Image Search

February 16, 2011

Image search is available on most search engines, but it is very basic and sometimes misses advanced features, until of late, when the competition between Microsoft and Google heated up.

They have now begun to enhance their search engines, but letting you search by size, type and colour is still not enough. Then a unique feature began to roll out like Google's similar images, which shows you the results related to one element.

For example, searching for Apple on Google will let you choose to search for the company or the fruit. Microsoft's Bing offers outstanding results in its image search, and since it was 'live', it has more options, along with a light and easy interface. I have seen many graphic designers from all the other providers using it.

Although there are many alternative and more innovative image search providers other than Google and Bing such as Imagery, Cooliris, PicSearch and Pixsy, they don't have a big images index.

But what is completely different is a service called TinEye, it is Google search but instead of text, it takes images as an input! It offers reverse image searching, and while all search engines work by entering text to get related images, this works by extracting the image data to find similar images, using image identification technology developed by Idée, Inc.

Its primary usage will be for copyright holders to check if their content was misused without authorisation or the right permissions.

It may be useful for doing research on how successful a marketing campaign was by tracking a logo or a badge, or in tracking your personal photo to see if it was misused, or even to find a high resolution version of an image.

When TinPic indexes the images on the web, it identifies them by adding a unique digital fingerprint extracted from image pixels. When the user uploads his image, the same operation is applied by extracting the uploaded image and comparing its digital fingerprint with the database of the previously indexed images, which already has one billion images.

The whole concept of reverse image search is new and there may be no useful application for it now, but it is promising when it comes to finding famous landmarks, book covers and product logos.

Registration is not required in order to use the service, which is free of charge. It gives you more benefits, like the opportunity to try out the new beta features before everybody, and to be able to keep track of previous search results.

The included 'compare images' function lets you check the difference between the original image and the results image. I remember I needed such a service once, but it wasn't important.

After becoming aware of the existence of such a service, I found myself using it more often, specially after finding it so accurate the first time. I once saw a nice artwork in a local newspaper and wanted to see it in high resolution, so I took a photo, uploaded it to TinEye, and  several results showed me the source and related information.

To see out how powerful the service is, make sure you check out their cool searches page, showing the strange but cool searches people have previously made.

I am sure Google is definitely thinking of acquiring TinEye. It is only a matter of time before they do so as everybody is talking about it, including Tom Hawk, the owner of Incorporated Professional Photography, who posted a long discussion about the benefits Google can get from TinEye, by offering it in its image search and, most importantly, how the company can integrate it into Picasa, its photo sharing w­ebsite.