Image tagging is becoming widely popular. It was listed as one of the hottest startup spaces in 2011, and with a good reason. Alongside video, images are the most engaging media online through which news, music, travel, fashion, interiors, etc. is consumed. So far, millions of views have not directly converted into new customers, increased traffic or better engagement. With in-image tags, this is about to change. Interactive tags are the same for images as hyperlinks are for text.
Image tagging is not a new phenomenon, and probably most of us have tried adding notes to their photo albums on Flickr or Facebook. One of the early innovators in this space was Creg Elin, who created an open-source standard for image annotation called Fotonotes. The best-known derivation of FotoNotes is Flickr's note feature.
Services that offer image tagging differ in at least two aspects: whether tagging is offered as an additional feature within an image hosting service or if it is offered as an independent tagging service. Another differentiator is the purpose / function of the tags: whether they are mostly explanatory, (revealing details of the image) or they are commercial (showing advertisement). In the matrix below I have compared companies along these two dimensions.
IMAGE NOTES WITHIN A SERVICE
In the upper right corner we have explanatory tagging as within a service. A user can designate an area of the image and add a note to it. These notes may or may not contain hyperlinks. Facebook transformed image annotation into a social game: if you associate a tag with another person within the service, they receive a message. A recently published patent description anticipates Facebook is moving from purely social tagging towards exploring its commercial variations. A quote from FB’s patent application:
”The method includes selecting a digital media and selecting region within the digital media. The method may further include associating a person or entity with the selected region and sending a notification of the association the person or entity or a different person or entity. The method may further include sending advertising with the notification.”
User story: share details of photos with the people who follow you in order to make image viewing more fun
COMMERCIAL TAGS WITHIN A SERVICE
In the lower left corner we have users or service providers who can add commercial notes and links in images for the purpose of generating traffic to points of sale or improving brand interaction time. Facebook recently made another bold move in this space by making it possible to tag images with Facebook Pages. Commercial tagging is most likely to work best within services where people are already in the mood of finding inspiration and great offers, and where for this reason showing advertisement feels more like a service and less like an irritation, example of this being a Google-backed fashion portal called ShopStyle.
User story: find new products in hopefully more fun than irritating ways to build brand visibility and online sales
EXPLANATORY TAGGING ANYWHERE ON THE WEB
In the upper right corner people can add notes to their images, identify objects and link entities and publish them anywhere on the web. Tags can be ”plain” or ”smart”, containing functional elements such as a music or video player, follow option or a shop. The nature of the tags can be explanatory and their primary purpose is to entertain and engage the viewer. Companies in this space: ThingLink and Stipple.
User story: transform images into a media platform and offer a rich image viewing experience.
COMMERCIAL TAGGING ANYWHERE ON THE WEB
Companies in this category aim to monetize images by offering (more or less relevant or correct) advertisement on them. Pixazza/Google, GumGum, and ImageSpaceMedia serve banner-ads that pop up on the image. The business potential of this category is huge, but the risk is low performance that people get increasingly intolerant towards disruptive banner advertisement that spoils the image viewing experience. Users who simply hate these services use blowser extensions like AdBlock Plus that guarantee “annoyance free browsing”.
User story: Find latest offers and get ideas what to buy when browsing images.