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Yahoo sharpens its image

Millions of people who use Yahoo will have a new tool to search the Net for images and video possibly as early as next week.

Millions of people who use the Yahoo (YHOO) Internet search engine will have a new tool to search the Net for images and video possibly as early as next week.

The popular Net search service last week closed a deal to add Excalibur Technologies' Visual RetrievalWare to its search engine. Excalibur has lined up Interpix Software to integrate the tool with Yahoo software.

"We are hopeful that [Yahoo's image search tools] will be up and running by the end of this week," said Excalibur representative Mark Demers.

The tool lets users search the Internet for still pictures and video that match a predefined shape, texture, and color. Excalibur's technology reads and stores into memory "every aspect of the visual data," then boils it down to an index equal to about a tenth of the original file for easier searching, the company said. The tool can recognize faces and finger prints, as well as flag changes of scene on video tapes by recognizing digital patterns, the company said.

Analysts praised the move to incorporate the tools into the Yahoo search engine. "It adds value to what Yahoo is doing," said Scott McCready, director of research for image and workflow systems at International Data Corporation.

While Demers would not disclose the terms of the deal, he said the agreement with Yahoo is small in dollar terms and will not significantly impact earnings this quarter. The company hopes however that it will help build product recognition for the tool that will lead to corporate sales.

Demers added that the company is "talking to all the major players" who offer online services in an effort to find other high-profile outlets for the image search tools.

Excalibur already sells the Visual RetrievalWare technology as a toolkit for software developers, allowing companies to set up image searches of corporate databases. The toolkit costs $50,000; the company also sells a text-only RetrievalWare toolkit, priced at $25,000. The products run on Windows 95, Windows NT, and Unix operating systems.

McCready said the tool will have even greater impact on large corporatations with multiple databases by simplifying the lengthy, sometimes impossible task of retrieving text, still image, video, animation, and spreadsheet data stored in corporate databases.

"Corporations usually have lots of tools for creating and storing visual data but no way of finding and retrieving it," said McCready. "This tool has some very significant implications," especially in the little explored area of video indexing and searching. He added that the tool may also find buyers in niche markets like product licensing, where companies need versatile multimedia search tools.