Image searching

We are pretty used to search the net by typing in some search terms and obtaining sooner or later the information we are looking for. We know how to narrow down a search by using a “+” prefix or the keyword “AND” ( depending on what search engine one is using ), we can search by tags and we use convenient firefox search tools to search particular sites. We know where to always get an answer ( Wikipedia ) and we know that if Wikipedia would not exist we would be pretty much lost without google.

DSC01227
"DSC01227" by whorus3.

What you probably don’t know yet is that it is also possible to start a search with a given image. TinEye is the service I am talking about, it has been mentioned in Lifehacker a few month ago. And even you might know this you might have asked yourself the question what this could be good for.

Let me give you an example. Last week I featured this photo on the right as my favorite flickr photo of the week published under a CC license in my company internal blog. Like many photos in flickr it did not come with any meaningful title or description what it shows, but I was curious to learn more about this particular gate and where it is located.

TinEye helped me to find out. I pasted in the URL to this photo and retrieved this list of search results. I was truly surprised to find indeed a lot of similar images of the very same place. After following a few of the links and ending up on some pages useless for me because they only contained that image without any further information or they were written in some foreign language I finally ended up here and learned that this is a “Famous floating torii gate”. Now I had found the right term to look up more details in Wikipedia:

A torii (鳥居?) (IPA: /ˈtɔriˌi/) is a traditional Japanese gate commonly found at the entry to a Shinto shrine, although it can be found at Buddhist temples as well.

The particular gate on this photo is located at the …

Itsukushima Shrine (Japanese: 厳島神社, Itsukushima Jinja) is a Shinto shrine on the island of Itsukushima (popularly known as Miyajima) in the city of Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima Prefecture in Japan.

I think this is an impressive example and case study how image searching can be of any use.

Tineyes search index currently still is pretty small. If I search for a particular place where I have been during my trip to Norway in 2004 I find nothing. Searching for a more popular spot in San Francisco at least retrieves 2 search results. A search for the famous Golden Gate Bridge using this photo fails, but when I use this photo from wikipedia I get several findings: multiple usages of obviously the very same photo at different places, a creative manipulation of that photo and also similar shots. One purpose of Tineyes of course is to find out who has stolen one of your photos e.g. from flickr to use it somewhere else. For example this portrait of Galileo Galilei also used in Wikipedia has been used at 47 different other locations in the internet.

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