Pinterest’s Lens Virtual Search Gets a Fashion Forward Makeover

June 21, 2017, 3:00 PM UTC

There’s a scene early on in the 1995 teen comedy Clueless in which the main character Cher (played by Alicia Silverstone) picks out her outfit of the day (#ootd in modern parlance) from her vast, designer-filled wardrobe with a few taps on a mouse thanks to some nifty software.

While it’s unbelievably easy to order a pizza via the Internet within seconds like in the opening moments in another ’90s cult classic (The Net), this particular fashionista-minded software has proven difficult to replicate quite right in the real world to this day.

But Pinterest argues it has gotten closer with the latest update to its visual search program, Lens. Introduced earlier this year, Lens marks a major step forward for Pinterest, nudging it farther away from a simple social network (or however else you tried to define it, such as digital scrapbook or noteboard) to a budding digital advertising juggernaut.

Pinterest has touted Lens as a visual search engine for the world around us, promising to identify objects and products in the real world or in pictures on the subway and elsewhere. Lens is focusing in on fashion with its latest update on Wednesday, aiming to identify not only the type of clothing or jewelry (i.e. diamond earrings vs. ear cuffs), but even the makers and designers behind them. Propelling the software further (and making it more crucial for its users), Lens will provide recommendations based on these items identified.

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Pinterest suggests users could snap photos of clothing, shoes, and accessories in their closets, and Lens will return with outfit ideas for specific styles and different ways to mix and match garments that people already own.

Amid a few other little additions (such as the ability to zoom in and out on objects as well as tap to focus), users can also tap the new capture button at the bottom of the screen to discover related ideas and objects—keeping them within the digital walls of Pinterest even longer. It might sound like a time waster or productivity gap for some, but it’s a potential goldmine for retailers and advertisers.

Courtesy: PInterest
Courtesy: PInterest

Amid Wednesday’s announcement, Pinterest underscores it recently raised $150 million more in new funding at an increased valuation of $12.3 billion. The latest funds will be directed toward investing in advanced computer vision and visual search technologies while developing Lens further to help its users find even more ideas and styles to try.

Pinterest retained approximately 175 million monthly active users as of April 2017 with more than 100 billion “ideas” pinned to the platform, 75% of which Pinterest says derives directly from businesses.

But Pinterest isn’t alone when it comes to putting visual search and recognition technology to the fashion test. Fashion might even be the next battleground for this kind of machine learning.

Amazon, which likes to get a taste of just about everything, debuted a variant of its runaway success AI device Echo with the unveiling of Echo Look in April. Pitched toward the Instagram set, Echo Look is a slimmer voice-activated cylinder equipped with a camera, Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa, and a new service called Style Check, which is compares two photos at a time of what the user is wearing. Based on algorithms that review the outfit’s fit, color, and styling—as well as advice from fashion specialists—Amazon says Style Check will tell the user which outfit concept looks better.

Of course, there’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer with these suggestions when it comes to personal style. But maybe we could all use a little help now and again—even from virtual stylists.

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