When it rains, it pours. Amazon is joining the visual search party, but with a twist.
Today Amazon released an iPhone app with a feature called “Amazon Remembers”. You take a picture of some product you’re interested in and the app uploads it to Amazon. You can then revisit your list later from a browser, e.g. to buy the item. The interesting bit is that Amazon attempts to generate a link to the product page based on your image. Examples here. This isn’t instant, and may take anywhere from five minutes to 24 hours.
Fascinatingly, the back end is apparently not computer vision based. It uses Mechanical Turk, where Amazon is paying people $0.10 per image to generate the links. See here. This is quite amazing to me. I have no idea if Mechanical Turk is deep enough to support this app if it truly becomes popular, but I suppose in that case Amazon could set up a dedicated call-centre type operation to handle the image recognition.
So, visual search companies now have a very direct measure of the value of a correct image search. Judging by the current set of images on Mechanical Turk, a fully automated solution is not possible. However, a hybrid system where some easy categories like books are recognised automatically and harder cases are farmed out to Mechanical Turk would clearly translate into significantly lower costs.
(Of course it’s possible Amazon are already doing this, though I did see several books in the Mechanical Turk requests).