When I first wrote about visual search more than a year ago, it was all about a new type of search interface that would allow you to see results contextually through a more visual interface rather than a simple text listing of results. Visual search, at that point, was all about improving the interface to allow for more sophisticated search, results sorting, and grouping. Today, Riya just launched Like.com, which they are describing as the "first true visual search engine, where the contents of photos are used to search and retrieve similar items." Playing around with the tool, it’s hard not to get excited about the potential of this new techology to significantly change how ecommerce sites operate today. Imagine being able to take any image, zoom in on an object within it to see a product, learn more about it and conduct a search for similar items. In a sentence, this is the premise behind Like.com. In using the beta version for a few searches and going through the demo, it is hard to tell just how much of the tool is automated and would work on new images it is never indexed, however the promise of being able to search in this way through a vast archive of products could respresent the next evolution in online retail.
Coupled with this month’s cover story in Fast Company about Gordon Bell’s dedicated efforts to catalogue his entire life experience, second by second – this technology could also offer the key to image and memory retrieval as more and more of us build our own digital archives of our lives through video and digital images. Munjal Shah, the founder of Riya, shares on his blog that part of the reason behind pursuing visual search technology was his growing archive of more than 38,000 images and an inability to find the photos he wanted easily. It is a challenge that will become more and more common in the next few years as capacity for digital images and hard drive space are no longer constraints for digital photography and video. With unlimited storage comes unlimited content. All of this bodes well for services such as Riya for enabling the next generation of visual image search, and for the newly launched Like.com to help online shoppers quickly find that perfect handbag, and much more.