Bluebook: Answering visual queries through crowdsourcing


Crowdsourcing information through apps tends to work very well; for example, think of the Waze navigation app, which uses millions of drivers all running the app to produce real-time traffic reports and navigation based on actual speeds driven or slowdowns reported by users. Quora lets users ask questions (the Qu of the name) or experts add their answers to the pool (the a in the name). Think of other services and apps like Yelp, which relies on the comments of users to produce ratings used in Apple Maps and Siri. Now a new iOS app, Bluebook (free) wants to do the same for visual queries.

By visual queries, I'm talking about posting a picture of a place, person, or object that is unidentifiable. The idea of Bluebook is that others look through the pictures, make comments on them, and provide an answer as to what the picture is. 

For example, say I post a photo of a flower and ask "What kind of flower is this?". Another person using the app can go through and provide a comment. When someone provides an authoritative answer and I can verify that they're correct, I can mark the question as answered. With a tap on the "answer found" button, someone else can find out what that picture is all about.


In theory, Bluebook is a great idea and should make it easy for anyone to post a picture, ask a question about it, and then get the power of "the crowd" to answer the question. But there's a problem; to be useful, a crowdsourced solution needs a huge and vibrant population of users. At this point, Bluebook has only been around since March 10, which means that there aren't that many users and answers are few and far between. In addition, it doesn't appear that some of the users who have received multiple comments on an image have actually taken the time to verify the correct answer and tell everyone that the answer has been found. 

So right now, Bluebook is a bit of a "chicken or egg" proposition. The user base needs to grow in order for the app to be really useful, but many people may skip over the app if they don't find it to be useful right away. How can that issue be resolved? Well, by getting a lot of people to try out the app -- and that's the purpose of this post.

Bluebook is well-written, has a nice user interface that's easy to understand, and it is surprisingly bug-free for a brand new app. About my only complaint is that it's not a universal app; although it will run on an iPad, it runs in portrait orientation only and scales to fit the size of the display. Frankly, it works best on an iPhone or iPod touch at this time.

All Bluebook needs to be a successful crowd source of information is for a lot of people to download the app, ask their visual questions, and try to identify what's in the photos that others have submitted. Anyone who likes trying to figure out places, people, and things from photos will love the app and can add to the community of answers. Let's hope that community grows quickly and prospers.