Google-Backed Luminate Turns Pictures Into Interactive Moneymakers

Startup launches 'platform' for image apps

The team behind startup Luminate says that online images could become a lot more powerful and lucrative.

Under its old name Pixazza, the company raised money from investors like Google Ventures (the tech giant's venture capital arm) and August Capital. It enabled publishers to make money from pictures, especially fashion-focused pictures, by including relevant online shopping links in the images—for example, if a website published a picture of a famous actress in a fabulous dress, readers could click on the picture, then follow a link that would allow them to buy the dress. The company said that these commerce-enabled images already reach 150 million unique viewers every month, and that 20 percent of people who saw a Pixazza image chose to interact with it.

Today, the startup is expanding beyond e-commerce and fashion, and announcing a new name to match. While the distinction may be lost on most people, chief revenue officer Chas Edwards said Pixazza was a little too shopping-focused, while Luminate captures the company's bigger vision. (Also, Pixazza reminded a few too many people of pizza.) Now, the company aims to become a platform for making images more social and interactive.

So when people see the Luminate icon on an image published by one of the company's partners, several icons should appear. You'll be able to share those pictures on Facebook or Twitter—and you're not just sharing a link to an article or image, but rather a version of the image with a personalized annotation for your friends. And depending on the data that Luminate can retrieve about the picture, you might also be able to look up something on Wikipedia, pull up a map of the area where a photo was taken, watch a relevant ad, and more.

Over the next few months, Luminate executives said they plan to release a new application every week, and then eventually bring other developers onto the platform. Image publishers will be able to customize their apps and settings when they first sign up, and then the specific mix of apps will change depending on the image.

When demonstrating the new apps for Adweek, chief executive Bob Lisbonne offered a grandiose vision placing Luminate at the forefront of a wave of richer, more interactive images.

"The next big trends is images," Lisbonne said. "Companies that are asking themselves about their mobile and social strategies now will be asking themselves, 'What is our image strategy?' tomorrow."

The new mission also reflects a shift in Luminate's business model, Edwards said. At first, executives planned to make money through revenue-sharing deals with shopping sites. And to a certain extent, that's what happened, but Edwards said, "That's becoming a shrinking part of our revenue model." Instead, he said the big opportunity is in advertising, especially with big brand advertisers who want to reach audiences who are looking at a specific type of image.