Face recognition (Riya, MyHeritage) – Living in the real world?

9 11 2006

If you’ve been at least remotely touched by the Web 2.0 promotion engine, you’ve likely heard at least part of the Riya story, the startup that moved from face recognition that was reported to have been close to being acquired by Google to a broader visual search engine shortly after its face recognition product launched.  CEO Munjal Shah has done a great job chronicling his strategy shift on his blog for startups everywhere.

Now they’ve launched Like.com, a visual, vertical search engine for women’s fashion items. It’s undoubtedly an interesting choice that I’ve not settled on a full judgment on, although I’ve certainly seen the arguments hailing Like and others that question how ready for prime time face recognition really is. I personally like the vision of visual imaging and similarity matching, however imperfect it may be.

The initial version is missing some simple things that will be key, such as being able to upload a photo that you can then match against products. Undoubtedly, these will be drivers towards making this a more useful application. It seemed initially redundant to have to search through celebrity photos, then through item photos that may or may not closely match.

I originally thought Riya was moving towards a broader similarity engine. I still think this is where they’ll need to go to stand a chance to monetize fast enough against what is probably a fairly significant burn rate.

MyHeritage is an Israeli face recognition startup that was mentioned to me for its cool face recognition and person-to-celebrity matching tools, among other geneaology related applications.

So my question here is whether these startups are living in the real world. To a geek like myself and others, this is undoubtedly cool. But the question remains: is this a geek phenomenon? I like to be firmly rooted in the real world.  iLetYou is rooted in the real world. I prefer real people over avatars, social settings over social networks, etc. I like cool things, but I love things that make my life easier or better.  It’s not about being unnecessarily physical, but realness is about modeling natural human behavior not radically flying in the face of it.  The iPod is not an adjustment of human behavior, just a much nicer model to fit human’s quench for music.

So many Web 2.0 startups feel unnatural, which is my personal litmus test for longevity in Web 2.0 companies.

How do you root something like Riya in the real world?  You make it natural. Eventually, people may be able to use their cell phone cameras to quick snap pictures they can more easily research online. This is where Riya’s concern has to lie and I’d be most concerned that with such a big problem that you might be too far ahead of the mainstream audience.

So for all it’s coolness, you have to ask yourself with all these Web 2.0 startups: are they living in the real world?




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