Posted March 4, 2008 1:46 am by with 9 comments

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By David Snyder

While Bill Gates is banking on natural language search, the folks at Vodafone are throwing their hats in the empty ring of image search.

Vodafone demonstrated their search engine, Otello, at Cebit 2008 in Germany. The technology works by sending MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) images via mobile device instead of entering words or phrases.

Otello takes the image, retrieves information having to do with the image, and sends it to the user’s cell phone. Vodafone is hoping that the search engine will catch on with users that do not have normal keyboards on their mobile device.

Let’s clear it up.

This is not an image search in the sense of Google Images, where you enter words and data and find correlating images. In this search technology the pictures are the queries.

Otello will be adding in social media functionality, allowing users to send in images of themselves and friends to find out what kind of celebrity they look like. Vodafone also says they will be announcing a B2B platform for advertisers.

This concept sounds very similar to a concept called M2S penned by Anne Staurland Aarbakke.

The way the technology works is the person takes a picture, let’s say of the Statue of Liberty. They send the picture via MMS to Otello. The system, using a remote recognition server uses optical character recognition engines to assign confidence values to the mobile picture. The server finds the most relevant results for the confidence values, i.e. the Wikipedia entry on the Statue of Liberty, and returns those results to the user.

It remains to be seen when or even if Otello will ever see the light of day. This unveiling could be little more than a dog and pony show for a trade event. What is interesting however is the constant research and development that is going on with information retrieval on the periphery of the “big three” of the search industry.

Also notable in this case study in innovation is the melding of social media with search which seems to be the new accepted format for search engines.

Who knows? The day could come when you need to scan thousands of images as part of your search engine optimization plan.

About David Snyder

David Snyder is the online marketing manager for THAT Agency.

  • This one doesn’t excite me. Wonder if there would be any takers or a market for this kind of service. And considering how bizarre pictures could be, I really doubt things would work as expected.

  • I agree. I think the technology has to be limited. But its still interesting that companies are still developing new information retrievsal systems. Out of all the bad systems something great could surface and change search.

  • Bob

    Well it all depends on the type of pictures that are sent, and it would be interesting to see how this would work out.

  • This is some wild technology. I can see it being helpful on trips and vacations among other things.

  • definitely seems to be a great tool for travelers. My question would have to be on the size of the photo index they have to test images against. This seems to be the main concept limiting this search technology, besides questions of relevance.

  • what do think about this (Otello)?

  • PS3

    An image will capture what you are looking at but cannot convey why, or what you need to perform the search for.

    Say I take a picture of a local cinema. Will it come back with the history of the cinema, or viewing times, or maybe other cinemas in the area. How will the search engine filter the image.

  • Great point, but phrase based search cannot determin intent either.only relevance

  • It’s interesting, though I’m not sure how useful I’ll find it personally. I’m more the type a query and search person.

    The service would work great for all those images where you don’t recognize the subject, a monument, a person you think might be famous, etc. Definitely a market, but how useful I don’t know.