Who’s that on Facebook

An Israeli start up has developed a face recognition analysis technology to help users identify exactly who is in their Facebook snaps. It can be tricky trying to figure out who everyone is in your Facebook photo albums, but now …

An Israeli start up has developed a face recognition analysis technology to help users identify exactly who is in their Facebook snaps.

It can be tricky trying to figure out who everyone is in your Facebook photo albums, but now an Israeli company has come up with a solution – a unique face recognition analysis technology that can analyze and identify people in your online photos, and even connect you with them on the web.

Developed by Face.com, the Friend Finder application is designed for the millions of Facebook users who paste their pictures on the social networking site. Since the site was first founded, users have uploaded more than 15 billion pictures on the website, and a massive 60 percent of all photos on the web can be found on Facebook pages.

“In the first month of our alpha test, we scanned some 400 million photos, identifying about 700,000 people, with users confirming the identities of about 150,000 people,” says Gil Hirsch Face.com’s CEO and co-founder. “Based on the number of people we had in the test, that works out to an astounding average of 101,000 in the extended social network – ie, you, your friends, and their friends. The chances that you’re in some of these photos and don’t even know it are very high – thus the instant popularity of Friend Finder,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

Hirsch decided to work initially with Facebook because it was a good place to get started, but the technology goes far beyond identifying friends you don’t know.

“Until now, nearly all photo recognition applications and technologies have been developed for the security industry – for example, a camera would compare the face of a visitor to a secure facility against a database. But photos taken by consumers and uploaded to internet sites are much more problematic,” says Hirsch. “The photos are usually very poor quality, with shadows, red-eye, and all the other disadvantages.”

Face recognition ‘in the wild’

Face recognition technology for security purposes was designed to work in optimum lighting and atmospheric conditions – after all, the entrances to secure facilities are well lit, and the visitor has to look straight ahead, as per the security guard’s instructions.

That technology, says Hirsch, worked very poorly with photos “in the wild,” and the company realized it would have to start from scratch.

“Without getting too technical, our technology looks at information that is already known – photos in your Facebook account, for example – and compares them with elements of other photos with unknown elements. Our algorithms compare the photos, and Friend Finder makes an educated guess on the identity of a person. The user is then asked to confirm, and a tag is attached to the identified person, with that photo now added to the recognition database,” he says.

In other words, Face.com’s technology learns as it goes, honing its recognition capabilities for greater precision and more accurate identification. And the tagging paradigm – with Friend Finder automatically attaching a label to a person in a photo – is quite familiar to Facebook users, who can tag individuals in their photos manually on their member page.

Focusing on social photo recognition

Face.com, by the way, is extremely secure to use – it doesn’t store, or even download, the photos on your Facebook page. “We just analyze the photo and dump it, providing you with the tag result on your page,” says Hirsch. “There is no way in the world we could afford the storage space for 15 billion Facebook photos, or the 400 million we analyzed in the first month, even if we wanted to.”

While Face.com’s technology sounds like it could be developed into a fascinating security application as well, Hirsch says the company is concentrating on the consumer market for now.

“Our next step is to expand our presence in Facebook, and over the next year we will be rolling out more services on other sites,” he explains.

The company’s R&D is based in Tel Aviv, and Face.com has a New York office as well – with about 10 people working for the company right now. “We’re privately funded, and we are financially stable at this time,” Hirsch says, with investors recognizing the potential of the company’s technology even during the recession.

“Right now, we see our mission as focusing on social photo recognition, and making the online experience more fun,” says Hirsch.

If the buzz on Facebook and the blogosphere is any indication, Friend Finder is set to become one of the most popular Facebook applications.