The Rev2 Cabinet is a weekly investigative series at Rev2 where we take an in-depth look into some of the leading companies, startups, and services. Along with a podcast interview with our associate editor Zach Sims (embedded below and in the RSS feed), leading executives and CEOs offer insights into their startups and services which we analyze with an in-depth writeup. If you’re interested in being profiled, please contact Zach.
Most of the companies that get the most publicity are for personal use only. Yet others, whether they appeal to the commercial market or something else, help to form the very backbone of the internet. Idée Inc. is one of these companies. Idée is a pioneer in the field of image recognition and visual search. The company’s two hallmark products, PixID and Piximilar, target different areas of the market while utilizing much of the same technology. Products still in Idée Labs are also intriguing. I spoke with Idée’s CEO and Co-Founder, Leila Boujnane, about the company.
A New Field
In 1999, Leila Boujnane and Paul Bloore founded Idée with a flagship product called Espion, a framework that still serves as the base technology for the company’s flagship products. At the time, watermarking by Digimarc was the common standard. The technology added a watermark to the image in the form of film grain or noise, and then allowed the image to be identified with that watermark. At the time, most other companies were preoccupied with the process of digitizing their photographs and did not think of tracking them. The founders of Idée saw an opportunity and eagerly sought to create a product that could track clients’ images both in print and online. They proposed a completely new system, utilizing a form of image recognition that’s vastly different from the watermarking used by Digimarc. The technology enabled the company to track pieces of the image, images that have had their color changed, and images with various other changes. Idée Co-Founder and CTO Paul Bloore has an excellent overview of the technology and its immense depth at the Idée website.
In our conversation, Leila emphasized that the key difference between Idée and its competitors was Idée’s ability to scale. The technology, she noted, is “quite simple,” but it’s the index speed that makes Idée superior to its rivals. Faster processing, indexing, and searching speeds have helped the company garner high profile clients. The visual search system, which by most accounts is extremely accurate, “can scale tremendously.” Leila noted that it’s designed “for millions of images,” which she sees as the “future of image searching scale.” Paul Bloore has claimed that Idée indexes millions of images throughout the internet to monitor for clients’ photos. Scalability becomes extremely important with numbers like that.
After perfecting the original Espion technology, Idée formed the PixID product, used by many corporations around the world to track the use of their photos both in print and online. Leila sees image tracking as a field with “great potential,” and Idée has approached the market aggressively. Their largest clients, the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and Adobe, are some of the biggest names in their respective industries. After the rights holders upload their images to Idée, patterns are extracted from the image. Then, the patterns are compared to roughly 5000 publications and 200 million internet images. Finally, the company sends out automated reports to the Idée account each day to recount where the image has been spotted. The original and modified image are shown together, and the portion taken from the original image is highlighted. Additionally, PixID takes a screenshot of the webpage with the infringing photograph to preserve it.
A Match Found by PixID
Reports generated by PixID have a wide variety of uses, and allow users to track their images for billing, to track infringement, or for a variety of other purposes. Digg, the social news powerhouse, launched Digg Images with a partnership with Idée. Idée helps the company to identify duplicate images when they’re submitted. Just as with the company’s other visual search initiatives, it identifies images even if they’ve been modified.
Piximilar targets a different section of the market, providing “similar” images as opposed to finding those that are identical. If you’ve seen “Find similar images” buttons on websites, chances are Idée’s powering one of them. The service proves especially useful for stock photo sites. Masterfile, one such site, has integrated Idée’s Piximilar as SimSearch, allowing users to search their immense stock photo library for images similar in color, shape, theme, or a variety of other criteria. Fotofinder.net uses the idea as well, allowing users to mesh both “more like this” and textual search. Idée Labs hosts a bunch of other consumer oriented searches based on the Piximilar technology. The Multicolr app lets users search for Flickr pictures by clicking on a variety of colors they’d like to be included. Their visual search lab, meanwhile, lets you click a picture and find something similar, just as it’s implemented on stock photo sites. The best part, however, is the BYO Image Search Lab, which lets users upload their own photos and find pictures similar to it.
Similar Images Found With Piximilar
Fresh Ideas for a New Market
Idée is one of the industry leaders in the fields it currently is involved in with Piximilar and PixID. Those products, however, are aimed at a mainly enterprise-level audience. Idée Labs products like the BYO Image Search Lab mentioned above seem prime for the consumer market. Leila noted that Idée was exploring their options in the consumer field and would probably release a variation on their enterprise solutions for aspiring photographers. A hybrid between the BYO Image Search Lab and PixID would be perfect for semi-professional photographers and smaller companies who wanted to protect and license their images.
Leila also confirmed that Idée will be moving into the video market in the first quarter of 2008. As a logical expansion of their activities in the image realm, video features will operate in a similar manner to their image counterparts. “We have to continue to innovate,” said Leila, noting that there are “streams and streams of video” that Idée can be used with. The scale Idée currently can manage with photos will come in handy with video, a field which requires far more processing. Pilots are currently in progress with some of the company’s established clients.
Sound and text, meanwhile, are off limits to Idée. Those areas are “very different problems,” said Leila.
Idée’s comprehensive suite of photo tracking tools [and soon, video tracking tools] have not been matched by any competing product. I quizzed Leila on a bunch of potential competitors, including heavyweights like Google and Yahoo!. Those companies, she thought, were not threats because they “work in a specialized niche,” text searching. PicScout, meanwhile, tracks images like Idée but only in online mediums. It’s neither as comprehensive as Idée nor as well established. Attributor offers a service like Idée’s, but for text.
Refining Watch Choice by Visual at Riya’s Like.com
Riya launched to a lot of fanfare, and was called “the first true visual image search.” Originally centered around uploading photographs and autotagging faces, etc. the service has now transitioned most of its efforts to Like.com, a visual search engine for shopping. The service basically does what Idée’s Piximilar does, but for shoppers. Users can search using text, color, shape, pattern, and more to find the clothing item they desire. Leila saw a few critical disparities between Idée and Riya. Although they started with facial recognition, they have just moved into image search, and their searches do not, according to Leila, produce enough similar images. The issue Riya tackles with Like is a “very specific problem,” whereas Idée exists more as a software company for images. Idée licenses their technology to companies who themselves could, theoretically, create mashups similar to Like.com.
Idée was a trailblazer in the field of image recognition, and they’d like to be recognized as such. They were the first to image tracking, and they’re racing to prepare for video tracking as well. Their entry into the consumer market will also be a big change for the company, but they have a solid platform to build upon. Leila told me that Idée strives to sit between “where content is produced and how it ends up being used.” The platform enables companies to collect sophisticated metrics as well, helping them to better target content production. Their roadmap for the future ensures that Idée will continue to be a pioneer in whatever field they choose, whether it’s video or images.