Is a picture worth a thousand search words?

By Catherine

Written by Catherine Bolgar

Selecting the right Internet search words can be frustrating. But thanks to broader bandwidth and better picture-recognition technology, future searches may be image- or video-driven

“There’s a long history of search engines that have tried to use images,, says Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy for the Local Search Association, an industry association of media companies, agencies and technology providers. “Visual search was seen as more directly delivering information than text. Maybe it was a technology thing or timing thing, but they didn’t quite find the right model.”

As smart phones began reshaping the Internet landscape—some 340 million were shipped in the second quarter of 2015 alone—pre-existing visual search engines such as Grokker, Viewzi and SearchMe floundered. Yet the proliferation of smart phones and tablets may have increased demand because their small screens are more suited to pictures than text.

Visual is definitely one path forward for search,” Mr. Sterling says. At the moment, when searching for a particular product, “unless you have a specific brand name, it’s hard and frustrating clicking back and forth to different sites.”

An image search “will confirm quickly if it’s what you’re looking for, plus provide customer reviews and other product information,” Mr. Sterling says.


However, image search is not so straightforward. You take a photograph and use it to search related information, but success depends on the angle, light and focus of the photo.

“In the future, maybe it will be the case where you snap a picture of a landmark and get all the information about it,” he says. “What’s open for improvement is using a camera to get information. Inputting a 16-digit credit card number into a small screen on a phone is problematic. You mistype. Today, you can take a picture of the credit card and certain apps will recognize it and process it into the form.”

Images by themselves probably aren’t the future. “Look for a mix of images and structured data, finding what images are, finding other related things and organizing that information with tags and other data,” Mr. Sterling says. “There’s more and more sophistication in how you identify and index, with machine learning and other technology that exists behind the scenes that could apply to a pure text or image model.”

Researchers are working to improve the technological foundations for image searches. A group of universities is developing ImageNet, a database of 14 million images that attaches images to nouns.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo Torresani, associate professor of computer science at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, has helped create a machine-learning algorithm that uses images to find documents. However, only a few users annotate their uploaded pictures and videos, and not necessarily accurately. “The repository is expanding at an astonishing rate, but we can’t retrieve content efficiently,” Dr. Torresani says.

Software can check whether the searched-for objects are in a picture, and if so automatically tags them. “It works, but has limitations,” Dr. Torresani says. “It’s difficult to expose all the content in the picture with predefined classes. And if you use predefined classes, then the search is only accessible through those keywords.”

Another way is to extract some visual features, like a visual signature, that allows users to search by example. Alternatively, software could translate key words into the visual signature, because users are accustomed to searching via text. This would work like language translation software, but translating from text to image instead.

“It could be used to find images or videos that are similar in context or appearance, and link them somehow,” Dr. Torresani says. “It could make the repositories browsable.”

Video is the bigger challenge. “One second of video has 30 images,” he says. “The amount of data we need to analyze a one-minute video is huge. Storage is a problem. Retrieval is a problem. Processing is a problem.”

Yet “even if the recognition process fails on one or two images, we have so many of them and the view maybe changes and the object that was ambiguous becomes clearer later in the video,” Dr. Torresani says. “From that point of view, video is easier than a still image.”


Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Burning Questions at #DSCC2010 – Free Roadsters, Robot Autographs and Exalead

By Derek

Some time ago, I tweeted that The Burning Question for DSCC 2010 was “What the heck is Exalead?”

Well, I’m here to apologize.  That was wrong.  Totally and completely wrong.

That’s not the burning question at DSCC 2010.  There are other burning questions related to DSCC 2010:

  • Will Tesla Motors give out free Roadsters to every attendee?
  • Will the Robot Whisperers from DELMIA be signing autographs?
  • Is PLM the spicy mustard of innovation on the chicken sandwich of product development?

All valid questions but . . . I’d like to focus on three Exalead-related questions for this post:

1.    What is Exalead?

Exalead is a global provider of search and information access software for the enterprise and Web.  It is the only search platform on the market designed from the ground up for both usages.  Exalead’s technology powers its Web search engine, the world’s third largest at 16 billion pages indexed.  Exalead’s platform makes it the leader in Search Based Applications or SBAs.  Because of this, analyst IDC calls Exalead a “disruptive” company to watch, and Gartner upgraded Exalead from Visionary to Challenger in its Information Access Technology Magic Quadrant.

2.     Why should I care about Exalead?

Analyst report after analyst report shows that finding information is a crucial part of efficient product development.  Too much searching and not enough designing is a common complaint.  Exalead and its SBA platform address that problem head on.
OK, so better info access.  Great.  But why is Exalead a smashing information access glue for PLM?  Morgan Zimmerman, Exalead’s VP of BizDev, in a previous blog post, said it quite succinctly:

“While enterprise SBAs are often used to provide database-style information access and reporting – without the usability and performance constraints of direct database access – online and mobile SBAs often ‘ mash-up’ unstructured and structured content to create a pertinent and engaging experience for consumers.”

Therein lays a key to the importance of SBAs and Exalead’s technology to PLM:  structured and unstructured data.

Exalead’s heritage as a hybrid enterprise and Web search company makes it a perfect fit in the ongoing evolution of social media, social innovation and PLM 2.0.  PLM isn’t just inside the four walls of the enterprise anymore.  Collaboration is extending outside the enterprise and into the Web and social media-sphere.  You’ll see Dassault Systèmes’ answer to this phenomenon at DSCC 2010 in Orlando and at the upcoming ECF near Paris.

Bruno Delahaye, Dassault Systèmes’ ENOVIA and collaboration lead , connected the dots in a previous post:

“Search-Based Applications will modernize information access and give plenty of perspectives for all our brands, with a specific emphasis for ENOVIA. [For example,] instead of deploying sourcing services centered on data already identified in their engineering bases, our customers could extend the search to CRM, ERP and even more interesting, selected suppliers’ Web catalogs. Sourcing parts or completing a BOM with metadata can now truly leverage the power of the Web and the depth of the information outside the company firewall. A true game changer and certainly a unique competitive advantage.”

3.  How will Exalead impact my PLM strategy?

That’s a pretty big question.  Take a look at the DSCC event agenda.  There will be several opportunities to examine that question, both in the General Sessions, where Exalead will be discussed and in in individual tracks where SBAs and Exalead’s relevance to customers’ PLM implementations and strategies will be demo’d. 

So the best way to get answers to THIS burning question is to attend DSCC! ;-)

You might get the impression from this post that the only burning questions at DSCC 2010 will be about Exalead.  Not true.  There will be as many burning questions as there are attendees.  And all of them will be relevant and critical.  In part, this is one of the purposes of DSCC 2010:  to answer those questions.

What are your burning questions for DSCC?



Get on the Road this Summer with an SBA!

By Morgan

In my last post, I introduced you to two Search-Based Applications (SBA) that’ll help you find the perfect restaurant: Urbanizer and Restminer. Now it’s time for some one-stop shopping. Drop by ViaMichelin, the travel portal of travel publishing and services leader Michelin, to explore destinations and discover millions points of interest (hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc.).
Using Exalead technology, the rich content on this travel SBA is generated by mashing up databases, Web content and mapping information.

Once you’ve found your dream spot, use ViaMichelin to plan your trip to the last detail:
· What to pack (weather service)
· How to get the airport on time (traffic service)
· How to get around once you arrive (routes and maps)
· Where to stay (hotels, campsites, B&Bs, residences…)
· What to see (tourist attractions)
· Where to eat (restaurant guide)

You can also pick up some of Michelin’s famous guides and maps along the way, all offered you to in context thanks to CloudView technology.

So don’t wait, plot your perfect summer getaway now with an SBA!



As VP of Business Development, Morgan Zimmerman leads Exalead’s new strategic market development initiatives.

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