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Truth or Rumour

Friday, November 18, 2005

Rumors are flying this morning that Riya (a killer photo facial recognition startup) has been or is being acquired by Google in the $40 million range. See Om Malik, Niall Kennedy and Paul Kedrosky.

Even though everyone is blogging about it, this is nothing more than a rumor at this point.

So what is the rumour -

Google purchasing Riya?

Photo service Riya has been acquired by Google for close to $40 million according to sources involved with the company. Riya uses face recognition technology to identify people in photos. The system can also recognize text such as street signs. Google likes using algorithms to solve complex problems, so the acquisition seems like a good fit. Om Malik has done some additional digging on the deal's details. Riya has approximately 12 employees in Redwood City and an additional 10 employees in India. Riya is set to launch this week with a party in Atherton this Friday

Riya leverages potent facial and text recognition technology with an intelligent interface to help people make sense of the thousands of untitled and untagged photos that are building up on their hard drives (and on the web).How it works?

The process starts with registration and choosing a privacy setting on your pictures. You then download a client application that uploads photos you choose to include in Riya. The actual uploading takes a while - about 4 hours for each GB of photos. Instead of waiting around, Riya will email you when the process is complete.

That’s when the fun starts. In my case about 400 pictures were uploaded. I was presented with a view of facial thumbnails of everyone in my photos. Riya asks that you begin to educate it by telling it who the people are…it then very quickly starts to auto-tag pictures with a surprising level of accuracy.

Riya also recognizes text in photos, and lets you select any area of a photo and tag that as well. For instance, you could select just the Eiffel Tower in a photo and tag it as such. Within moments, everything of importance in all of my photos was tagged. And more importantly, it was searchable.

It’s an easy step to allow friends to also tag and search your photos (if you choose), and even allow full public search.

Linking these two features - massively automated tagging of everything in photos, with search, is compelling to say the least. The folks at Riya call it “tag locally, search globally”.

Riya is going to be successful. They have real technology. And, as people use it to tag photos, Riya will create a database of unique attributes of people. Once enough people start using the service, Riya will be able to auto-tag people’s names with less and less training by the user. At that point, why would anyone try a competing service? Riya will have technology (protected by patents) and an incredible network effect as well.

Riya plans on having a destination site that will be free, and will OEM their service to other photo services. Sites like flickr can certainly try to duplicate Riya’s service, but unless they move very quickly Riya’s network effect Riya will be insurmountable.

In fact, Riya could become so ubiquitous as to actually cause real privacy concerns. One question I asked the team today was - “what if you get so much data on people that I could take a picture of a crowd, upload it to Riya, and instantly have the names of every single person in the crowd?” Apparently, their technology is not that powerful - yet. Riya’s ability to know who’s in a photo is largely based on who you are and the people you are connected to.

To fully appreciate Riya you have to see it visually. I’ve posted a few screen shots below of my experience using it earlier today.

Get in to the Riya alpha if you can. It’s going to be a popular service.

I can see why Google might be interested. Imagine being able to do a search where you say: “Find me something that looks like THIS,” and it just does it.    

By Anonymous Bindesh on 11/18/2005 07:42:00 PM

As an alpha tester of the great Riya product i am happy to see the rumors about a possible acquisition by Google. The product works great and will finally bring sense to the Google Image and Desktop Search.Imagine searching within.    

All this talk of Riya’s possible acquisition has made me think about image search, face recognition and all the problems in that area. Getting humans to tag your photos, ala Flickr, seems to work on some levels, as does the traditional method…    

it would be cool if people could contribute other stuff besides faces for auto-tagging into a community pool of photos (that is only used to learn and spit out tags). So Riya’s servers would start auto-tagging other objects - or even scenes, like the beach - as well. One thing I worry about for Riya (as cool as it sounds) is that I suspect face recognition will work the best to auto-tag people you take the most photos of such as friends and family. As you get more photos of the same people, you will have such a large pool that tagging by name won’t reduce finding the photos by very much without the context of where the photo was taken.    

By Anonymous Aarti on 11/18/2005 08:05:00 PM

This is (or should I say was) expected. Google showing its interests in Riya, for the tunes of $40-60M. There is a lot of talk on the blogosphere (Om, Niall, Paul) today about Google aquiring Riya. None has been confirmed by either of the sides to t…    

I doubt they are buying them for the automatic facial recognition technology - that technology has been around for some time for dating sites.

I think they are interested in the object recognition/tagging feature, but that is just my opinion.    

Mesh, Aarti, Jeff:

To address your specific thoughts...

Our (VIMA Technologies) end-user meetings tell us that facial recognition is the number one requirement by end-users. Although facial recognition has been around a while and we've trialed software that has a 90% accuracy rate on your family members, the key is face detection. Finding a higher percentage of faces is where there is room to add much value.

Also relative to the software being around...where's the beef? (okay, that dates me). Who's made it a product? Only Riya (Ojos) has taken the effort to follow that vision and let the world know about it.

Relative to tagging that goes beyond faces and reading text, check out VIMA (www.VIMAtech.com, my company) and some of our customers in the stock photo space (www.DanitaDelimont.com, www.MediaBakery.com).

Using the same feature extraction and machine learning technology that has made us successful in providing an image porn blocker to email security companies, we have created a search refinement tool. Our special twist is that one can keep refining by clicking more images. It is much more satifying than a single click that misses your key concepts captured in a single image. (Can you imagine doing all of your text search constrained to only one word and never being able to search within results?)

Anyone out there interested in more about image classifiers and search refinement based on visual clues, drop me a note: DTL at VIMAtech.com (at=@ to help reduce spam).

I see Riya as a personal photo metatagging company which has begun with face recognition and text recognition. VIMA has a similar vision. We happened to start our approach relative to scene concepts. The concept that creates revenue today is to block objectionable images.

Who wouldn't want to team up with the energy Munjal appears to have harnessed? Face recognition and scene classifying are two very different approaches. We see a lot of opportunity and perhaps Google does too.    

OFF TOPIC: Hi Rajesh, I'm Francesco-Starsailor.
I reply to your salute! I'm Kagliostro's friend! ;)
You're welcome in my blog.
When I update my blogroll I'll insert your blog!
Oh sorry, I must improve my english.


We installed VIMA's search technology on our website to give our customers another way to locate images besides keywords. It often produces better results that save searchers hours of time by showing images that most closely resemble what they are looking for at the top of the search results. The technology is amazing and will have ever-increasing economic value to companies involved in imagery in any way. Faces are just a small part of the picture, so to speak.    

Francesco-Starsailor @ - you are welcome in SaCreD MaTriX, don't worry about english even mine is not so good..

DTL & Dave @ - Thanx for updating info about this new technology.. :)    

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