Thursday, July 24, 2008

Windows Live Photo Gallery to get face recognition

News is spreading that Windows Live Photo Gallery is going to be including face recognition for “family members and friends.”

Seems like an interesting feature, however, Microsoft needs to be careful here. I’m betting they’re talking about matching among a current set of commonly familiar faces over a given period of time. In other words, train the system to let’s say five people as they look today and then match subsequent photos around this time frame with those faces. You’re probably not going to be able to go back much in time to match with these faces–even for the same people. Kids grow too fast. Distant relatives change too rapidly with regards to sparse frequency in which you take photos of them. And frankly, even with your own photos of those closest to you, you’ll have the largest number of photos over the greatest period of time and yet one set of facial matching criteria probably won’t work across all of them. People change.

Any useful desktop facial recognition software is going to account for this. Anything else will be a demo toy.

Now here’s the thing. There are perfectly good uses of facial recognition, which can design around these issues. In no way am I saying not to use facial recognition. What I am saying is that a great product is going to make sense with regards to how people use photos (and may I suggest webcams). Whatever Microsoft implements, I hope its design makes sense and is not just a college-grade, gee-wiz app.

Oh, and one more thing. Microsoft needs to beef up its computer vision support across its OSes and devices. Where’s the .NET library for all this? Where’s the support for webcams in Silverlight? Or when you open up your brand new notebook for the first time that most likely includes a webcam, where’s the camera support in Windows? Where’s the virtual camera driver? etc, etc, etc. If you ask me, all of these are much more important to be spending resources on than something that will be shown in a demo and then that’s about it. Otherwise it makes Windows or Windows Live look more like a bag of stuff than a well designed product or service. If this helps anyone, think like Apple. Scratch that, just think.