Searching the Internet for anything with a simple sketch is a technology that is in it’s infancy. Actually getting something useful from the results is difficult if not impossible. The current offerings of searching with drawings or sketches are suited to searching visual databases and today I found a site called retrievr.
retrievr uses the Flickr API and is implemented well. It is a search of Flickr from a sketch that you have made in a small square box. Before I go further I have to say that the quality of tools that are being developed with the Flickr API are getting better and there are some people out there creating very useful applications that are very well done. retrievr is well done in that it’s presentation is great and the interface is easy enough to use.
You have a selection of four brush sizes to choose from and a small box to draw your sketch. Good to see that there is an undo button. Using a colour pallet you have the choice of every conceivable colour you could possibly want to use. Draw your masterpiece. After a few seconds of inactivity the search starts and the results are displayed. You can also search by uploading a picture (no sketching) or entering the URL of the image. If you can’t draw with a mouse (who can?) then you can use the database of images to base a search on. Don’t worry if your sketch looks like a five year old did it, have a look below.
Once the search results are displayed you can then either click the photo and view it at Flickr or you can click a magnifing glass that uses that image as the basis for a new search. The ability to drill down your results is a a good idea and makes the experience more fun and you end up somewhere that you did not think you would.
The results are average as far as form goes. I found that the shape of the image that I was after came up rarely in the results. However the results for colour are better and seem to be weighted more heavily in the search. Although I was impressed with the result below in that it does have an image of a face. This service is new and the technology experimental. The very technology is but a baby and has not yet become a powerful tool for searching. But these are the building blocks that will lead to some exciting tools and services in the future and that is what is exciting!
That said I do not think that is what retrievr is all about, developing the technology might be. However, at the moment it is a great site to search and explore Flickr in a fun way which results in those wonderful serendipity discoveries which are always fun and what we love about the Internet. Sure going to Flickr and searching using tags would probably yeild the results that you were looking for but that would not be as much fun.