August 18, 2008

Visual Search Engine - Answer to an Agent's Prayer?

New search engine? Yawn. What? This one searches images? Not just image tags, but the actual images themselves? You mean we could, theoretically, upload an image, and then locate all of the places that image might be mis-used, and then track down the miscreants who dared to use it without permission or compensation? And then force them to watch Cop Rock re-runs as punishment?

Such is the promise of Tin Eye, currently in beta. I had to see for myself, but quickly and unscientifically (I do have a job to do after all). I chose an image by C.F. Payne which I know is in at least three places on the web. I uploaded the file, though you can also provide Tin Eye with a web link, or install a plugin that lets you maniacally right click on any image on any web page. The engine then searches and compares images pixel by pixel, supposedly flagging even images that have been cropped or digitally altered.

Tin Eye found two instances of the image on websites I had not anticipated, but it did not find the images I knew were out there. In one instance someone was using this image as an avatar, and in another it was posted to someone's message board about dad rockers.

Neither of those results would've helped me if I was a hapless art buyer trying to track down the artist in order to hand him oodles of money. Still, the idea and potential is intriguing, and Tin Eye says that it's expanding its index by a few hundred million images per month.

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