Vator Box


Next-gen photo and content organizers

Guy Kawasaki is our guest host, evaluating TechStar's Occipital, Union Square Venture's Zemanta

Innovation series by Bambi Francisco Roizen
October 26, 2008
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This Vator Box is brought to you by Liquid Scenarios and Nearsoft. At some point, moving images - like the ones you see in the newspapers in Harry Potter movies - will be a reality. OK, maybe not in my lifetime. But artifical intelligence is already being applied to not only organize your photos in seconds, but to reconstruct 3D scenes or create dynamic panoramas to create a truly immersive experience. One company hoping to help revolutionize the photography industry is Occipital, which is using artificial intelligence to organize our billions of photos. "It's a super clever idea," said Ezra Roizen, digital media investment banker and Vator Box regular. "The question is what are the specific applications?" This was the same question raised by Guy Kawasaki, author of newly-published Reality Check, venture capitalist and founder of AllTop.

Guy was our guest host this week, helping us evaluate Occipital as well as Zemanta.

We started with Boulder-based Occipital, one of the 10 companies in 2008 backed by David Cohen's  TechStars. In some ways, its technology and its mission is similar to facial-recognition company Neven Vision, which was acquired by Google back in 2006. Now, clearly Google sees this technology as quite promising. Recently, Google's Picasa released facial recognition capabilities.

But whether people really care to have all their photos organized, or care to see 3D versions of their photos, is another story.

"This is a solution in search of a problem," said Guy, who offered up an interesting application. "An angle that might work is if everyone went to a particularly event, you can build this temporary ad-hoc social network around an event, like Woodstock 2008." 

"But Kathy Johnson already does that," Ezra quipped, referring to the omnipresent publicist and marketing executive who is a prolific picture snapper.   

Seriously, adding to this ad-hoc notion, Ezra brought up an excellent point about mixing up photos from different people and different times. As a result of the photos being matched together to create this panorama, "there's an interesting amalgam," he said. "Things may match geometrically, but not contextually."

As for me, I'm a big fan of Occipital. And, it's probably because I don't have time to organize anything in my personal life. But I agree with Ezra and Guy that the photo matching may only work if the photos that are merged together are taken around the same time. And, if the technology is good, the trick may just be in the business model. Just look at Riya, a search engine using face-recognition technology. Here's Munjal Shah's pitch about it back in June 2006. After a year or so, Riya iterated on its business model. It soon launched, which helps people shop by showing them items that look similar to what they're looking for. Just this week, raised $32.7 million from Menlo Ventures. 

We then turned to Zemanta. 

Enriching your blog posts with images and related articles just got simpler with this Slovenia-based startup,  founded by the very enthusiastic Andraz Tori. "He clearly love his product," said Ezra, likely referring to Andraz's comment about Zemanta being "kind of a bit like magic." Zemanta is backed by Union Square Ventures, and has raised some $2 million in funding. Essentially, Zemanta helps bloggers enrich their blogs by recommending news articles, images, links and tags from around the Web. VatorNews articles are among the news posts recommended to Zemanta users. 

"If I trusted it... I would take a first shot," said Guy, who is a prolific blogger and is always seeking additional sources to make his blog posts more comprehensive. 

Ezra weighed in with some criticism about whether the links or articles that Zemanta recommends is driven by the economics or editorial quality. Will Zemanta be a "high-quality editorial product or be a shill for CPC advertisers?" Ezra asked. 

Ezra also pointed out that Zemanta may want to charge for their product. "I'd go for the make a great product and charge for it route." Guy said that Zemanta would do well if it were sold to TypePad, Blogger or WordPress. Indeed, it makes a lot of sense for these publishing platforms, though WordPress may be too busy absorbing Intense Debate at the moment.

So, which startup would we bet on? Or more importantly, which one would Guy bet on, since he is the venture capitalist, after all? As always, you'll have to watch the show to find out.

Note: As always, I'm not going to give away all the commentary in the video. Please watch and let us know where we were off. Again, Vator Box is more about starting a dialogue than it is about giving you expert analysis - though we try! Also, please let us know which companies you'd like us to review!

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Angel group/VC
Description: TechStars is a different. It’s a mentorship-driven seed stage investment fund located in Boulder, Colorado which is quickly becoming ...
Description: Contextually relevant suggestions of links, pictures, related content and tags in every popular blogging dashboard will make your bloggi...
Liquid Scenarios
Description: Since founding bpCentral, our focus has been on increasing each user's competitive advantage each and every time they interact with one o...
Description: Online magazine rack organized by topics.
Description: Occipital, LLC is a technology startup focused on mobile visual search, founded by University of Michigan alumni Jeffrey Powers and Vikas...
Bio: Advisor-to and commenter-on emerging ventures

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