The future of search

The acquisition of Plink  by Google marks the debut of a potent revolution for the photo world. Not because Plink is a special company, nor that it would mean Google really cares about the photo world, but for the technical implications.

As it is frequent with Google, it is not the company they purchase, but the talent. Plink, if you didn’t know it, is a company that does (did?) visual search. Take a picture of a painting and it will find the original along with the information, all from your cell phone. Nothing really new, LTU Technology  has this for the iPhone and Idee  or Picsout  could easily replicate this in ten minutes if they were not so busy trying to find a sustainable business model.

No, what is interesting is how Google intends to expand this technology and use the migrating talents. They will integrate with Google Goggles, their project of photographing places, objects, etc with your cellphone and return a search result, thus eliminating text based queries.

The smarts ones here can see where we are going with this

For this to happen, Google needs to improve object recognition technology. If anyone can do it, and do it well, they can. There will now be a thousand companies competing in that field, if only in the hope to be acquired by Google (which is a more popular exit strategy then doing an IPO, these days).

So what does it mean for the photo world? 

Well, at first, the end of manually entered text keywords. With this, an image can be scanned and all content automatically identified and added to the keyword list. Goodbye to the thousands (mostly in India), that currently provide this process manually. The hard, if not very hard part, will be the conceptual keywords. What is fresh? What is happy? What is “in love”? Computers will have a very hard time to decipher human emotions and concepts. It’s not impossible, just very hard. However, 90% of the process will be done already.

It will place Google in a very advanced part of the search technology and it will not be easy and simple to replicate. It will accelerate the camera- to desktop cycle for photo agencies that use it well; it will make Microstock even more automated and cheaper to process.

So, while you think how and what to invest in your keywording work flow, think about what is just around the corner and about how this will make your competition more cost effective than you. Think about how to reduce manual labor in favor of automated processes. Think about abandoning that endless discussion about how to handle your keywords because it will no longer be the issue.

Finally, if you are a company making revenue solely or primarily on providing keywording, the time to change is now

 About the author

This business has too many Surveyors and not enough Bohemians”      Roger Therond , legendary photo man, once said to a good friend of mine, Eliane Laffont. This blog is about restoring the balance and letting the Bohemians talk.

Paul Melcher  has been named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography” by American Photo. He is currently senior vice president of the PictureGroup. He writes the Thoughts of a Bohemian blog

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses