Modern Software Experience

2008-09-13

Visual Search

GazoPa is visual search engine. I reviewed a few of these already. I concluded that like.com is not visual search but a shopping portal with visual browse and that Riya is a web-hosted photo album with great search features. I was underwhelmed by the snailtacular performance and false positives of picitup, which requires JavaScript and is eager to run cross-site scripts from shopping.com, but very impressed by the speed and accuracy of TinEye. In my view, TinEye was the only real search engine of the bunch.

GazoPa

private beta

GazoPa just unveiled their "similar search engine" at the TechCrunch 50 event. Well, unveiled is a big word. They presented it to the investors, and the site is live, but it is still in private beta. If you did not obtain an invite, you’ll have to sign up to be placed on a waiting list.
The aforementioned review was enough to get an invite from Hideki Kobayashi, the project leader of the GazoPa project. GazoPa is not an independent company, but a project of Hitachi, Ltd.

YouTube video

There is a YouTube video on the public home page. It shows that you can start by entering some text, will get a bunch of images as a result, and can ten click on an image to more image that are similar.

first impression

The invite contains a link you have to click, and then you have to provide a password to activate your account. Once logged in, the site looks quite different. It has a photo album look not unlike like.com and picitup.com. This photo album is a collection of featured images. Each image has a "Similar search" button below it. This is a bunch of canned examples to get you started, not6 unlike TinEye’s Cool Searches collection. I guess they will move the Featured Images from the front page to their own page eventually, to present a cleaner search page and save bandwidth.
The search controls for your own search are along the top of the page.

Firefox add-on

I’ll leave comments upon the Terms of Service and a Privacy Policy to the lawyers. I was more interested in the "download plug-in". It is a Firefox add-on. Once installed, Firefox will show GazoPo on the context menu when you right-click an image. On my context menu, the TinEye and GazoPa menu items are now right under each other.

text

GazoPa allows you to start a search by entering some text, but that does not work very well. To be blunt: even Cuil, that incredibly underwhelming self-proclaimed Google killer, gives better results.
Enter "David Bowie" in GazoPa’s search box and you get an image that juxtaposes Cate Blanchet with an cat, a picture of J-Lo above an article that her Madrid restaurant had to shut down, a picture of MySpace user Catherine Russell, a picture of three wine glasses, a publicity image of musicist Imani Coppola and Little Jackie, and so on. Very few images are of the man himself.

All that these results have in common is that these images are on page that also has the words "David Bowie" on it. GazoPo really needs to get smarter about associating text and images. When you specialise in images, you have to beat Google image search. Right now, GazoPa’s text search results make you laugh or cry.

links lead elsewhere

GazoPa provides link to the images and to the page they appear on, just like Google does, with one major difference; Google’s links actually work. Often, when you follow GazoPa’s link to the page, you end up on a page that does not contain the image at all.

why GazoPa fails

I have a pretty good idea why GazoPa fails to link the right page; it does not understand permalinks. GazoPo often provides a link to the front page of a newspaper or blog, but the story that the image goes with is no longer on the front page

The quality of GazoPa’s links would improve drastically if it learned to recognise permalinks. On pages that comply with the permalink best practice of using permatitles, and mark their permalinks appropriately, that it isn’t hard to do.

unsuccessful

I had never heard of Imani Coppola and Little Jackie before. GazoPa lets you make an image you found the new example it will find similar images for, but that did not prove very successful in figuring out who the two people are. I had to use TinEye and Google to find the image elsewhere and identify who they are.

amusing failure

I tried several searches. GazoPo did not impress, but it did amuse. A search for "train wreck" resulted in just a few pictures of train wrecks. Other pictures returned included beachside pictures of Ashley Dupree and a publicity shot of Sacha Baron Cohen ’s Borat Sagdiyev. Results for "Rembrandt" were not funny, but downright disappointing; the best match was a photo of a room in the Louvre. The first page of results for "Google" seem a bunch of random pictures, including a dog, a map, a New Yorker cover, a woman on a bed, and a shot of some interior. All that, and not even one Google logo.
When I search for "dog" I do get see a lot of dogs, but the first picture is of a guy with a laptop. The first result for "bike" is three women on a beach. The first result for "space shuttle" is an image of a double helix.

unstable

A more interesting observation is that the results are not even stable. Repeat the same search again, and you are likely to get a completely different result sets. Try "train wreck" again, and you get a scuba diver and a high-heeled shoe. Try it again and you get Britney Spears kissing Madonna. Try it again and you get a picture of Paris Hilton. Try it again and you get picture of an oil tanker. Try it again and you start thinking the highest ranking result should be GazoPa.

index

GazoPa claims an index of 50.000.000 photos. That sounds impressive, but it is not good enough. I entered the name of distant cousin who’s a fashion designer. There are only a few pictures of her on the web, but there are hundreds of pictures of models wearing her designs. GazoPa returned one picture: an image of Julia Bristrow’s "Seashore" broche. It is included on some fashion site, but is not on the front page that GazoPa links me to. It is not unlikely that my distant cousin is mentioned in there somewhere, but she does not design broches at all, she designs clothes and shoes to go with it. When I kindly discount this false positive, the conclusion is that GazoPa did not find anything at all. Google returns almost three thousand images and most are all of her, her designs, the fashions shows she’s done and the shops that sell her stuff.

The big difference is that Google has more than a billion images in its index. GazoPa’s 50 million is just 5 % of that. It cannot compete on quantity, at least not yet, and it is specialised in image search, so it has to compete on quality, but many pictures it returns do not match the search words and does not even get the links right.

Technically, GazoPa isn’t too hot either. The pages do not validate. I even got a warning I don’t see too often: the HTML contains invalid characters. That is the most fundamental error possible, a very basic blunder. Several features, such as your image history, do not work unless you go unsafe by allowing JavaScript.

GazoPa versus TinEye

GazoPo and TinEye are not direct competitors. TinEye search for identical images, GazoPo searches for similar images.

similarity search

GazoPa is not about searching images by keyword, but if the keyword-based search does not improve soon, they better scrap it altogether. GazoPa is about finding similar images. The search engine extracts colour and shape information form the image to create a signature, and then returns images with similar signatures.

GazoPa uses handbags as their example. After trying it GazoPa for a while, I believe that to be an appropriate example. The search results I got make it hard to shake the impression that there is a bit of bias to commercial sites such as bestbuy.com.

The bigger problem is that I when I try to do the same, I simply do not get a screen full of handbags. I tried both "handbag" and "hand bag" but to describe the results as containing a few handbags is too kind, but that is because I am still used a text search to get started. As soon as I click one handbag to make it the key image, the display below it fills with handbags that look similar.

key image

Once you’ve picked a key image, you can start browsing GazoPo’s image collection by clicking images. Click any of the images to make that the key image, and see images that are similar to that one. There is no need to worry about making a wrong choice. If you think you did, you just go the history tab to see a history of your key images, and pick any of these to continue from there.

keywords

You can combine images with keywords. That’s a good idea in principle, but its usability is undermined by the lousy keyword search.

draw a picture

A more interesting feature, and one that actually works, is the ability to draw something and then let GazoPa search for something similar. I tried to draw a stop sign. I find the drawing applet to be less than intuitive, but it kind of worked, so tried a search and it came back with several bull’s-eyes and a few logos. As I clicked on pictures I deemed somewhat similar, I finally found something that looked like a stop sign. That’s nice, but just typing "stop sign" in Google search is faster.

Besides, I have great drawing programs on my desktop. Worse, the thing does not even work until you turn JavaScript on. This entire feature is not just awkward, but completely superfluous and unsafe to boot. GazoPa wasted valuable time and money on this, time and money they should have spend improving their keyword search.

video thumbnail search

The video thumbnail search is nice. Do not mistake it for video search though. It seems that it only searches the video thumbnails; That’s just the image, it encounters when it searches sites like YouTube. So, it is not really a video search, it is just a cover image search for videos.

application

The one application I see for GazoPa, except from integration into other services like a shopping site, is the ability to snap a picture of something you see, upload it, and then find out more about it. You cannot do that with TinEye, because it looks for the same picture. You can do it with GazoPa because it only looks for a similar image.

updates

2011-06-12 GazoPa

GazoPa shut down on 2011-06-08.

links