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Pinterest Brings Visual Search Technology to the Web
Posted March 10, 2017
Pinterest Brings Visual Search Technology to the Web
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By Kurt Wagner. Updated March 10, 2017 7:30AM

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If you find an item you like online -- an article of clothing or a piece of furniture, for example -- you'll now be able to find that item, or similar items, on Pinterest without ever visiting Pinterest's website.

The new feature is part of an update the company launched Tuesday to its Chrome extension, the browser tool that lets you save images you see online back to Pinterest as you surf the web.

The new tool lets you select an item in any photograph online, and ask Pinterest to surface similar items using its image recognition software.

For example: If you see an image of sunglasses you like on Nordstrom.com, you could use the extension to browse similar glasses from Pinterest without ever leaving Nordstrom's website.

If you click on one of the search results, you'll then be taken to Pinterest.

The idea here is that Pinterest wants to be the search engine for images, and that includes images you see on other websites or even images you come across in the real world. As co-founder Evan Sharp explained it at a press event last month: "You shouldn't have to put your thoughts into words to find great ideas."

The "visual search" technology is not new -- you could already use it, but only on Pinterest's website. Eventually, Pinterest would love to help users buy the products they find see online but don't know where to buy them.

But that won't be the main priority for the new browser tool, at least not right away. While it's possible Pinterest's recommended images may include similar-looking items that are for sale through the service, called "buyable pins," the company is "not prioritizing" those kinds of pins, according to a company spokesperson.

It also won't show promoted pins in search results, which means the new browser extension won't bring in ad dollars.

But it will get people searching Pinterest more often. At least that's the hope.

The new extension is the latest in a line of Pinterest features that could rival Google's image search functionality. The challenge for Pinterest, though, will be getting people to actually use them, especially this new extension. The new feature not only requires that people use Chrome, but they must then download a browser extension, two obvious barriers.

It could also rub some retailers the wrong way. Nordstrom may not want users browsing sunglasses on Pinterest instead of its own online store. Brands can opt out of the extension if they want to, but Pinterest hopes they won't.

"This is early days for online visual discovery tools," a company spokesperson wrote in an email to Recode. "As we go, we'll incorporate partner and Pinner feedback and continue improving these products to ensure value for everyone."

The extension is launching globally on Chrome on Tuesday and is "coming to other Pinterest browser extensions in the future," according to the company's blog.

© 2017 Re/Code syndicated under contract with NewsEdge/Acquire Media. All rights reserved.

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