Hands-on With Polar Rose's Face Recognition Tool

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Having a computer identify faces in your photo collection seems to be all the rage these days. Both Picasa and iPhoto 09 have the feature, and now Flickr has joined the face id ranks. Well, sort of -- the catch is that you have to import your Flickr pics onto another Web site called Polar Rose. The Swedish-based Polar Rose is similar to Flickr since you have a photostream and you can also look for other people's photo collections to follow.

To access Polar Rose, you need to have a Facebook account and then authorize Facebook Connect to link Polar Rose to your Facebook profile. After logging in, you can then ‘choose' to import your Flickr photos to Polar Rose; I say ‘choose' because Flickr was the only way I could find to get photos on to the site. Right away, this strikes me as a very poorly designed concept since Polar Rose is completely dependent on Facebook and Flickr to work. If Flickr decides to add its own face recognition technology, for example, then Polar Rose would become obsolete very quickly.

Here's how Polar Rose worked for me:

Browser trauma

My tests almost didn't get off the ground since I had some problems getting Polar Rose to take me to its sign-in page. Using a Mac with OS X Leopard, I tried logging in with the latest versions of Firefox and Safari, both of which couldn't get past the landing page as pictured. I was about to give up when I fired up Opera and finally got the site to work. This appears to be a Mac issue since I was able to get Polar Rose to work on Windows XP with both Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Sign in, Link up and wait and wait and wait...

I have a Flickr account, but I'm not a big Flickr user so for my tests I grabbed some photos of Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Conan O'Brien off the Web and put them in my Flickr collection. After connecting with Polar Rose and going through the relatively short login process, Polar Rose said it needed 30 minutes to process my photos. For me, Polar Rose took an hour and 17 minutes to process eight Web-quality photos that all together equaled about 1.5 MB. When the processing was finished, Polar Rose notified me with a news item on my Facebook feed that I could begin the face identification process.

Face Identification

So now for the big question: How did it do? First off, Polar Rose wasn't able to identify a single photo. To be fair, some of these photos were challenging because I used side shots or photos with extremely different hairdos and my photo collection was small. Nevertheless, I was surprised that Polar Rose couldn't even identify one photo. However, not only did the service have problems identifying the faces, in some cases it had problems finding the faces in the first place.

Among the three Brad Pitt photos, I included a still shot from Legends of the Fall and Polar Rose identified two people in the photo when there was only one. The same thing happened with one of the Angelina Jolie shots. Luckily, the Jolie pic did have two people in it; unfortunately, Polar Rose thought Angelina Jolie's arm was one of them. For the Conan O'Brien shots, Polar Rose failed to identify him and, worse, completely ignored one of the O'Brien photos as though it wasn't even in my collection.

Taking all this into account, I have to say that for me, Polar Rose was a complete bust. Perhaps if I had used a larger collection Polar Rose would have been more successful, but to be honest, I doubt it. As it stands right now, Polar Rose is too slow, too inaccurate, and far too dependent on outside Web sites (Facebook and Flickr) to be useful. So unless you have a Facebook account, are an avid Flickr user, and have a lot of time on your hands to import and tag photos, I wouldn't bother with Polar Rose just yet.

Connect with Ian Paul on Twitter (@ianpaul).

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