Image Searching…

Dave Lester’s recent post on Polar Rose reminded me that I’ve had the draft of an entry on some interesting image search stuff saved here for over a week.

Image search technology just keeps getting cooler and cooler. I’m eagerly awaiting the day when there’s an image search site that allows you to draw a simple shape or symbol and search the web for other examples. That doesn’t seem to exist, but there’s still some exciting developments. The facial recognition search that Dave discusses in his post is a great example. Here’s two more.

I recently came across TinEye. It’s still in private beta, and has a fairly limited pool of images (although surprisingly large…), but the functionality is really exciting.

Tineye lets you take any image you come across on the web, and search for similar images elsewhere. They even have a nifty Firefox plugin that lets you search with just a single right click. TinEye’s search isn’t limited to finding the exact same image in multiple URLS, though– to quote their FAQ,

TinEye frequently returns image results with colour adjustments, added or removed text, crops, and slight rotations. TinEye can also detect images that are part of a collage or have been blended with another image…

TinEye uses sophisticated pattern recognition algorithms to find your image on the web without the use of metadata or watermarks. TinEye instantly analyzes your query image to create a compact digital signature or ‘fingerprint’ for it. TinEye searches for your image on the web by comparing its fingerprint to the fingerprint of every single other image in the TinEye search index.

All this got me excited, and I immediately decided to take it for a test run. I wasn’t disappointed.

I was trying to find images that were going to be all over the internet. My first thought was the classic poster for Star Wars:

I found many exact matches using TinEye. But as I got to the eighth page or so of matches, that’s when it really got interesting. Posters for Star Wars in foreign languages. Covers of books that used cropped versions of the art with writing in very different places. Even a picture of someone standing in front of a poster, an obstructed image that also cuts off the top of the poster:

This was pretty exciting, so I looked around for the image of the most beat-up copy of Action Comics #1 I could find. (It’s the first appearance of Superman, for those who didn’t spend their childhoods drooling over comic books like me.)

Tineye immediately brought up images of the famous cover in much better condition. But the most exciting hit was the cover of a later issue of Action Comics, from a little more than a year later, where artist and creator Joe Shuster rather obviously recycles the iconic image:

Pretty remarkable that TinEye could spot the similarities, given both the obvious similarities and how very different the images are.

I’d like to nominate TinEye to the long list of “Sites People Think Will Be The Next Google Acquisition.”

The other site I wanted to mention, which I haven’t had as much opportunity to play around with*, is WhatTheFont. WhatTheFont lets you upload a logo, and will tell you what font or font family is being used.

It’s a remarkably useful tool for designers, assuming it works as well as advertised. the unofficial Google Operating System blog gives it good marks.

*In part, I haven’t played with it as much because it doesn’t have the nifty FF plugin– something worth noting to anyone trying to design and promote a web ap– integrating search into the browser makes habitual users.