Image search race: Polar Rose, Pixsy, Snap, Ookles, Riya — list is getting long

Google and Yahoo have image and video search, but they’ve kept things to themselves, oddly not syndicating these for other sites to use like they have with their text search engines.

No doubt, they will do so soon. Meantime, a host of specialized image search and recognition companies has sprouted up. Here are the latest ones:Pixsy of San Francisco, may be the company to watch. They’re the only ones offering to license image and video search to any Web site, from large shopping sites to news sites. The logic for these sites is as follows: Why not have image search on your own Web site, instead of sending people on to Google? That way, the sites can enjoy advertising revenue (sharing some with Pixsy, which powers it), instead of give it all to Google. If a topic-based image search is wanted, Pixsy can do that too.

It has signed 50 different deals since launching its product in June, chief executive Chase Norlin tells us. For one, Pixsy powers Mamma, the Mark Cuban-backed search site that launched two weeks ago. Pixsy crawls the Web, and also crawling blog RSS feeds to get fresh user-generated images and video (Google has started doing this recently). Pixsy is generating revenue, and could continue to grow organically, but Norlin says he’s considering raising venture capital to make sure he can grab as much land as possible before Google hits. Today, Pixsy launched something called Pixsy Power, which lets any site use Pixsy’s search. It has 12 employees. Blinkx is Pixsy’s main competitor, but offers only video search.

polarroselogo.bmpPolar Rose, which we’ve mentioned before, has provided more details on its facial recognition technology.

The Malmo, Sweden-based company gave us an overview yesterday, but didn’t let us actually try it out — so proof will be in the pudding.

polar rose.bmpIt appears to provide cutting-edge technology (based on creating 3D images from 2D images of photos), based on research at the University of Malmo. It mixes this with social networking — it looks for other photos around the Web with the same visual characteristics and that are tagged with similar names, thereby helping you detect who someone is. Polar Image has developed a pop up window that lets you tell it who it is, and to share and borrow from others using the technology (see image below.) The challenge will be for Polar Rose to find a real use beyond being a cool feature built into, say Apple or Adobe’s photo software.

polarrosescreen2.bmpIt works by via Firefox and Internet Explorer plug-ins to be released early next year. It will also open its APIs for developers to work with its technology.

Chief executive Nikolaj Nyholm said he wants to develop similar technology for video. The company has raised $5.1 million from Nordic Venture Partners. Few other companies focus on facial recognition. Riya appears to have moved away from this area.

ookleslogo.bmpOokles, the SF company that got funded in Om Malik’s loo, is apparently doing image recognition, but there are fewer details available on that (Techcrunch has some). Its founder described it eight months ago as a Flickr+Riya+YouTube, which sounded fun at the time, but eight months later, the idea is losing its freshness.

Finally, Snap just released its image search. And we mentioned Cognisign a few days ago.