A New Approach to Searching Photos

Munjal Shah, onetime cofounder of the auction services firm Andale, finally let slip on his new blog what he's been working on since leaving last year. As he writes:
Rob Hof

Munjal Shah, onetime cofounder of the auction services firm Andale, finally let slip on his new blog what he's been working on since leaving last year. As he writes: "I am co-founding a company because I found I had 31,246 photos all named DSC0009.jpg." In other words, his startup, tentatively named Ojos (Spanish for "eyes"), is creating a new way to search and organize photos.

Now, that might not sound at first like the most original idea. Among many others, Flickr, now part of Yahoo!, and Picasa, now part of Google, are tackling various aspects of organizing the crush of images spawned by digital cameras and sharing them with others. But while Shah remains coy about all his ambitions, he revealed the key technologies behind Ojos: face and text recognition.

Ojos plans to offer free unlimited hosting of photos, with software to upload photos to the service. An early demo I saw appeared to do a surprisingly good job of matching different photos of the same people. Though Shah admits there are many limitations, his bunch of Stanford facial recognition researchers seem likely to make further improvements.

The text recognition looks pretty interesting, too. Check out this photo of a Treo, annotated with all the words the Ojos service recognizes. Combine that with the ability to group photos taken in close time proximity to each other, add in a little social networking, and you can imagine that a large proportion of your photo collection might finally become useful.

The other key: You can assign tags, or keywords, to one photo and the service will automatically append that tag to other photos of the same people. That's potentially much less hassle than even Flickr, which already made tagging a lot easier.

Shah's cofounders include Burak Gokturk, a Stanford Ph.D. who holds 15 patents in face recognition, and entrepreneur Azhar Khan. Investors include Peter Rip of Leapfrog Ventures and John Malloy of BlueRun Ventures, the former Nokia venture unit.

No launch date yet. In fact, Ojos is an example of the new stealth mode for startups. Which is to say, not very stealthy. The new wrinkle here is that there isn't even a beta site up yet. Shah hopes that by soon letting people send in photos that Ojos will process and send back, and also inviting some alpha testers to try out the service and provide feedback, he'll tap into the open-source style. "Getting people involved with our development process will only make our products better," Shah says. With the potent competition out there, they'll need to be.

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