TinEye is one of a number of “Reverse Image Search” tools available online. The way it works is, instead of entering some keywords to look for an image, you submit an image to seek more information about it. Tools like this are a great way for photographers to search for unauthorized use of their photography. It’s also a way for people to simply find out more about a photo they’ve seen on the internet.
TinEye does a constant crawl of the web to make regular updates to its image database. To date, they’re indexed more than 2.6 trillion images from the web. Tens of millions of new images are added every month. It also follows protocol from websites that wish to not be searched.
For more proactive content creators, TinEye also offers the capability to create an imagemap and submit it so that images crawled, indexed and added to their index. This enables the creators of the content to appear at the top of image search results. In addition to its regular web interface, there is also a browser plugin that allows quick right-click searches.
I did a test of a few images to see what the results would be. First, I tested an image by Seattle photographer, Meryl Schenker. Meryl’s photo of a same-sex couple applying for a marriage license became an iconic image in the wake of the passage of Referendum 74 in Washington state. I knew that the image had received both national and international press. The search returned just 11 results, though I’m sure there were dozens more.
Lastly, on a more serious note, I did a search for an image of one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Surprisingly, there were zero results. Although, I imagine that within time, this number would increase.
Ultimately, TinEye is a good enough tool to use, probably in combination with others. However, it’s not as reliable in terms of depth or timeliness of results as I’d hoped. Perhaps the internet has just gotten too big to search for everything.