Asking a computer to make sense of everyone's written opinions is a big challenge, but it's not the last one that social media will impose on anyone who wants to analyze it. We're sharing a lot of pictures in our virtual hangouts lately, which means it's time to update the old question. Instead of "what are people saying about us," the new question is something like, "what do people's pictures tell us about what they think of us and how they use our products?"
Just as the shared images give us access to new types of information about people, their tastes, and more, emerging technologies offer the promise of helping us understand the images at scale. To the vocabulary of text analytics or natural language processing, add computer vision. As with its text-processing cousin, it's not as evolved as your eyes, but it doesn't blink, and it doesn't sleep.
Looking at the photo directly
Let's say you want to track publicly shared photos that contain your company's logo. Without image analysis, monitoring depends on keywords in posts and photo descriptions, filenames, tags, and other metadata. It's better than nothing, but it has limitations. You're going to pick up images that don't actually include your logo, and you'll miss photos that include your logo but aren't about your logo.
If your tool can "see" product logos in photographs, you get access to a different type of information. You start to catch products and logos in the wild, where people really use them. The brand protection guys will like enhanced abilities to track counterfeits and parodies, but maybe this opens the door to a new kind of online ethnography, too.
Finding the technology
As demand picks up , you can expect the serious competitors in social media analysis to add image search capabilities. Already, Ninestars has added image recognition from a partner, and Meltwater's OculusAI acquisition suggests future capabilities with images. They won't be the last.
These companies are going at the image recognition challenge directly:
Computer vision has lots of potential beyond spotting logos in photos. I imagine that this sort of product/logo identification will extend to video, though I'll need to talk to an expert to understand when to expect that.
And then there are people. We already have identity tagging in Facebook, and big money is going toward advancing facial recognition. I also found Real Eyes, a company that analyzes emotional responses from video, so visual analysis of faces isn't limited to identifying their owners.
The computers aren't just reading. They're starting to watch, too. Can you do something good with that?
This is one of those list posts that will grow as people point out more companies. Who'd I miss?