This review is a little late. The beta went out on Tuesday when I instantly registered and got uploading. Now on Friday I have finally used Riya properly for the first time. Let me explain why it has taken a while. Firstly though a quick overview of what Riya is about. Riya is a Photo Search Engine. It allows you to upload your images, have them scanned for faces and text and then after training it should identify people in your photos making it easy to search later. Users do end up with large quantities of photos online which may remind you of Flickr but importantly the emphasis is different. Riya is mainly about searching and Flickr is mainly about sharing.
I ignored the message on the website that said Windows XP was required to use the uploading tool and pressed on with an earlier windows version. It downloaded the uploader fine and installed it (which with this application are mysteriously the same process). It ran ok and I showed it the photos I wanted it to upload. It then proceeded to think and said “Uploading Photos…”. It remained like this for a while before annoucing that my photos had been uploaded. So much for Windows XP I thought, who needs it. I clicked the link it provided and… No photos online. Ok. I guess you do need to use XP. So this I did and I set it to upload a much larger bunch of photos this time (about 1700) and left it running overnight.
Before I actually left it I checked that the photos were being uploaded. And yes they were slowly trickling onto the site. Slowly is definately the key word here. I began playing with the Riya site identifying some of the faces as they came in. I then went to bed. When I logged on the next day I expected that I would have lots of faces to identify. But no. All my photos were online but Riya claimed that there were no unrecognised faces. For a split second I actually thought it was true, could it really have identified everyone after such little input? No. It hadn’t. I browsed my photos and found thousands (actually literally thousands) of boxes on my photos around faces which asked “Who Is This?”. But when I backtracked to the people page there was apparently no one left to identify. Manually going through an identifying every face would pretty much defeat the point of Riya it was all about making it easy. The faces should have been showing up.
I went to the support area and posted on the Wiki, and then on Munjal’s blog as a comment and finally in an email to Riya Support:
I logged in expecting to need to identify hundreds of faces to train Riya to everyone in my collection. However the bar with “unreognised faces” is empty. Did it miss all the faces? No. Browsing the photos reveals that the faces have been found and each photo asks “Who is this?”. But for some reason on Manual Training or on the bar on the People page no faces that need identifying are found. This is strange because I think I have in excess of 1000 faces requiring recognition in my collection.
Is this a bug of some kind? How can I get all the faces I need to ID together on one page rather than having to browse every photo? How can I stop this going wrong in the future?
The response came back a few hours later:
Unfortunately I am unable to login to your account right away. But I’ll be able to soon. Let me look at what exactly happened to your images after you uploaded them. Did you go to the manual training section. Do you see a lot of unrecognized faces there? Have you trained your image set atleast once? I’ll get back to you as soon as I can have a look at your account.
I emailed back to explain further. And then I waited. I checked the site on Wednesday and Thursday for any sign of a fix. Today when I logged in it was fixed. There were loads of faces to identify and I was able to carry on with getting to see how Riya works. I must say although obviously it would have been nice if the bug hadn’t have occured, and if it had all worked smoothly first time. But this is a beta, I understand that. Many people were unaffected by the look of the blog posts I have seen. A hiccup, to be expected.
I clicked the manual training and got to work. The idea is that you identify some faces and then Riya identifies some. You tell Riya which of the ones it picks are right and from that it learns even more. Eventually I presume when you upload new photos Riya will recognise the same people with good accuracy. The page is pretty long that you have to fill in. 5 faces wide and a fair few rows. They have added AJAX to try to make the identifying easy and there is a really low resolution gif animation at the top of the page that briefly demos it. I didn’t find the AJAX useful at all. Dragging and dropping didn’t seem to work effectively for me. So instead I tabbed through the name fields. I was glad to see that it has autocomplete for the names so on most I need only type the first few letters and it would fill in the name and email address (if I had previously put it in). The autocomplete works on the basis of alphabetical order I think rather than the most popular name first which perhaps is not the most sensible way to arrange it. If Riya doesn’t chose a face you put “Not A Face” or in reality “No” and autocomplete does the rest. If you don’t know who it is (a distant relative, someone Riya found in a crowd) you write “Don’t Know” or in reality “Do”. However say that you write “Don’t Know” and then accidently add an extra letter. Just an innocent typing mistake. Well. As soon as you have written it Riya adds the name to your contact list and for all the other photos in the batch writing “Do” suggests your “Don’t Know” + other letter rather than “Don’t Know” as it seems your contacts always have preference to the automatic Riya names. This is terrible as it means that for the whole batch I have to drag drop, or type the whole of “Don’t Know” everytime Riya has made a mistake. Luckily new contact names created in the process of training that do not have a photo assigned to them through the training are flushed off your contact list by the time it is finished. So it doesn’t effect the next time.
Once you are done with the photos it has given you, you click “Done” and Riya thinks for a long time, the page turns to a recognition animation image. And you wait. It doesn’t normally take too long and Riya comes back with faces for you to reject or to accept. The page looks nice and is designed well. You just click the ones that are wrong and then press done again. The counter of “Recognised Faces” updates in the corner. You are advised to repeat the training process as many times as you can (at least 5) for the best results. I am finding that with every time I train the number of images it finds that match the people I have identified decreases. This is because slowly all the images in my collection are getting identified. I still have some unidentified though and these will be used the next time I opt to train. You can also batch train which offers you people Riya thinks are the same person and asks you who they are. I found with low recognition rates this method wasn’t as efficient as the “Simple Training”.
I am not fully sure what happens to the people who you say you “Don’t Know” to. I mean if they are a relative who’s name I can’t remember then I want it to keep the image in the set of unrecognised faces. If it is someone from a crowded beach who I literally don’t know then I want it flushed from the system. Riya doesn’t know what I mean when I say “Don’t Know” and I havent worked out yet exactly what it does with these faces.
And that is basically Riya. You upload, you train, and you have Riya find people in your photos.
Riya makes you a “People” page with all the people on with their latest picture and their name. Clicking on them does a search in your photos for them. As with all Riya searches you can change the area of search between Your Photos, Your Friend’s and the Public’s. This is all very neat. But when you click from the contact page the default is your own photos. When I click any of the people from my contacts I get alarming few results. Say 11. However I know that Riya has found way more than 11 instances of the person in my photos and clicking on the “Edit” next to the contact name reveals to me the “Training Set” for the contact. For the same person who gets 11 results I have more than 70 images of them in the training set. Why aren’t all of these images found in a search? Why are the results at all different? This is particularly worrying I think when the emphasis of the site is, as I say, on search. It becomes even worse when you have a contact for which you have trained Riya with say 3 photos. It should find these 3 when you search, but it tends to find zero. So someone that you have as a person in your photos, cannot be found in your photos. This needs a fix. (See update below).
Riya puts your photos into Albums for you. These are based on the folders the photos were in when you uploaded them. You can not rename them as far as I can see and you cannot more photos from one album to another once they are uploaded. A photo can only appear in one folder. This is odd, and perhaps is related to the Beta status of the product. I am sure (at least I hope) that more functionality will be added to control this in the future.
At the moment you can’t easily grab the URLs of your photos. This is coming soon though. A work around is to share them with your own email address and you get a link back (a really long one with loads of funny letters) that directs you to your photos. This is not the link to the image though, more the link to the image page. Rotating images is another feature “Coming Soon” and it explains why many of the photos I have in Riya do not have faces identified on them. Riya is looking at the photos the wrong way (i.e. from the side). I think when they integrate the rotate it would be cool if all the photos could be scanned for sideways faces and suggested to me for rotation. Maybe futher in the future auto rotation could occur upon upload if only sideways heads are found in the image.
You can’t add images through the browser. The reason for this is clear at the moment, the uploader tool does the image processing too which saves Riya loads of resources. Using a browser it is more likely that the server will have to do more work. This really changes the way that Riya can be used. You wouldn’t quickly upload a screenshot like you might to Flickr as it would simply be tool much hassle. Riya works well with lots of photos uploading at once, Flickr is better at doing smaller numbers.
Riya is a site that was designed for 1024 by 768 screens. This means that all of my screen gets used and when I use a 1280 by 1024 most of it is used. This is not like Flickr which is still designed for 800 by 600. The upshot is that the photos are displayed much larger on the photo pages in Riya. Much larger. They basically fill my browser screen and make the images in Flickr look rather like thumbnails.
You can chose to have your images private on Riya. All of the ones I have put online so far are. But sharing is easy at any level. You can add a contact and let them see everything. You can send an email to someone with a link to a particular album. You can just share one photo. These last two do not require that you register for Riya which is such an advantage as family members (particularly older) are always reluctant to be bother to sign up for things. This brings the sharing to a new, easier level.
If your photos which are private match someone’s search terms they will appear in the persons search results. Wait a minute? I thought they were private. Yes they are, it doesn’t show the image but it shows you a form which sends a message to the image owner and you can explain why you want to see the photo. It is then really easy for the image owner to see the message when they log in and dismiss it or allow it. This does however bring me to a bit of a quirk. If I have let someone see all of my photos (i.e. they are a “Friend”) when they search for terms that match my photos they might see nothing in their photos. That is to be expected. When they switch to view their friends photos (which includes me) they see the pictures that they were looking for. Curiously though they notice that they are also results in the public images. They however are all private ones which require submission of text to the content owner to view. But the sets of photos are the same. The private photos seen in the public tab are also from me, and they are photos that the user can easily see if they change their search to my photos. So why are they marked as private? It gives the situation where a user can request access to a photo to which they already have access. Madness. The photos should be actually shown in the public view if the user does have access to them rather than stating they are private.
The comments system on Riya is really neat. I think it uses AJAX or something to put you comment on straight away. It certainly works that way with descriptions. Which have your little photo next to them. This is the same one that is use to identify you in your people page I think.
Riya is not Flickr
Riya is a new release, Flickr is currently one of the most popular photo sites available. For this reason alone it is not too fair to compare. But even so you could say that if Riya wanted to challenge Flickr it would have to start beating Flickr despite being considerably younger. However this is not Riya’s aim. I am sure of it. They are both playing in the Photo space but the services offered by each site are not the same. If you expect that Riya is going to be Flickr + Face Recognition then you are mistaken. Riya is not so socially geared. It is ideal for having your family albums online to share with other family members or friends or the world but it isn’t that good for anything else. Riya works best with people, and generally the same people over and over again.
I want to make it very clear that these two products are not the same. There are some very important differences. Riya is free for as many photos as you have. Flickr needs a payment if it is going to be usable beyond 200. Flickr stores your photos at the original size. Riya doesn’t. They are all resized to one size for display online before the upload. Riya is clearly designed for handling more photos and trying to get them organised. One way is the face recognition. Another way is the text recognition. Another is tagging…
Riya is not about to knock Flickr out. I think though it is about to bring a new community of photographers online. Watch it happen. Riya.com.
As requested: riya, riyarocks, riyasobetaithurts.
Update: This has been improved all ready. It appears that the search engine part is a lag or so behind the actual photo collection. I am confident that in the next few days the search numbers will be spot on.