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With Jetpac acquired by Google, will we get improved context in image searches?

August 18, 2014
Jetpac places

Google has been on a string of acquisitions, snapping up tech startups that have the potential to either gain traction or to contribute their intellectual property to the search giant’s own offerings. One of these tech startups is Jetpac, a platform that algorithmically scans Instagram photos to come up with city guides made up of photos from certain groups of people. For instance, you may get “10 Outdoor Activities in Hong Kong” or guides from groups like intellectuals, skateboarders or businesspeople.

The effectiveness of the algorithm in getting you photos from your desired group of people may be debatable, although as with many other acquired startups, the bigger company is likely going to integrate the technology into their own offerings. In some cases, the acquisition is meant as an “acqui-hire” in which the main intent is to hire the founding team for their technical capabilities and/or business acumen.

The bigger picture here is how Google will make use of Jetpac’s technology in improving its own offerings. Jetpac utilizes deep-learning technology, a form of artificial intelligence that uses machine learning methods in learning representations of data. With deep learning, Jetpac’s technology is not just limited to image recognition for searches. This also has applications in mapping and other search technologies that rely on visual context. There is also a likelihood that Google will incorporate the photo-collecting algorithm into its own social network, Google+.

Jetpac and Google have not disclosed any figures with respect to the acquisition cost. Suffice to say, however, that Google has spent a lot of resources in acquiring startups for their data-mining and sentiment-gathering capabilities, and the company has already built a network of services and applications that do just this. Couple this with the ubiquity of Google services on Android smartphones (1.4 billion by year end), the search company will have a lot of data in its hands, which it can use to optimize content delivery, and of course serve more effective ads.

In its current form, Jetpac had only available on iOS, but the company has already pulled out the app from the App Store. Of course, the question here is whether Jetpac will continue in its present form after the acquisition, or if Google will scuttle the app in favor of simply integrating the technology into its own social network or recommendation engines. One thing is for sure here: Google wants to have as much data on hand in order to raise the profile of its own services that are currently facing stiff competition from bigger incumbents like Facebook, at least in the social networking realm.