Update on October 20: Microsoft has pulled the AutoTag video and accompanying details from its site. Our original story is below.
Microsoft this weekend quietly revealed AutoTag ‘n Search My Photos, a new Windows 8.1 app that leverages the photos tagged in your Facebook account to help you tag your own personal photos. The new tool learns about the face models of your friends and can then automatically tag photos stored in your Pictures Library on Windows.
Once some tags have been added, AutoTag lets you search for people across your photo collection. If you include your OneDrive photos in the Pictures library, photos taken on a Windows Phone can also be automatically tagged, and thus become searchable.
Microsoft promises that tagging accuracy improves as you use the app. More specifically, when you confirm suggested tags or fix and edit improperly tagged faces, AutoTag will adapt accordingly.
While AutoTag relies heavily on Facebook, you can still tag people who are not on the social network, creating profiles for unidentified faces (an “unidentified photos” view even clusters faces with similar features for easy tagging). This isn’t a one-way street: you can also share photos on Facebook with tags included, both to a new and existing album. The idea is that tagging people in the app is less of a hassle since there are fewer people left to tag.
You can also merge a Facebook profile or a user-created profile with tags detected on photos tagged with other photo applications, such as OneDrive. While AutoTag adds new people tags to your photos, it does not overwrite any existing tags.
Here is a walkthrough demo that runs through the app’s various features:
Curiously, the video mentions that users should rate the app in the company’s app store. Microsoft rarely offers its research projects for public download, and at least at the time of publishing, AutoTag doesn’t appear to be one of the exceptions; we were unable to find the app in the Downloads sections nor in the Windows Store.
The app was developed by the Microsoft Garage team, a group responsible that runs side projects, hackathons, science fairs, and general tinkering in Redmond. It thus shouldn’t be much of a surprise the video above is hosted on a Microsoft Research website; this is very much an experiment. In fact, a post on Microsoft Answers says the app is in beta and notes some known issues, as well as potential workarounds.
At the end of the day, AutoTag shows off some very cool technology that can create a person-centric view of all your photos, including those stored on your local hard drive, OneDrive, and on Facebook. Unfortunately, as with many Microsoft Research projects, it’s not likely a tool that would catch on: this is a solution to a problem that spans more than just Windows devices, and it’s being largely solved by Facebook’s own automatic-tagging technology.
We have contacted Microsoft for more information about the app, including whether it will be made available for download as the video suggests. In the meantime, you can learn more about AutoTag by checking out the lengthy FAQ page (which by the way is also written as if anyone with a Windows 8.1 device can install the app).