Pixsy to monetize visual metasearch

logoTime Magazine called image and video search engine Pixsy “clever” in its list of the Top 50 Coolest Websites early this month. I talked to Pixsy about their technology tonight and I think it’s something more than clever. On a pace to have 5 billion thumbnail images and counting indexed around the first of next year, Pixsy could make a whole lot of money. The images come from places ranging from YouTube to the New York Times. The idea is to license the company’s huge index of thumbnail shots, vertical search and ajax UI to medium and large media companies seeking some spice for their search, news or other text pages. The company has between 5 and 10 million images indexed now but says that number is growing exponentially. Yahoo! and Google reported image indexes of 1.5 and 2 billion respectively last year.

Pixsy will release a demo site called StarHabit next week and will target bloggers shortly thereafter. More on that below.

Pixsy CEO Chase Norlin, formerly of adverstiser ValueClick, told me that the company’s images are indexed using a combination of facial recognition technology, closed caption reading and audio converted into text. The data is drawn in by RSS. In addition to the Pixsy main page, a page on the domain labled Morpheus Visual Search is interesting.

When I asked about intellectual property concerns, Norlin cited the case Kelly v. Arriba Soft in 2002 as evidence that thumbnails are fair use. Pixsy is of the belief that they and their customers can wrap whatever advertisements they like around thumbnails from anywhere online. Neither Google nor Yahoo! currently places advertisements on the pages containing their thumbnail image results, Ask.com places some at the very bottom of the page. Norin says that publisher will welcome Pixsy search as it will drive more users to their original content. That makes sense to me.

Pixsy will unveil a showcase sight called StarHabit early next week that uses the company’s technology to demonstrate what it hopes will become an important and lucrative part of vertical search. Starhabit will search for photos and video of celebrities.

logoShortly thereafter, small publishers like bloggers and social network users will be able to place their own customized Pixsy visual search boxes inside their pages and share an undisclosed portion of the ad revenue from search results pages. Will bloggers go for this? I’m skeptical, unless the UI is designed unusually well. That could happen, but I’m not sure that small publishers will want to pay the price of sending their readers off to a Pixsy domain.

The real potential here could be in licensing thumbnails to enterprise customers. Anyone aggregating text content could well be very interested in combining that data with real time aggregated visual data. I look forward to seeing if there are truly creative uses found for the technology or if Pixsy will instead just contribute to a glut of ad driven visuals online. Hopefully the UI for small publishers will be good enough and the price for large publishers high enough that it will be a quality experience all around.

Pixsy cites numbers finding that visual search is the fastest growing segment of search on the web today and they seem well situated to monetize that market.