The latest acquisition in the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) buying spree may not seem like much. There was no formal press release announcing the dot-com bellwether's purchase of Neven Vision. Instead, it was left to the company's official blog to spill the beans on Tuesday.

Neven Vision is an upstart specializing in photo-searching technology. The logical implication is that it will help make the company's Picasa photo-management software better, but Neven may be more important than that.

"Neven Vision comes to Google with deep technology and expertise around automatically extracting information from a photo," the blog entry states. "It could be as simple as detecting whether or not a photo contains a person, or, one day, as complex as recognizing people, places, and objects."

Look a little closer
Interesting, isn't it? Google relies on contextual marketing. Advertising takes a thick 99% slice of the company's revenue pie. Through its mastery of paid search, Google is able to provide targeted ads with pinpoint accuracy. The same goes for the company's AdSense program, where Google cuts third-party publishers in on the ad action by serving up ads that complement the content on their pages.

There's a rub, of course. Digital snapshots and even video have been tough cookies to monetize, because Google can't make out the content beyond the file name. That's one of the many reasons why Google asks AdSense publishers not to run its ad-producing code on pages that only include snapshots. With limited content, Google winds up delivering poor-producing ads for nonspecific services like ringtones or desktop wallpaper.

It's not as if the Internet is just waking up to the limitations of monetizing eye candy. When Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) acquired photo-sharing site Flickr last year, few seemed to notice that Yahoo! was really buying Flickr's tagging feature. Folks have been rating digital uploads as long as has been around, but Flickr engaged its audience by letting them tag photographs with descriptive terms and even caption certain areas of each photograph.

Participants feel as if they're adding to the quality of the photo-sharing experience. It's a trap, though. The deeper the tags, the more likely that Yahoo! can serve up the perfect text ad alongside the snapshot. Search for photos tagged with "Aspen," and you'll see a column of ads pitching Colorado ski vacations.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but paid search works so much better when those words are spelled out. Over at CNET's (NASDAQ:CNET) popular Webshots site, searches are often hamstrung by the limited descriptions provided by the person who uploaded the image. When you're transferring dozens of digital snapshots, there's little desire to manually label every shot.

The solution at Webshots? Just recently, CNET began allowing viewers to submit comments and even engage in discussion board threads related to individual pictures. Again, it's clever content-seeding, fed by unsuspecting users.

Take a picture, it'll last longer
Where would social networking be without photographs? Can you imagine what News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) MySpace would be like if uploaded images were banned? Think Google would have been as quick to part with at least $900 million for MySpace's advertising real estate? A lot of our time online is now spent consuming rich media, and the online advertising industry is going to skyrocket even higher once the major players get it right.

A few years ago, photography wasn't much of an online model to hang your hat on, unless your interests ran more toward, uh, adult fare. The most popular photo-sharing sites, run by companies like Kodak (NYSE:EK) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), were more interested in landing your film, photofinishing, or printing business.

Times have clearly changed. The Internet realizes that even photo galleries can be monetized. All it needs is more information to make the searches relevant. It may never be a perfect science. We just don't know how deep Neven Vision's photo-search technology will go. All I know is that Google should be shouting this kind of deal from the rooftops.

Instead, Google spent Tuesday burying this nugget in a blog entry, while issuing a press release on printable coupons online through Google Maps. I'm no dummy. I can respect the marketing appeal of marrying localized maps and merchant offers. I just think that the potential to truly unlock the value of photography will be far more important to Google's future than two bucks off my next haircut.

Then again, if that haircut inspires someone to go on a portrait-snapping spree, this may all tie in nicely to one of the biggest days that Google almost forgot.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a huge fan of Google; it would be his homepage, if not for He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy.