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Revolutionizing Photo Search With Riya

Riya is a new photo search tool which premiered at DEMO 2006.  It’s just gone into open beta.  The premise? As founder Munjal Shah said at DEMO "I have 13000 photos on my hard disk, and they’re all named things like P00109.JPG.  How can I find the photo I want?".  It’s a common problem.  Riya’s innovation is its ability to recognize, and automatically tag faces and text in photographs. 

Getting started with Riya is pretty painless.  Simply go to the website, create an account, and download the photo upload appplication (Windows only at this point).   Start the photo application, point it at your photos directory, and let it do it’s work.  It scans for faces and text, and then uploads each photo. That’s what it’s doing in the photo below.  And, as you add new photos to your PC it automatically scans them and uploads them.

Riya Photo Uploader at Work

Now, there’s a certain amount of irony in that photo.  I’ve actually got it stored on Flickr.  Riya, being beta, doesn’t yet have the ability to upload an individual photo.  It can only upload a collection.  Three days into the process, I’ve got about a little over 5,000 of the 9,000 photos in my collection uploaded.

The folks at Riya warn you upfront that the process of uploading your photos is slow.  They claim to be able to upload 4000 photos in a 24 hour period.  That may be true.  In practice, we found that the Riya uploader was such a resource hog that it had to be run at night only.

Once Riya has your photos online, it then asks you to train the engine to recognize the people in them.  This involves repeatedly looking at sets of photos, and identifying the faces Riya has found in them.  You can either have Riya show you unidentified faces, or browse your photos and identify people in them, or have Riya find faces that it thinks look like a face you’ve already identified, and then correct it.  Riya then takes the training you have given it, and uses it to recognize and tag faces in other photographs that you haven’t told it about.  According to Munjal, Riya will also take your collection of photos and compare it with your friends collections of photos, speeding up the recognition process dramatically.  I couldn’t test this feature.  I have no friends… on Riya, anyway.

So how good is it?  If you have only one or two photos of someone, it’s pretty hit and miss.  At 10 photos it’s getting pretty good.  At 100 or more photos, it’s hard to fool it.  For example:

  • I have hundreds of photos of my wife.  Riya always recognizes her. 
  • My two oldest sons are very similar in appearance.  Riya sometimes gets them mixed up.
  • I have pictures of my Dad from when he was a young man, now a grandfather, clean shaven, heavily bearded, with and without hat.  It’s pretty good at recognizing him, despite all the variations.

Riya can also recognize text, and tag photos based on the text in them. Like Flickr, you can also manually tag photos. I haven’t used either of these features much yet, though. 

Riya also gives hints about features that are in the works.  For instance, it has a blogging feature, and a print feature, and a URL feature coming.  These are the table stakes that other photo sharing systems already have, though.  Although required, they don’t really differentiate Riya from the competition.

All in all, Riya works pretty well.  It’s a great tool for anybody who takes lots of pictures of friends and family. Thumbs up!

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