting the image into the search window. (Did this start a while ago and I just missed it? See more below on this.)

click to make it clearer

I tried it. First I dragged in a picture I'd recently put up on my blog and it found it. It wasn't instant, but maybe 15 or 20 seconds. (A 2.7 MB image took over 4 minutes)

Then I tried an image of a painting of a lotus I'd taken, but not posted.. It found nothing, but gave me what it called "visually similar images."

You can judge for yourselves how 'similar' these are. I need some visual artists to tell me why Google found these others similar.  To me, color is clearly important.  Then the shape - Google seems to see two circles, and how space is taken up in the image.

There are a lot of potential consequences of this ability - whether they are positive or negative depends on whether you are the beneficiary or victim.

1.  You see someone on the street and you take their picture.  Then you could look them up on the web.

Well, this is still in the future.  They don't seem to be doing face recognition yet as you can see below.

It's basically faces that are approximately the same size and have a similar color background.  The original has a full head of hair and a beard, but the pictures include smooth shaven and bald folks and even two women and a baby.   The baby might have been chosen because the background is so similar. 

2.   If someone wanted to see if others were using his copyrighted image, this might help find it.
At this point, this seems like a good use.  It appears the closer the picture is to the original the more likely it is to show up.  Of course if they only used a part of the picture, it probably won't show up because it would change the shape/form and basic colors.  [See more below.]

3.  If you wanted to identify a bird or a flower, this could be a good tool, but so far it isn't.  When I tried a close up of a  round pink flower, it gave me other round pinkish flower closeups, but it clearly wasn't paying any more attention to the flower details than it was paying attention to the facial details above.  They were totally different flowers - again, it was all about the color and shape in relation to the size of the image.

I'm sure this will be refined, and as it is, it will start to change the conditions of privacy even further than Facebook and other internet applications already have.

When you click on "Learn More" you get a page which tells you which browsers are compatible with this:
  • Chrome
  • Firefox 3.0+
  • Internet Explorer 8+
  • Safari 5.0+
It also says that the pictures you put into search then become part of their library.  I think I'll be sparing about what I put in.

"Google's use of user-submitted images and URLs

When you use Search by Image, any images that you upload and any URLs that you submit will be stored by Google and treated in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Google uses those images and URLs solely to provide and improve our products and services."

This is below, where the more is.

I decided I better google to see if it's been there a while and I just missed it.  First I found this (notice 2009) and I couldn't believe I'd been so unaware - until I read it all.

Similar Images graduates from Google Labs

10/27/2009 03:34:00 PM
Today, we're happy to announce that Similar Images is graduating from Google Labs and becoming a permanent feature in Google Images. You can try it out by clicking on "Find similar images" below the most popular images in our search results. For example, if you search for jaguar, you can use the "Find similar images" link to find more pictures of the car or the animal.

Same words - ' similar images' - but for text searches.  So that's totally different.

It appears the video they use to promote this when you click learn more, was on  Youtube June 13, so I am a bit behind here.

Searchnewz has a June 15 report saying this feature, which was originally available on something called TinEye and called 'reverse image search' was appreciated by photographers looking for copyright infringement.  It was available on Chrome then, so that might be why I hadn't seen it earlier.  [I've added 'reverse' to my title now.]

Pundit Kitchen did a search like my face search above on June 15 and found Google couldn't distinguish between Obama and Bush.

A July 15 article at addons suggest this was only available on Firefox as an addon, so perhaps it's just recently become a standard Firefox feature.

Technicallydigital has a post touting it as an addon for Mozilla-Firefox on September 19.  I'm feeling better about just noticing it on Firefox today, but I'm guessing it's been up a few days.

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