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Face.com has launched the alpha of their new API. Now, almost any site could find faces on photos.

Face.com, the company responsible for Facebook applications Photo Tagger and Photo Finder, lets you take any photo and quickly identify who is in it and where they are in the photo. This facial recognition is a boon to those tagging photos, and now Face.com is ready to bring a similar capability to the rest of the internet. May 3rd saw the launch of their new open API capable of scanning images and rapidly identifying the location, orientation, and identity of human faces. The API platform is meant for web designers who want to include a facial recognition feature on their own website. With this API, any company could let you upload a photo of yourself and find other photos of you in their database. Now in alpha testing, registering to try the API is free and very quick. Face.com, operated by Israel-based Vizi Labs, is looking to share the API with the developer community to see if the next killer application for facial recognition will arise organically. Eventually, platforms like this one may help your face become an access point to all the digital data about you on the web.

The Photo Tagger and Photo Finder applications have been big on Facebook: billions of photos processed from over 50 million users. We’ve also seen competing software that provides facial recognition on Facebook, including a rather brilliant bit of marketing for Coke Zero. As Facebook continues to expand, a growing number of websites are starting to veer towards becoming social networks, or at least picking up aspects of social networking to stay competitive/current. And photos are probably one of the largest themes of these networks. It makes sense then, that Face.com is looking to sell its photo expertise outside the FB realm. The API seems fairly easy to use, so it could be adopted easily, though their forums are disappointingly quiet for a first week of launch.

face-recognition-api
Together you and I could overthrow the Emperor and rule as...Uh...I mean the API has some interesting near term applications that are likely to be popular.

In the near term the API launch could mean many more websites will have some facial recognition gimmicks. Face.com actually goes to the trouble of suggesting some of these in their examples: quickly tagging photos through a widget, placing your face in famous photos, and finding celebrity photos on the internet. While none of these is an exactly mind-blowing idea, they are the sort of things that sell well on the web (I must admit I was drawn into playing with the “Poster Yourself” face replacer for much too long). One hopes that developers, hungry for the next big way of drawing traffic, will invent some more insightful applications for the API, but even if they don’t, it’s likely that Face.com will get plenty of mileage out of the standard time-wasters.

In the long term, being able to incorporate facial recognition into almost any web page could be a very powerful tool. You could, with just a photo, conceivably track down all sorts of information about a person – their friends, contact information, or anything else they choose to make public. In fact, Face.com paired up with Comverse to create an iPhone App that does just that, albeit only for people you already know. This “social augmented reality” application was revealed earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Take a photo of a friend and it recognizes the individual and rapidly brings up social networking links and other data you may want to use:

Of course, privacy restrictions on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking hubs greatly reduce your access to someone’s photos without their permission. There’s little danger that someone could take a photo of you and then find you via one of these more reputable sites. In a posting on their blog, Gil Hirsch (CEO) made it very clear that similar privacy protection would apply to the Face.com API. One day however, such privacy is likely to be overcome through crafty uses of technology or general apathy on the part of the public.

As I see it, facial recognition has two basic levels of application. You can use it simply to determine what thing in a photo/video is human, and where that human’s face is. Or, you can use it to determine which human, out of billions, is in a photo. Both have some very powerful applications. We’ve seen how video filtering software can use body and facial recognition to improve security camera surveillance. We may also see our faces, or other portion of our appearance, become our all-in-one easy access key. You can use your face to open a door, others may use it to become your friend on a social network. It’s hard to know how facial recognition will be harnessed in the years ahead, but it’s clear that with companies like Face.com it will certainly be present almost everywhere we go online.

[image credits: Face.com]

[source: Face.com, Vizi Labs]