Pixazza, a startup backed by Google Ventures, is known for “in-image advertising,” a method of overlaying photographs with relevant ads–when a user mouses over a picture of, say, a bicycle, for example, he or she might see an offer to purchase a bike from an onlne retailer such as Amazon or Sears; if a purchase is made, Pixazza takes a cut of the sale. Today, the company, which also announced that it’s rebranding its name as Luminate, is ramping up its in-image advertising efforts by introducing “image apps,” a platform that turns static images into dynamic and interactive applications.
Now, when a user mouses over a Luminate-enhanced image, an app icon will appear in the lower corner of the image, similar to the taskbar or docking bay on Windows and Mac OS. The apps are simple yet convenient, designed to bring more use to an image: a shopping app to find products featured in the image; social apps to share the photograph via Facebook or Twitter; and information apps that provide more context around an image, such as its geotagged location or a Wikipedia entry.
There are more than 3 trillion images on the web, but “the issue is that they’re all static–they’re flat, rectangular boxes of pixels,” says Luminate CEO Bob Lisbonne. “They’re the center of attention all the time, and it’s a shame that not much has changed about images since the 1990s–we want to change that, and enable all 3 trillion images to be interactive rich experiences.”
Lisbonne sees myriad applications for the platform, and he takes me through roughly a half-dozen of them. Mouse over a picture of, say, Derek Jeter, and you might have a sports app that provides real-time stats above the image, similar to the backside of a baseball card. Perhaps an image of Yankee Stadium might feature an app for Wikipedia (for a brief in-image history of the ballpark), for Bing Maps (to find where the stadium is located), or an option to purchase tickets via StubHub.
The social sharing tools are especially interesting: Luminate gives users the option not simply to share an image, but to share a particular part of an image. Using the Twitter app, for example, users can select a section of the image, write a comment, and that text will appear as a superimposed annotation on top of the image, ready to be shared via tweet.
The point is to take advantage of an image’s context and give the user more relevant information. But not all applications are commercial. Lisbonne imagines the eye-catching pictures we so often see of tragedies, say from the earthquakes in Japan or tornadoes in the South, could give way to apps from the Red Cross to raise donations.
Luminate uses an image recognition system that combs through metadata and human crowdsourcing to tag photographs with relevant apps and information. It’s already one of the largest advertising networks in the U.S., with a reach of more than 150 million unique monthly users and more than 4,000 publisher partners.
“In the same way that there’s an app store for Apple’s iOS and a marketplace for Android, we will make available an image app store so that publishers can take advantage of not just Luminate’s apps but a great many third-party apps as well,” Lisbonne says. “Our goal is to add a wide range of compelling of features for consumers, and turbocharge our growth.”