visual search

How to Do a Visual Search Using Pinterest

The word “Google” has become synonymous with “search” when we’re talking about words. Pinterest is striving to become your search engine for searching with images. Mind you, we’re not talking about searching for images, although it’s handy in that regard. But rather, what happens when you see a photo online of something you just love, and you trying to describe it verbally just won’t cut it? Enter visual search.


What is Visual Search?

Pinterest has seized on recent developments in machine learning to “teach” its search engine to identify images. By using the Pinterest app on your smartphone, you can now capture images online or in the real world and Pinterest will find other, matching images on the internet. There are currently a few different options available for how to search, as Pinterest tests its methods and technology advances.


Search Within Pinterest

When you do a visual search, you capture an image of an object and then allow Pinterest to search for matching images. When you’re looking at a pinned photo, let’s say you notice something in there that you like. It may be the dress someone is wearing or a blender on the kitchen counter. You simply tap the search icon in the upper right-hand corner. Then you can drag and resize a frame around that part of the image. Pinterest will then search for it elsewhere. With any luck, you will discover the brand name of the item and where to buy it.


Search the Real World

In February 2017, Pinterest launched the beta version of Lens. Using this tool,  you can point your phone’s camera at an object and Pinterest will search for it. Say you’re in a public building and you see a chair that just love. Use lens to search for matching images. Pinterest will show you possibilities, along with its level of “confidence” that its result matches your search. While Lens is still in Beta, you can provide feedback to Pinterest by telling them whether they got it right or just made you laugh. The more Lens scans images the more it will “learn” how to identify objects.


Visual Search Without Going to Pinterest

Also in early 2017, Pinterest announced that it would allow users without accounts to search its inventory of images. You have always, technically speaking, been able to search Pinterest without logging in. However, now you don’t even need to go to Pinterest. You will need to install a “Pin It” button into Chrome. (Ostensibly, it will be coming to other browsers in the future.) Pinterest will scan all of the images on the webpage you’re currently viewing and produce search results. You can then follow the results into the application, if you wish, and pin to your own boards.


Searching by image might feel strange now, but so did search engines once upon a time. As our modes of communication lean increasingly toward the visual, and the technology in our pockets allows us more opportunity, it makes sense. Try out the visual search options available now and watch for new developments.



PHOTO: Firm Bee / CC0 Public Domain

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