Pinterest's visual search tool can identify items in a pin

Lots of people turn to Pinterest for inspiration, but it can be a hassle to figure out who makes that whiskey barrel table. Now that the site has buyable pins and shopping pins, it has launched a visual search tool to make it easier to find (and buy) that thing you saw. The tool is dead simple to use -- when you see an object in a scene, like the light fixture shown above, you just select the search tool and draw a box around it. If it's in Pinterest's database, it'll show you the name and where to find it, then let you buy it directly from retailers like Neiman Marcus or Macy's, if available.

The idea and simplicity are pretty ingenious, though it remains to be seen how well it actually works -- for instance, Google and Bing's algorithms are still pretty hit and miss. In a technical blog, however, Pinterest said it's tool was developed in conjunction with USC Berkeley, and takes advantage of machine learning techniques. That helps it find not just identical images, but "thousands of visually similar results," giving you related pins for that arts & crafts-style doorknob, or whatever. The new feature rolls out today to Pinterest's mobile and web apps.