Stipple Gets $2 Million to Help Web Publishers Bring Images Alive

11/18/10Follow @wroush

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attach specific, actionable labels. Riya’s software might have recognized a black handbag, for example, but it would never have known that it was a Kate Spade Metallic Priti bag, available at Zappos.com for $445. (Riya morphed into shopping site Like.com and was then acquired by Google.)

The other main approach to image labeling has been to let Web users themselves take care of it. Almost since its launch in 2004, the photo sharing community Flickr (bought by Yahoo in 2005) has included a “Note” feature that lets both the creator of a photo and random Flickr visitors attach text notes to specific areas of a picture; as with Stipple, the notes are invisible until you mouse over the photo. (I went wild with this feature in this 2005 photo posted on Flickr.) Then there’s tagging—the ability to tell Facebook and other sites that a photo you’ve uploaded includes specific friends, meaning that image will show up in their news feeds.

Flemings says services Flickr and Facebook have made a good start toward basic photo labeling, but says “there is a still a lot to be done.” He argues that digital files of any kind are much more useful to Web surfers—and much more lucrative for their creators—when they have five properties, namely that they can be easily published and consumed, and that they’re discoverable, monetizable, and what he calls “socialized’—looped into social media channels like Twitter or Facebook.

Stipple Dots on BritneyStipple’s service is designed to help with all of those things. It’s free to sign up—all a publisher has to do is embed a bit of JavaScript code in its website or blog, which enables Stipple to make all the images on that site interactive. Authorized editors can add captions or dots to images either from their content management system or on the live site. Say you’re a travel publisher and you’ve got a photo of your roving correspondent on the beach in Mallorca, Spain. You could write a basic caption, and you could create a “people dot” that shows up over the correspondent’s head and links to his Facebook account or his latest tweet. You could also create place dots for every beachfront hotel visible in the background, and have Stipple annotate these dots with text ads or links to reservation sites.

The information is unobtrusive until a site visitor mouses over the photo or touches the photo, if she’s using a touch-driven device like an iPad (Stipple’s technology is platform-independent, relying on basic HTML and JavaScript technologies rather than Flash or other proprietary formats). Whenever an interaction with a dot leads to a click on an ad or a purchase at an e-commerce site, Stipple earns a per-click fee or an affiliate commission, and it shares that revenue with the publisher. “We make money as our publishers make money,” says Flemings.

You can spot a photo that’s been “stippled” by the small black tab in the lower left corner—it looks like a corner mount in an old-fashioned photo album. Flemings calls this the “call to action,” and says it helps site visitors avoid wasting time mousing over images where no extra labels are present. But in the long run, he says, he’d like to do away with the tab: “If this works, the goal ought to be that there is no call to action—you just know that if there’s an image, you can mouse over it and it’s going to reveal all the information that’s there.”

Flemings is a serial entrepreneur who hails from Memphis, TN, where he headed an economic development agency for the local music industry. Since 2006 he’s been the head of Tennman Digital, a San Francisco-based venture incubator funded by Justin Timberlake. Tennman’s investments include Tapulous, a maker of iPhone games that was acquired this summer by … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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