Original air date: 10/1/20
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.
Google Lens is a free technology that Google says helps you ”search what you see.” It uses the latest in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and articifical intelligence to accomplish tasks.
In this video and article we’ll discuss where you can get Google Lens and how to use it for a wide variety of tasks.
Hang on tight to your phone and let’s jump in!
Google Lens is doing much of the work in Google Photos. It can detect the faces in your photos, and allow you to search by face. It can also detect objects and text, making it a super fast way to search the photos and images you store in Google Photos.
If you’re not interested in storing all of your photos on Google Photos, that’s OK. As a genealogist, you could still use it for more strategic purposes. You could use it just for family history photos and related genealogical images like documents and photos of tombstones. All of the content you add can then be quickly and easily searched for and found. It can even help you identify a known ancestor in other photos where you may not have recognized it was the same person.
We will talk about specific ways to use Google Lens in Google Photos. But first, let’s talk about all of the ways you can get your hands on Google Lens.
Google Lens is available on most mobile devices but not all. Some Samsung devices don’t currently support it. Here’s where you can find Google Lens.
Google Lens is built into Google Photos – Download the Google Photos app to your phone. Pull up one of your photos and look for the Lens icon at the bottom of the screen. If it is there, your phone supports Google Lens.
Google Lens in the Google Search app – You will see the Lens icon in the search bar if your phone supports Google Lens.
The Google Lens app – On Android devices look for the Google Lens app in the Google Play app store.
Google Lens is primarily a mobile tool although Google Lens is built into the functionality of Google Photos. (It works behind the scenes – you won’t find a Google Lens icon.)
However, you can use your phone to user Google Lens to capture text and then send it to the Chrome browser on your desktop computer.
To use Google Lens on your photos in the Google Photos app, you’ll first need to give the app permission to receive the photos you take with your phone. You can then open the Google Photos app and select a photo. In this episode I used the example of a potted plant (Image A below).
Tap the Google Lens icon at the bottom of the screen and you will receive search results that include the name of the plant, photo examples of the same plant, possible shopping options, and web pages providing more information about that plant.
Here’s another way you can use the Google Lens feature in the Google Photos app:
- Take a photo of a business card. (I used Google’s PhotoScan app to do this. The app does a great job of removing glare and other distortions that can occur when you photograph something with your phone. You can download the free Google PhotoScan app from your device’s app store.)
- Access the photo in the Google Photos app.
- Tap the Google Lens icon.
- Lens turns the information on the card into actionable buttons:
- Add to contacts
- Call now
- search on the web
- go to the website
On many mobile devices such as the iPhone (but not all devices) the Google Lens icon will appear in the search bar. If you’re not sure if you already have the Google Search app on your phone, go to the app store app on your phone and search for “Google Search.” You will see the app listed with a button that either says “Open” (because it is already on your phone) or “Install” (because it is not yet on your phone.)
You can also check to see if they app is on your phone by searching for “Google Search” in the search bar of your phone.
Here’s what the Google Search app looks like on a phone (Image B below):
If you have an Android phone, search the Google Play store for the Google Lens app. Here’s what the app looks like (Image C below):
Once you start using Google Lens the possibilities for its use can seem endless. Here’s a list of the kinds of things Google Lens can do:
- Identify Objects
- Copy Text from printed materials or objects
- Search for Text on printed material or objects
- Solve math problems
- Read text to you
- Translate text
Before you buy that next history book or go through the trouble of requesting it through inter-library loan, why not let Google Lens determine if it is already available for free online? This next tip works really well for old books that are likely to be in the public domain or printed before 1924.
- Open the book to the title page
- Open the Google Search app on your phone
- Tap the Google Lens icon
- Hold your phone over the title page
- Tap the search button
- If the book is available on Google Books, the title will appear along with a blue “Read” button
- Tap the “Read” button to access, read and search the book on Google Books for free!
Open the camera on your phone and point it at the QR code above (Image D) to be taken to the book in the Genealogy Gems store.
Use coupon code LENS to get 20% off!
Premium Video & Handout: Solving Unidentified Photo Album Cases. (This video features using Google Photos.)
Book: The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke. (Includes search strategies, Google Photos, and Google Translate.)
Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
From Rosalyn: Lisa are the old photos hanging on your wall the originals or copies? They are very nice.
Lisa’s Answer: I always put copies in frames when I hang them on the wall because light can fade originals. They are all my family.
From Jn Rollins: Does it do the same identification for birds?
Lisa’s Answer: I haven’t snapped a photo of a bird, but I’m sure it could. I used it on a photo of a bird, and it identified it perfectly.
From Susan: I have to download an app to get the lens icon?
Lisa’s Answer: If you have an Android phone, you may be able to download the free Google Lens app from your app store. Otherwise, you will find the icon in the Google Search app or the Google Photos app on supported devices.
From Patriva: Is Google Go the same as Google Search?
Lisa’s Answer: Google Go is a “lighter faster” search app. I think it may be geared more toward Samsung devices. I have a Samsung Tab and it doesn’t support Google Lens.
From Carrie: Does this work with the Google Chrome app?
Lisa’s Answer: The Chrome app doesn’t have the Google Lens icon.
From Jn Rollins: I installed Lens a while ago on my Android phone, but when I open Google search the lens icon doesn’t appear next to the microphone icon. How can I change that?
Lisa’s Answer: Some Android devices (like Samsung phones) don’t support Google Lens so you won’t see the icon. Check the app store to see if they offer the Google Lens app for your phone. However, I’m guessing it probably won’t be offered since it sounds like your phone doesn’t support Google Lens.
From Christine: I love this technology for speeding up research! But I have some reservations—what privacy are we giving away? How will Google use our search history?
Lisa’s Answer: I would not use Google Lens for anything I consider “sensitive.” Go to the privacy settings in your Google MyActivity to learn more.
From Lynnette: Can you put the text into Evernote easily?
Lisa’s Answer: Absolutely! Tap to copy the detected text, open an Evernote note, press your finger in the note and tap Paste to paste the text.
From Colleen: I see you are google searching. Does doing this with photos allow others to access my google photos when searching for an item? For example, the example you used with the purse?
Lisa’s Answer: To the best of my knowledge your photos are not searchable by others online. However, it is possible that Google uses the image internally to “train” the machine learning. Go to the privacy settings in your Google MyActivity to learn more.
From Christine: Lisa, can this be used to compare photos to determine if they are the same person? Thanks for sharing all your wisdom!
Lisa’s Answer: Yes! Watch my Premium membership video called Solving Unidentified Photo Album Cases.
From Caryl: Don’t know what a symbol is on a headstone? Now this would be oh so helpful!!
Lisa’s Answer: Yes, indeed!
From Susan: I quickly took a photo of the book cover, so now I can get your book! Is it better to buy directly from you or go to Amazon?
Lisa’s Answer: The book is available exclusively at my website: https://www.shopgenealogygems.com
From Debbie: Will FamilySearch’s app be independent, or will it work / integrate with Google?
Lisa’s Answer: FamilySearch would not be integrated. However, as handwriting technology is developed I’m sure you’ll find it in use in both places.
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