An estimated 500 million images are captured every day, but less than 5 percent end up on major photo sharing sites. Uploading photos is not the easiest task and most photos are locked into a specific photo sharing service and have all rights reserved licenses. Jean-Marie Hullot, wants to liberate photos from silos and offer news ways to organize and discover images.
The former CTO of NeXT and Apple's application division, Hullot showed off fotonauts,a kind of Wikipedia for photos at TechCrunch50. Currently in private beta for Windows and Mac users, the Web application stores 1080p thumbnails of photos from major services and provides synchronization of photos across multiple services. As a result, fotonauts allows users to share, remix and reuse and enrich images across multiple services, Hullot said. Fotonauts includes an event stream for people or albums a user is following, and a drag and drop facility for moving image into different albums.
But Hullot isn't satisfied just to create an collaboration environment for images. "We have one goal--create a great search engine," he said.
At the core of fotonauts' search engine effort is tagging that comes from adding relevant content, such as maps and Wikipedia content, to images and albums and applying tags from other services. Fotonauts also created its own ranking algorithm, ImageRank, which combines tags and usage data to deliver the most relevant results. But, search won't be very effective until fotonauts reaches a critical mass of users.
The same goes for the business model. Hullot said that users will be creating content useful for the whole community, and like Wikipedia, fotonauts could offer contextual advertising as well as product placement. "We know lots of things about what users like. For instance, if person interested in cars, we have an event streams and we are very graphically oriented and Toyota could push an image into the event stream or add it into a widget," Hullot said.
In addition, fotonauts public albums can be turned into widgets and easily distributed to any Web page. Fotonauts provides a unique URL for each album for sharing.
Fotonauts has received $2.3 million in funding, from Ignition Parnters, Banexi Capital, SoftTech and Digital Garage, as well as from angel investors.
"Fundamentally, a lot has been done in the photo space in last 4 to 5 years, but no one has built a proper photo search that is one or two times better than Google's search," fotonaut investor Jeff Clavier of SoftTech told me. "The fotonauts feature set allows individuals to collaborate and take the world's pictures from Flickr, Picasa and other services and create structured datasets with metadata. When you have tens of thousands of photos organized and structured by people, you have a huge dataset, which also becomes an index--a Wikipedia of photos."
Clavier said that Hullot's track record gave him a lot of confidence in the future of fotonauts. Indeed, fotonauts has a better shot at going into orbit than most startups on the stage at the TechCrunch50.