I Tried To Teach Google Goggles A Thing or Two…But it Just Won't Listen

By Tad Miller | Sep 15, 2010
More Articles by Tad

Last December I was fascinated with the idea of Visual Search as promoted by Google with its Goggles App.  Google says of Goggles:

Google Goggles lets you use pictures taken with your mobile phone to search the web. It’s ideal for things that aren’t easy to describe in words. There’s no need to type or speak your query – all you have to do is open the app, snap a picture, and wait for your search results.

Google Goggles works better with certain types of queries. Try taking pictures of books & DVDs, landmarks, logos, contact info, artwork, businesses, products, barcodes, or text. Currently, it’s not so good when taking pictures of animals, plants, cars, furniture, or apparel.

Goggle’s also has some augmented reality features that use the Android phone’s GPS capabilities and point you in the direction of businesses and landmarks, so it’s more than just an app to guess what your pictures are.

It’s a simple enough concept, take a picture with your Android Phone and Google’s tries to tell you what it is.  I experimented and wrote about my results with Google’s last December in “Google Goggles, Cool Idea – But Not Even Close“.  Some of the results were less than stellar as the title indicates.  Although, Goggles did fine with book covers, art work, business cards and bar codes – which was impressive.

The less than stellar results were for landmarks, logos and businesses.  What got me re-interested in Goggles this summer was another couple of Google products and changes they made.  Google Map’s now allows users an additional map layer to show photos taken at their exact latitude-longitude point to be show at those spots on Google Maps.  The source of these photos I found was another Google owned property called Panoramio.

Panoramio is a photo sharing social site with a twist.  Photos shared on Panoramio are geo-tagged.  Geo-tagging ads geographical identification meta data (usually latitude-longitude coordinates) to media like photos, videos and websites.  Google maps also uses Panoramio user photos in it’s street view navigation.  I’ve even seen street view shots from Panoramio when I use my Verizon Droid to navigate to destinations that have Panoramio photos.

The Idea and The Experiment

So my thought process, though possibly flawed in hindsight, was Google owns Google Goggles and Google owns Panoramio and it is even using it in Google maps.   Google Goggles uses an Android Phone’s GPS for it’s augmented reality layer and Panoramio Geo-tags photos with the same GPS…What if I try the experiment on Google Goggles again only this time, give Google a few clues by first establishing some geo-tagged photos of the logos, landmarks and businesses that Google Goggles failed to recognize the last time.

I took photos on my Droid phone, used the Panoramio Uploader App to share them on Panoramio and tagged them as best I could with their correct names (I even put in links to the appropriate associated websites where I could).  It’s really pretty easy and I’ve honestly been a little surprised at how many views in Panoramio and Google Earth my obscure little photos have gotten.

I set out on the same route I took the previous December and took the following pictures of Downtown Charlottesville, Virginia:

Search Mojo Office

Our Global Headquarters

Charlottesville Pavilion Logo

Charlottesville Pavilion Logo

Charlottesville Pavilion

Charlottesville Pavilion

Antique Kiddie Carousel

Children's Museum Antique Kiddie Carousel

The Nook

The Nook

The Paramount Theater Charlottesville Virginia

The Paramount Theater


Window Logo of Hotelicopter.com

Lewis and Clark Statue

Lewis & Clark Statue Up Close

Lewis and Clark Statue Charlottesville

Lewis & Clark Statue from a Distance

Almost all of these landmarks or businesses are in Google Maps and they are now in photographs geo-tagged with their names and even website links in some cases on Panoramio.  It doesn’t seem to matter.  Goggles appears to be completely ignoring the geographic location of its users when it attempts to determine what your Goggles pictures are.  This makes sense if you are taking a picture of a book or product, but it seems like it would be such an obvious factor when taking a picture of a landmark or business.

Did I Waste My Time?

Well yes, it’s quite possible that I wasted my time with this whole experiment.  It was barely scientific.  But learning what doesn’t work is just as important as learning what does work.  That’s what makes experience so valuable.  When people hire an experienced employee they are paying extra because that employee made mistakes about going down the wrong path in the past (on someone else’s dime) and learned from the experience.

I think Google Goggles is very interesting, but isn’t really used by too many people yet.  The real learning’s I got from the experiment are all Panoramio – Google Maps related.  Panoramio photo uploads can provide another online avenue to get your local business found in Google Maps, and can be a valuable aid in helping searchers find your physical business location.

I took a picture of the window of Watermark Design, who recently redesigned our website.  This picture has been viewed 54 times on Panoramio and 36 times in Google Earth in just a few weeks.  It’s also visible in the photo layer of Google Maps.  (Note: You can also upload Panoramio photos into your local business listing).

Watermark Design


My bottom line:  Google Goggles could and really should factor the searchers location a little heavier into its visual search algorithm if it wants to really identify these things; and optimizing for an App can be just as hit and miss as optimizing a web site for search engines.

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