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

11/18/10Follow @wroush

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the Walt Disney Company, and Particle, a “Web applications foundry” known for consumer apps like the video calling card system Robo.to and the invitation system Crusher.

Flemings says the initial idea for Stipple came to him in 2008, but that other projects within Tennman kept him busy until December 2009, when the organization started sharing prototypes with potential users. “We showed it to large publishers and media companies, and there was immediate interest,” he says. “They want the ability to monetize images and share more information with customers. When you find a good opportunity with that kind of market interest, it can lead you down a path very quickly.” That’s what happened with Stipple—by August the company was ready to open its system to all Web publishers.

The idea of making digital photos more informative should be attractive to anyone who goes to the trouble of putting images on the Web—even individual photographers (who might eventually be able to tap Stipple’s technology through services like Flickr or Facebook; Flemings says the startup wants to build relationships with photo-sharing sites like the one it already has with blog host Six Apart). But at bottom, Stipple’s proposition is about engagement and e-commerce. And the big question is whether consumers are ready for the idea that browsing images on the Web could become an almost literal form of window shopping.

Stipple hasn’t released data about engagement rates yet, but Flemings says the early results have been promising. “We are a very data-driven company—mouseovers, the rate at which captions and dots are triggered, all of those things are captured and analyzed—and we’ve been stunned at the data,” he says. “One of the big questions we want to answer is, does this form of user-initiated content and advertising outperform display advertising, and we’ve been very, very pleased by the results.”

Now the startup just needs to sign up more publishers, and help them add genuinely useful data to their photos. (Flemings says Stipple has an in-house team that can help big publishers with thousands of online images power through the manual labeling process.) Flemings says he’s aware that if Stipple becomes just another way to litter the Internet with commercial messages, consumers will steer away from labeled images—he says the company has heat-map data from mouse-tracking studies, showing how consumers actively avoid mousing over ads that look like they might activate intrusive pop-ups.

“We absolutely believe there are best practices to doing this,” says Flemings. “While there is always pressure on a startup to earn the extra nickel of revenue, thankfully we have an investment group that wants to build a great long-term company. So [the labels] have to be around providing value in a non-spammy way. To the extent that we do that, we win. To the extent that we break the users’ trust, we lose.”

Xconomy goes the extra mile to bring you in-depth startup profiles. Compare this story to:

Stipple Secures $2 Million to Build Photo Tagging Tools for Publishers (Mashable)
Stipple snaps up $2M to easily tag the web’s pictures (VentureBeat)
Stipple Raises $2M From Kleiner Perkins, Mike Maples … And Justin Timberlake (TechCrunch)
After a new influx of cash, expect big things from Stipple (The Next Web)

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

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