Fotopedia Photo Stories Arrive on Flipboard, As Photo Curation Goes Mainstream

9/20/11Follow @wroush

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Seattle-based Ignition Partners, Paris-based Banexi Ventures Partners, and individual investors Jeff Clavier, Ron Conway, Reid Hoffman, Joi Ito, and Saul Klein.

Up to now, the 18-employee startup has relied entirely on paid downloads in the iTunes App store for revenue—the Heritage, Dreams of Burma, Paris, and North Korea apps are free, but National Parks, Above France, and Memory of Colors carry a $2.99 price tag. With the Flipboard stories, however, Fotopedia plans to experiment for the first time with advertising.

You won’t see intrusive banner ads or pop-ups. Rather, Fotopedia will insert an occasional full-screen ad into the regular stream of photos. And the ads themselves will be pictures from Fotopedia—they might just have an added layer of text and links. The first advertising pages will probably be house ads featuring Fotopedia’s own apps, Hullot says, but it’s not hard to imagine Fotopedia selling ads to travel brands. Imagine an ad for Qantas, for example, mixed into a story with photos from Australia, or an ad for Canon cameras within a photo essay from one of Fotopedia’s pro photographers.

Pictures contributed to Fotopedia under a non-commercial Creative Commons license, of course, will never be used as ads. But whenever ad text does appear on top of a Fotopedia picture, the photographer will share in the proceeds, Hullot says. “In the same way that when we sell the mobile apps [the photographers] get their cut of sales, in this case they will get their cut of the advertising—which, by the way, may be much bigger,” says Hullot.

The parts of Fotopedia that consumers see—the encyclopedia, the apps, and now the Flipboard magazine stories—are all manifestations of the first of Fotonauts’ two big underlying assets: a huge custom database of photos with captions, geotags, license information, and other metadata. Having that platform means creating a new photo publication is as simple as grabbing a bunch of images from the database and pouring them into the template for an app or a story. “We use this structure everywhere,” says Hullot. “With one or two people, our tools make it so [new apps] can be done extremely fast.”

Fotonauts’ other asset, of course, is its community. Unlike most other photo sharing sites, the Fotopedia encyclopedia isn’t intended as a repository or backup site for every photo a member might take; rather, it’s built to showcase members’ very best photos. Christophe Daligault, Fotopedia’s San Francisco-based senior vice president for global business, calls this a “hypercuration” model—meaning that if I wanted to put my own photos on Fotopedia, I’d have to narrow down the 13,000 photos I’ve uploaded to Flickr to the best five or so.

Members vote on the quality of each other’s photos, and the highest-rated photos make their way into the apps and stories. Over the next few months, Hullot says, Fotopedia will be improving its voting system with new features like “karma.” “We want to reward people who are doing the right thing for the encyclopedia,” he says. “The more good things you do, the more power you get” to up-vote other members’ photos. Occasionally the Fotopedia staff will reach out to community members with high karma and great photos and offer them a contract. “For a semi-pro or someone who wants to become pro, this can be a big opportunity,” Hullot says.

The overall vision at Fotonauts, says Daligault, is that “the media is moving toward something more image-centric. You have mobile lifestyles, different form factors, and shorter attention spans, and that for some kinds of information, images can be the anchor. There was great demand for the apps, and now we are launching the magazines, and we will see how people like it. If it all works out, we will try to build a publishing platform that can be extended through various distribution partnerships—a virtuous ecosystem for photographers and media companies.”

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

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