For the past five years, I've been exploring social and business models around objects. Objects - the people, places and things in our lives - each have stories. Things around us can tell us many things from informational and historical standpoints. And the hundreds of billions of online images offer an exciting new platform for discovery.
In 2006, I got fascinated about the idea of being able to "right-click" everyday objects, which would reveal their true nature -- how old are they, who made them, and who takes care of them. I sat down with Adam Greenfield, formerly Nokia's head of design direction for user interface and services, to explore the provenance of objects.
In 2008 I founded a company, Thinglink, to develop tools for social connection around objects and long-tail markets. By that point it was clear that objects are, in fact, becoming points of navigation.
Now in 2011, objects are clickable. The first stage of this "object navigation" is interactive images. In-image tagging technology is being used to link objects in your images to anywhere on the Internet. The second stage of object navigation focuses on physical objects as channels for information. With the emergence of object navigation, the ways we use the Internet will radically change for the better.
Talking about images, here is my five cents:
1. An image can directly serve the objects it shows
Every image tells more than a thousand words. The most common question asked is, "What's in Your Photo?" What is this object? Where can I get it? Who else knows about or likes this? Images can answer these questions and more. They can become a new navigational surface for search.
2. An image can serve advertising, commerce, information sharing, social connection, and shopping
According to Forrester, by 2014, 53% of total retail sales (online and offline) will be affected by the Web, as consumers increasingly use the Internet to research products before purchasing. Consumer purchasing decisions are being made based on images and user preference and ratings: Should I read this article? Should I reserve a room at this hotel? Should I meet this guy?
We make decisions based on images. Search is becoming image-based. And in-image interaction tools developed by Thinglink are enabling image-based advertising, commerce, information sharing, social connection and shopping.
3. Images entertain and drive traffic
Advertising is, at its best, art photography or photographic art. Image ads constitute half of the content of major fashion magazines with the best photographers shooting the best models wearing clothes and accessories from major brands. What if all these image advertisement became interactive with links to retailers? Images would become the new point-of-sale.
4. A good image is the least irritating advertisement.
Online banners ads are quickly losing their effectiveness. There is way too much inventory, ads looks the same and prices are falling. Thinglink aims to recreate banner ads with interactive links, better call to action links and user preference data that provides increasing value to marketers.
5. New vocabulary: Image Inventory and Image Interest Factor
Publishers need to start asking: Do your images serve your business goals? How much of your image inventory drives traffic to points of sale? Does your image inventory enable robust user interaction? How much of your image inventory drives reader retention?
In sum, images are being transformed by in-image links to relevant information for advertising, commerce, entertainment, and social connection. With photos constituting perhaps 20 per cent of web real estate, the hundreds of billion of photos online offer rich opportunities for in-image links to engaging user experiences that will revolutionize and transform image interaction. That's an incredible opportunity that we are very excited about sharing.