Image Recognition Problem Finally Solved: Let's Pay People To Tag Photos

Most people have thousands of digital photos sitting on their hard drive. And the vast majority of those photos aren’t tagged or searchable. Want to find the 300 pictures of your youngest son amongst 10,000 others? It’s not going to happen. Unless you’ve been diligently tagging and categorizing those photos over the years, and who does that?

The problem is obvious. The solution, not so much. A trail of failed startups have tried to tackle the problem with a fairly serious application of technology, including: Riya (now focused on ecommerce via, Ookles (never launched), and Polar Rose (in private beta for nearly a year), among others.

And now suddenly TagCow appears, which allows users to upload photos and have them tagged within a few minutes. The technology appears to be “magic,” meaning there’s no explanation of it.

If there’s a mountain in the photo, it’s tagged. A dog? yep. A yellow cup? Absolutely. It does people, too. Upload an image of a person and say who it is, and all other images you upload will be tagged with that person, too. The service also integrates with Flickr and will auto tag the photos you have on the service.

Thomas Hawk, the CEO of photo site Zooomr, tried the service and declared it “really, really cool,” although he wonders how it works.

The answer is, humans do it. I note that the TagCow site is careful not to say anything about the tagging process, and never use the word “automated” or anything else that would suggests computers are doing the work. Munjal Shah, the founder of Riya/Like, agreed, noting that it recognized a witch in Thomas’ photo – he says this just isn’t something a computer can do today.

I haven’t confirmed this yet. I’ve emailed the company for a description of how the service works but have yet to hear back. Until we do, I’m betting that humans are the taggers. Note that Google has effectively thrown in the towel and uses humans for this kind of work, too.

TagCow appears to be offering the service for free, so the cost side of the business may be a problem for them down the road. And the business is definitely a little sketchy. Worried about the privacy of your data? Just don’t click on their Privacy Policy or Terms of Use: “Privacy policy is TBD.” and “Legal stuff TBD.” Not exactly a way to build confidence.