Ready for Your Close-Up?

Ready for Your Close-Up?

Separated at birth? Not likely. But once the MyHeritage ancestor photo database is populated, webmasters say its technology will identify similar faces so submitters can connect.


Have you ever been mistaken for Sophia Loren? Told you have Mel Torme’s nose? My Heritage <www.myheritage.com>, a family history Web site based in Israel, offers a non-genealogical hook that’s generated widespread media coverage and lured reams of curious surfers: You can upload your photo and use the site’s facial recognition technology to scour a database of celebrity pics for famous look-alikes.

More than 3.3 million registered users have taken the bait since MyHeritage debuted in January 2006, says CEO Gilad Japhet. ABC’s “World News Tonight,” the Chicago Tribune and USA Today have covered MyHeritage, and it’s ranked among the world’s most-blogged-about sites.

Japhet’s hoping those visitors explore his site’s more-obviously genealogical features (still in beta testing at press time). For example, the facial recognition software is more than a gimmick: Upload an ancestor’s photo and it will find similar faces in others’ submissions. “Initially, the system will probably not be useful enough for finding ancestors,” Japhet says. “We plan on growing substantially in terms of user-contributed photos, and then it would be quite possible for people to find more photos of their loved ones.”

The free, downloadable Family Tree Builder genealogy program for Windows employs the same technology to annotate users’ photos by turning faces into links. Click once to see who it is and how you’re related; click again to see the person’s family tree or his other photos. Family Tree Builder, which tracks thousands of relatives in a user-friendly interface, also can publish your tree to a MyHeritage-hosted family Web site. A basic Family Page site is free; you’ll get more storage and other enhanced features with a $36 to $120 annual membership.

Finally, MyHeritage offers a free Web Megadex search of 400-plus databases including Ellis Island’s <ellisisland.org> and Ancestry.com’s <Ancestry.com > (you need a membership to see record details from subscription sites). The ability to search on 10 surname spelling variations at once sets Megadex apart from similar services. An advanced search lets you specify the person’s sex and the year and country of birth and death, as well as select specific databases and record types to search.

Ancestry.com has been known to block third-party searches of its data (including those of Stephen P. Morse’s One-Step tools <stevemorse.org>), but Japhet doesn’t expect a problem for MyHeritage. “We send the user to results on the respective sites, to the pages that display the matches. Thus, we’ll be bringing Ancestry.com a lot of traffic.”

We didn’t wade through all 229,018 matches for our search on mike haddad, but results included non-genealogical content such as staff members on a Library and Archives Canada page. In some results, instances of mike and haddad occurred in different names.

With all these freebies, how will MyHeritage make money? Japhet plans to “monetize” the search engine by adding a subscription-based automatic search and affiliating with third-party databases (for example, he’d earn a “commission” if your MyHeritage search results in a subscription for Ancestry.com). He’ll also introduce services such as chart printing and photo restoration. Time to get your ancestors ready for their close-ups.
 
From the December 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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