Ookles To Launch in Early 2007

Ookles, which we noted as a “Flickr Gunner” back in April, is preparing to launch early next year. The company has been quietly developing their new personal media destination site for about a year now, and has only made a few public comments about the service. I had a chance to see an early demo of Ookles late last week, though, and there are at least a couple of really outstanding features.

Founder Scott Johnson has called it “Flickr+Riya+YouTube” and I think that is an apt description based on what I’ve seen so far. Ookles is a destination site, not an add-on feature for users of Flickr and other services.

Ookles will be a place for users to store personal media (photos, videos and podcasts). Photos will launch first, and will have two key features I’ve not seen on other services: facial recognition and auto albums.

Facial Recognition

It is impossible to talk about facial recognition without mentioning the work Riya has done in this area. But Riya, which has recently focused on a different business, was always torn between becoming a destination site and partnering with competitors like Flickr. Ookles is making no fuss about it – they want you to permanently store your photos on their site.

They are handling facial recognition differently from Riya. See the screen shot below for an idea of how it will work. Like Riya, Ookles will find and show thumbnails of faces from photos, and then analyze that face against other faces in your photos. You tell Ookles which ones are a match. Ookles repeats the process a couple of times until it has a good idea of who the person is. It will then tag all photos with the name, and future photos containing that person will also be auto-tagged. The demo worked perfectly – it took a few steps to train it and then all photos were properly tagged.

Auto Albums

Ookles will take uploaded photos and create auto-albums based on photos taken during a single window in time. It’s a relatively simple feature, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else and I like it. If you take burst photos – a bunch of photos in a second or two hoping one will be good – Ookles will also automatically group these burst photos into a single thumbnail.

It will be hard for Ookles to get real traction against Flickr and the bevy of other photo destination sites around. But I think they may have a chance at success – generating semantic data around images is a huge problem, and people are usually the primary subjects to amateur photos. Any automated process to auto-tag these photos with people’s names will be welcome, and I like the way Ookles is approaching the problem. Flickr is certainly going to have to deal with this at some point, too.

I also like that they will support video and podcast files, too, something Flickr should have implemented long ago. For more on Ookles, listen to Gregory Galants podcast interview with Johnson from April 2006.