Monday, June 20, 2011

Reverse image search needs improvement

One of my pet peeves is websites that don’t provide sourcing information for photos.
When I see a cool photo, I want to get the story behind the shot, including where and when it was taken.
Take this popular photo of a fisherman being sprayed in the face with ink by a squid. It’s an amazing shot and I’d love to find out more about it.
An online service called TinEye can do reverse photo searches to help you track down the origins of a photo.
TinEye helped me find a better version of the photo, but couldn’t help me identify its origins.
TinEye found 63 websites using a version of the photo. But there was no way to tell which site posted it first, much less where it came from.
I’m not sure if it is technically possible to do, but finding out who posted a photo first would go a long way to solving where a lot of mystery pictures came from.
With TinEye, you can sort results by “Best Match,” “Most Changed” and “Biggest Image,” but not by when it was posted.
Google today launched a competing reverse image search service.
I tried Google Search by Image, but it also couldn’t help me find the origin of the squid photo.
Google came up with 382 search results for the photo. But more isn’t necessarily better.
This particular picture has been popular with websites that run funny photos like Fail Blog and I Am Bored. Many of the websites that use the photo have plastered their logos or funny captions on it to make it their own.
If TinEye wants to compete with Google in reverse image search, it should focus on helping users find the origins of photos like this. That would be extremely useful.
Here are some suggestions:
  • Since photos like this one are often altered with words and logos, provide a filter to eliminate versions that have been changed in that way.
  • Sometimes photos are cropped to eliminate a photographer’s copyright notice or for artistic reasons. So, provide a way to search for photos with more detail on the edges. In other words, uncropped.
  • TinEye has a passionate user base that the service could use to its advantage. Allow users to mark the photos in search results that they believe are originals, have sourcing material or were posted first.
  • Taking crowdsourcing one step further, offer users the chance to help track down the origins of certain photos. Call it the gamification of TinEye. Regularly post photos that people submit for searching and make a contest out of finding the origins of the photo. (The search could even bring offline information online for scanned photos.)
You’re welcome, TinEye.
Maybe you can start with the fisherman and the squid photo as a test.
The earliest postings I can find are Oct. 19, 2004, and Nov. 1, 2004. Of course, neither of those websites provide any sourcing info.

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