Jon Fisher, co-founder and CEO of startup CrowdOptic, just told me that he has invested another $500,000 so that the company can build out what it’s calling a “new social medium.”
The idea is to create automatic clusters of people based on their location and line of sight. I met with the CrowdOptic team this weekend — they demonstrated the technology by whipping out their phones and taking photos of the same spot off San Francisco’s Embarcadero. CrowdOptic can detect when people are all looking at the same thing, and it sends a notification asking whether they want to form a discussion group, where they can share photos and comments.
The company actually launched in 2010 as a photo service for event organizers, and customers already include the Bank of the West Classic tennis tournament and the Infineon Raceway. Then it became more interested in augmented reality, delivering relevant content based on where your phone was pointing. Now it’s using that technology for more social purposes. This should still appeal to event organizers — it’s a way to help attendees interact with each other, and to deliver targeted messages and ads. (Other customers are using it as a way to coordinate their security, the company said.)
COO Jim Kovach told me that sports seem like an obvious match (after all, he used to be a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers), but the vision is broader. For example, he said CrowdOptic is looking to partner with large Internet properties to provide instant crowdsourced content. Over email, Fisher was even more grandiose, saying that he wants CrowdOptic to be the underlying technology any time “crowds aim phones to memorialize happenings.”
Even though CrowdOptic isn’t trying to market an app directly to consumers, the demo reminded me of the first incarnation of mobile startup Color, which also allowed users to share photos based on proximity. Color flopped and is now working on a new product.
When I brought it up, CFO Tony Wu joked that CrowdOptic could almost be seen as the “anti-Color,” since it only raised $1.5 million in funding ($2 million with the new investment), compared to Color’s $41 million. He also argued that, unlike Color, CrowdOptic is connecting people who should have real reasons to interact — after all, they’re attending the same event, and they’re looking at the same thing.
Fisher also noted that he had only raised $3 million when his startup Bharosa was acquired by Oracle.