Pinterest introduces a new visual search tool

Pinterest has introduced a new visual search feature that allows its users to identify specific objects shown in the images people collect and share on its site.
The tool works by allowing people to select a portion of an image — presumably centered on whatever they wish to learn more about — and searching for similar images. It’s basically Google’s Image Search built right into Pinterest’s service.
Pinterest engineering manager Kevin Jing says in the blog post announcing the visual search feature that it can be used to identify everything from a lamp hanging in a kitchen to the pair of shoes worn by the subject of a photo-shoot.
In a post on the company’s engineering blog, Pinterest’s Andrew Zhai explains that the company partnered with members of the Berkeley Vision and Learning Center to develop the technologies that allow this visual search tool to function.
This new feature comes hot on the heels of a dedicated shop from which Pinterest users can purchase items from brands like Nordstrom and the Heist. It isn’t hard to see how the search and commerce-related features might collide.
To use the example from Pinterest’s blog posts: Imagine someone likes a lamp they see in a pin. After using the new search tool to find more information about the lamp, they decide they want to buy it. So they click a “buyable pin” to do so.
That process is much easier than it used to be. That same shopper would’ve had to use Google’s image search after cropping out the irrelevant parts of the “pin,” found an item, and then looked for a store that sold the damned light fixture.
Pinterest, as I noted in my post about its new shopping section, doesn’t currently make money from brands that sell items through its service. That will change — and when it does, search features like this one will help it sell more products.
Until then this is just an interesting feature that will make it easier for Pinterest users to learn more about an image without ever having to leave Pinterest’s site or mobile apps. Let the Pinterest-addicted lamp-seekers of the world rejoice!

Facebook search tools take aim at Twitter’s relationship with news

Facebook is updating its search tool to make it easier for users to find things that interest them among the 2 trillion items archived by the company’s index.
The update boasts personalized search suggestions, the ability to search through public posts in addition to those made by friends or family, and a new tool that allows people to view public conversations around news stories. That last item is by far the most interesting — and the one most likely to worry Twitter.
Twitter often bills itself as a forum for public conversations. Unless someone makes their entire account private, every 140-characters-or-fewer missive is indexed and can be found by anyone using the service’s search function. This makes it relatively easy to find and participate in active conversations — especially when used in conjunction with hashtags, Twitter’s defining mark. Facebook has basically just recreated one of the most useful parts of Twitter.
I doubt this will convince Twitter users to suddenly use Facebook as a home for their pithy, snarky-or-smarmy remarks about the day’s news. And that’s OK. Facebook has many times as many monthly active users as Twitter; and with more and more people using services like Instagram or Messenger, it’s already established itself as the social network of choice for more than a billion people. Now, it just has to make sure those people don’t have dalliances with other apps.
Put another way: Facebook has just removed another reason people might decide to sign up for Twitter instead of remaining content with its services. (Or, at the very least, given casual Twitter users one less reason to occasionally stray from Facebook.) The company has become a magician willing to pull anything — Snapchat clones, standalone messaging apps, improved search tools, etc. — from its hat to prevent its all-but-captive audience from checking out another exhibit.
The changes to Facebook’s search tool will likely seem weird to people who joined the network for the purpose of staying in touch with their real-life social circles. But if Twitter and other platforms (like Reddit) have shown us anything, it’s that many will also want to have conversations with interesting folks they’ve never met, and discuss topics that might not appeal to the people in their daily lives. It’s a very kumbaya-esque mission to connect people with random people who happen to share their interests as well as the people in their everyday lives.
Still, the changes are unlikely to make Twitter a ghost town. Twitter users have their cliques; they prize their follower counts; and probably value having a place where they can express an opinion without repercussion. One of the main things stopping people from having public conversations on Facebook’s platform is the “real name” policy that prevents users from hiding their identities. (Or in some cases embracing their true selves, trying to escape dangerous situations, or simply using whatever unique name their parents gave them.) Twitter and Reddit are both popular at least partly because they don’t have policies like that.
Then again, Facebook doesn’t have to win anyone’s heart or mind — it just has to hold its users’ attention tightly enough that it doesn’t wander. This improved search feature is just the latest beast it’s pulled from its hat to do just that.

Google fits more search results on mobile screens

Search Google for something on your handset today and you might get more information than you expected. That’s generally a good thing though, and Google is making it easier to view a wider range of search results on mobile devices. The company is adding groupings of stories from sites in a way that’s easy to navigate on the small screen.

When you search for a topic, just scroll down to see a “carousel” of recent articles, videos or more on that subject. Tap any link to read or watch exactly what you’re interested in. For example, if you search for NPR, you’ll see links to all their latest articles and videos. Search for the Knicks to browse content from their site as well as videos and news from ESPN or Bleacher Report. (If you don’t see this new feature yet when you search for your favorite site, stay tuned—we’ll be making this available for more sites soon.)

The key here is in the last sentence: This feature is available on a per-site basis. So you won’t see the carousels of additional information for every site.

google mobile search carousel

A quick test on a search topic relevant to me — Liverpool FC, for example — did generate a few such scrollable sections; namely from the team’s main site and the Liverpool Echo, which provided me more interesting content to view. I tested it both in the browser and in Google’s own search app on a phone, getting the same results.

While this can help mobile searchers gather more information in one place, it also has the potential to help [company]Google[/company]. The more time spent in Google’s search engine brings more opportunity for mobile users to click ads and help Google monetize its mobile efforts.


This explains why no men were using Pinterest

If you ever wondered why Pinterest took off with women and not men, we have our answer. Friday the company announced it had changed its search filtering options so that men could see results catered to their gender.

In the past, when searching for workouts or clothes their feed would fill with pins targeted to women. Since Pinterest’s early users were women, the application spread virally through that demographic. Naturally the most popular pins and pinners are, as a result, for women or by women.

That shut out men who might also find the technology useful but didn’t like the results they were served. Although some people who identify as men might appreciate a more feminine selection, not all would. Take a look at Pinterest’s screenshot on the difference in genders:

The difference in gender searching on Pinterest. Left: Men ; Right: Women

The difference in gender searching on Pinterest. Left: Men ; Right: Women

The new gender focus will appear as a toggle, allowing women and men to search for items of the opposite gender as well. That could be helpful for anyone with more androgynous taste, or it could serve well for gift shopping purposes.

The attempt to make Pinterest appealing to men comes from the company’s new head of brand, David Rubin, who formerly ran marketing for the ultra dude product Axe body spray. He was brought on in part to achieve that goal, and he started by commissioning Pinterest ad storylines to appeal to men and filling men’s home feeds with male products. Frankly I’m surprised it took the company this long to create gender specific search results — it has been around for over seven years, after all.

With the product announcement Pinterest also revealed new statistics, saying that its number of male signups have grown 73 percent year over year. It’s impressive numbers for the U.S. As we’ve covered, in some other countries, Pinterest has actually had a far easier time recruiting men to the application.

Since it’s a user-generated content site it’s demographics tend to build on themselves. The more women — or motorcycle fans, or cooks, or interior designers — are on the site, the more pin will be created that appeal to them.

To kickstart other groups Pinterest has to woo them with product shifts, and it’s doing just that.

Yandex opens B2B big data division in Amsterdam and Moscow

Yandex, the Russian Google competitor, has for a while been quietly offering its MatrixNet machine learning technology to other organizations – CERN, for example, has used it to establish statistical relevance in its floods of physics data. On Tuesday, Yandex announced a more formal push into offering big data services to corporate and enterprise clients.

The company revealed Yandex Data Factory at the Le Web conference in Paris. Yandex said its technologies can be used for the personalization of recommendations, natural language processing, image and speech recognition, credit scoring, logistics optimization, demographic profiling and so on.

According to Yandex, these services have already been used by a leading European bank to crunch behavioral data, so as to match products to specific marketing channels in a personalized way. The firm’s machine learning and geolocation services were also used by a road management agency to boost accident prediction accuracy. All in all, Yandex is already providing big data services for 20 projects.

Yandex says it’s able to create various kinds of deep neural networks with MatrixNet, which is used to train ranking formulas, boosting the effectiveness of the learning process. The firm claims the cluster management tools in its Friendly Machine Learning framework make it easier to get into big data research by allowing researchers to “avoid dealing with distributed computing problems.” It uses proprietary technologies including Yandex MapReduce and Real Time MapReduce, and Yandex Tables, which is a big data storage and processing platform.

Yandex Data Factory has an Amsterdam office as well as one in Moscow, and also has data centers across various countries. The company also offers training programs for corporate tech teams and free masters-level courses for university graduates — it’s actually had a data analysis school since 2007.

The division’s chief, Jane Zavalishina, said in a statement:

Yandex Data Factory uses algorithms that Yandex developed for its own needs: search, traffic forecasting, ad targeting, music recommendations. But it’s not the ‘content’ of data that these algorithms analyse – rather, they analyse data interrelations – and so they can be applied in any industry: from banking to telecommunications, from logistics to oil and gas extraction, from public utility services to aircraft engineering.

Google’s EU search antitrust case will definitely pass over to the next competition chief

As expected, Google’s big European Union search antitrust case won’t be wrapped up by the end of October and will be passed to the next competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager. According to IDG, current antitrust chief Joaquín Almunia has conceded that he won’t be able to close the four-year-old case by the end of his tenure, after scores of companies complained about the ineffectiveness of Google’s proposed concessions. Meanwhile, Europe’s incoming digital economy chief, Günther Oettinger, has already made vague noises about limiting Google’s power, mere hours after his appointment was announced. Sounds like this will run into 2015.