May 072006

I just heard about Riya recently and I decided to try it out. Let me just tell you, Riya is very, very cool. So I’ll start with the positive.

The Riya experience starts with an uploader tool that enables you to upload your photos in bulk. The installation of this tool was a piece of cake. It asked me a single question, then just went about its business. Nice job!

People View
Riya is the first photo sharing site that has facial recognition software built into it. This is huge! Once you upload your photos, Riya starts reconizing faces in them. The faces in your photos are presented with a box around them with a drop down at the top of it. From the drop down, you can add a new contact (the name and e-mail of that person) or select the name of the person whose face is in the box. Do this five or more times for each person, then have Riya auto discover that person in the rest of your photos. Alternatively, if friends of yours have already trained Riya to recognize a person, you can have Riya auto- recognize that person in your photos.

This unique capability enables you to see all the pictures with your Uncle Gary in them, without having to think about what folder might contain pictures of him. Additionally, you can share all Uncle Gary pictures with him or any of your other contacts very easily.

Time View
The time view is also very cool. Riya’s calendar displays a year at a time and highlights all of the days on which you’ve taken a picture. This is really cool – if you want to reminisce about your college days for example, just go into the time view and select those years, viewing the pictures you took, day by day, week by week, or month by month.

Location View
The location view is also quite useful. I don’t know how they did it, but Riya recognized Waimea Canyon in Kauaii, HI, and marked it on the map. These were just scenic pictures, so I really have no idea how Riya could have identified it. Maybe they have some known geographic landmarks that their recognition software has memorized. But I digress. Riya also recognized that some photos were taken in other locations I’ve visited in my travels.

It’s not all peaches and cream here though; I did find some problems. First, When I identified the location of several photos as having been taken in Aruba, Riya never did place a marker on Aruba, and I don’t know why. Also, there is seemingly no way to apply a location to an entire album of photos; this lack of user friendliness prevents users from quickly and easily make full use of the location view.

Album View
The album view is basically the standard way in which you’re probably used to using to find certain pictures. Each set of pictures is grouped by the folder name, and the album view shows you all of these folders as albums, and indicates how many photos are in each. The only problem with this view is that you can’t remove any albums! When I uploaded my pictures, some of them were not very well organized, and this disorganization is reflected in Riya’s album view, and there are no tools to correct it!

Text View
I can’t say I’m very enthused about the text view. Riya identifies text in your photos, and this view shows all photos with text in them. This concept doesn’t really seem very valuable. Why would I want to see my photos in this way? Additionally, Riya will often recognize text in your photos that isn’t even text, so many times this view shows you photos without text in them.

As I mentioned previously, it is very easy to share a search of your photos with any of your contacts, which is nice. Though I haven’t used Riya to see my friends photos (none of them have uploaded any yet), I still anticipate that sharing could be improved. For example, it would be nice to have the ability to add other people’s photos to my library directly. Also, a mechanism for managing groups of contacts would be useful. For example, allowing the Robinson Family to view my Thanksgiving pictures from last year. Currently to do this, I would have to explicitly share the album with each and every person in my family. This is a hassle!

Image Downloads
I’ve been skeptical about the real value of internet photo sharing applications for a long time now, mostly because none of them ever allowed access to download the source images. Riya is no exception. If my brother takes a picture with his digital camera and shares it via some photo sharing web application, I want to be able to download the source image to add to my personal library. It is a frequent scenario in which pictures that I want to hoard in my image library came from the digital cameras of relatives (think about weddings for example).

Riya does allow you to download the pictures of others, but only as they are displayed in your browser. Basically this means that the resolution is significantly reduced, and printing those pictures on a photo printer would yield unpleasant results.

Managing Contacts
Another note about contacts: there is seemingly no way to import contacts from outlook, yahoo, or any other contact management software. This makes identification of people in your photos somewhat painful. To identify my Aunt Sue for example, I selected ‘Add new contact’, switched to outlook, switched to contact view, sorted by the letter of her last name, and found her e-mail address. Then I went back to Riya to enter it. That’s just too much work? Hey Riya, enable contact importing!

One final note about contacts: people have multiple email addresses. Riya’s current contact management solution doesn’t account for this. If I use my brother’s work e-mail address to identify him in my pictures and he uses his personal e-mail address to register with Riya, my brother is two different people from Riya’s perspective. If Riya enabled users to enter all of their e-mail addresses, it could identify people with all of them, and more effectively extend the application’s sharing capabilities.

The tagging mechanism is good and bad. It recognizes things like the brand of camera that took the picture, the filename, and other seemingly random numbers associated with the picture and adds them as tags for the picture. Most of this information is irrelevant to humans. On the positive side though, you do have the ability to add tags to all pictures on a page, which is outstanding. This enables the user to quickly and easily tag their photos with meaningful information.

One thing to consider when using Riya is the issue of privacy. You, the photographer, have the power to identify all the faces in your photos and share those photos publicly with the whole world. This is not to be taken lightly. If you share your photos with the public, you’re pretty much enabling the world to learn a lot about you, your family, and your friends. A simple search of a persons name could result in pictures of that person that they may not be comfortable with the whole world being able to see. Would you want your boss to search for your name on Riya and find pictures of you at your best friend’s bachelor party? I think not. So be careful about public sharing.

Despite a few minor problems, Riya is well worth putting to use. This tool gives you several new ways to interact with your collection of pictures over the years, as well as tools to share them with those you care about. So go sign up at and start uploading!