Apparently, their facial recognition technology never worked very well, so they are shifting to a problem where "the threshold of success is lower."
Riya got a lot of hype about their vaporware facial recognition technology about a year ago. For example, at the time, Michael Arrington said:
Riya leverages potent facial and text recognition technology with an intelligent interface to help people make sense of the thousands of untitled and untagged photos that are building up on their hard drives.It turns out, all Riya had was strong claims about solving hard problems they could not actually solve.
Riya is going to be successful. They have real technology.
Of course, it is not surprising that Riya couldn't solve the facial recognition problem. It's a very hard problem. What is surprising is that they got such attention for vaporware claims about solving this very hard problem.
I wonder if we are seeing the same thing with the flood of hype and claims about solving natural language search. Powerset, for one example of many, seems to be getting amazing hype for a company with no launched product in a space littered with previous failures.
See also Don Dodge's post, "Riya tries again as Like.com".
See also Danny Sullivan's older post, "Hello Natural Language Search, My Old Over-Hyped Search Friend".