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

A San Francisco startup called Stipple has raised $2 million from big-name investors to help make images on the Web more interactive. Specifically, the company wants to help publishers who puts lots of photos online to turn them into gateways to various kinds of interactions, including online purchases.

When you think about it, images on the Internet are weirdly static. The Web is dripping with them, of course, but they lack the interactivity that we expect these days from audio, text, and video. Stipple’s technology lets anyone with his own website layer interactive labels atop each image, including captions and what it calls “dots” offering details and links about specific people, places, or things. The information is invisible until a Web user mouses over the image. (Check out the images on Stipple’s home page for a taste of how this works.)

“Generally speaking you’re doing the same thing on the Web with images today that you were doing 10 years ago,” says Stipple founder and CEO Rey Flemings. “They are the forgotten media type on the Web. There hasn’t been a tremendous commercial focus on making it super-easy for people to discover what’s in photos. That was the initial idea of Stipple.”

That idea resonates with customers who’ve been using Stipple’s technology since the company’s August 2010 launch, including blog hosting company Six Apart, the E.W. Scripps newspaper chain, and record labels JIVE Label Group and Atlantic Records. And it appeals to the startup’s eclectic group of investors—it’s not too often you see singer/actor Justin Timberlake and staid Silicon Valley venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers backing the same company.

Stipple image illustrating 'people dots'Other contributors to the $2 million round include Mike Maples’ Floodgate Fund, Parkview Ventures, Quest Venture Partners, Global Brain Corporation, and individual investors John Ferber, Rick Marini, Eghosa Omoigui, and Naval Ravikant. In a press release announcing the investment today, Maples offer this buzzword-ridden yet succinct summary of the startup: “By marrying the ubiquity and engagement of photos with a business model and user experience that harnesses the power of community and network effects, Stipple has created the underpinnings of a company with disruptive potential in a massive market.”

Massive indeed: there are well over a trillion images on the Web, yet the only data available about most of them is their file names—and that’s usually something cryptic like “IMG_7149.jpg”. (Some images also come with metadata tags using the exchangeable image file format, or EXIF, but this usually only covers technical details like the date and time the picture was taken, or the settings of the camera used.)

Companies like Munjal Shah’s Riya have tackled the problem of making images more discoverable using computer vision techniques. Such algorithms are getting better at recognizing faces and certain kinds of objects, but aren’t yet able to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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