Riya: New eyes on search

Visionary search engine analyses the colour and the shape

Riya is a search engine company with a business model based on the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Founded in August 2004, the company specializes in visual search technology. Riya's patented Likeness Technology creates a digital signature that describes the photo's contents and then finds similar looking items and products.

The company's main business is Like.com, a search engine that allows photos to be used to search for retail items that are for sale on the Web. Essentially, Like.com helps customers shop for something that looks like something else.

"We look at a picture of a handbag, for example, and analyse the colour, shape, and texture of the object in that picture to find other items that have that colour, shape, and texture," says Munjal Shah, CEO of Riya and Like.com.

In the enterprise, as in the consumer space, reams of information are invisible to users and decision makers because it is in visual, not text format. While there are other visual search engines on the Web, such as Google Image search, Ditto.com , and Pixsy , they mainly focus on text-based searches for images. Riya corners the market on image-to-image searching, and Shah says there's a pressing need for it in e-commerce.

"If you're buying a carpet, do you really know how to describe the weave and the colours you want?" Shah says.

Key features of Like.com include Like Detail, which finds items by a specific feature (a buckle or some fringe); Like Celebrity, which finds clothes, shoes, and accessories that look like (but likely cost less than) those worn in celebrity photos; and Like Color. In a few months, the company will launch Like Upload, which lets people upload their own photos and search for the same or similar products. So if someone won't tell you where she got that dress or if you fall in love with the priceless rug in your competitor's office, you can snap a photo of it and go find something similar for yourself.Â

While Like.com is targeted at consumers, Shah said that visual search has applications beyond retail and that its initial applications have been in government and security applications.

"Nobody else has tried to do this for retail and commerce," he said.

In fact, retail wasn't Riya's original business model. The company got its initial funding for technology to automatically tag and organize photos. But there was a problem. "It got a lot of initial usage, but we couldn't figure out how to make any money with it," Shah says. "We had a huge number of people posting photos on the site, but they didn't keep using it consistently. They didn't load photos of grandma every day, and that was a problem."

While organizing photos was a "sometimes" affair, Shah realized that Web search was an every day thing, and Like.com was born.

While there are numerous applications of Riya's visual search technology, some of which may eventually find their way to the enterprise. Imagine, for example, analyzing a picture of Jerry from accounting and then searching for every picture of Jerry on your hard drive, the company network or the Web. For now, however, Shah says his company is staying focused on problems that draw visitors to their service.

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