Israeli Start-up Takes on Internet Giants With Photo Search App

Mobli's real-time, location-based search marks a new twist on a category that typically returns media based on popularity or other ranking methods.

Tova Cohen
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 Mobli offices in the Electra Tower in Tel Aviv.
Mobli offices in the Electra Tower in Tel Aviv. Credit: David Bachar
Tova Cohen

REUTERS - Israeli start-up Mobli Media Inc. is taking on Internet giants Google, Facebook and Yahoo with an innovative online search tool to find the latest photos and videos across social media, the company said on Monday.

Mobli, which is backed by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and big-name U.S. celebrity investors Leonardo DiCaprio, Serena Williams, Lance Armstrong and Tobey Maguire, has raised more than $90 million in funding.

The company's EyeIn service allows users to search for pictures and video clips taken by people at concerts, sports events, demonstrations or natural disasters as they post images on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, a unit of Facebook.

Its real-time, location-based search marks a new twist on a well-established category that typically returns a flood of photos or videos based on popularity or other ranking methods or requires users to wade through separate social media feeds to find relevant images.

Top photo sites include photo-sharing pioneer Flickr, a unit of Yahoo, Google Image Search and Facebook, as well as Facebook's Instagram photo-sharing site.

"Computers are very stupid, we need to give them very specific algorithms to detect what is the center of the event," Mobli Chief Executive Moshe Hogeg said in an interview.

"We want to be the Google of crowd-generated visual content," he said, adding that he expects the EyeIn technology to boost audience traffic and time spent on news websites

Platform options

EyeIn is available as a search website, a downloadable mobile app or as an add-on for publishers to install within their own websites to complement text and other information. Partners for the add-on include AOL Inc.'s Huffington Post.

Mobli expects to share revenue with publishers from advertising as well as earn money from ads on its own site.

The company started as a photo-sharing rival to Instagram and attracted 20 million users. That was the stepping stone to building the search engine over a three-year period, with Hogeg recruiting experts in computer vision and natural language processing from the defense industry.

Hogeg said the biggest challenge was the relevancy of the results and how EyeIn determines which of the plethora of available photos are interesting.

Weighting what is important based on the location of an event is crucial to finding relevant photos, he said.

"If you want to see photos from the NBA (basketball) finals, you will probably like to see photos of players and less of the crowd," Hogeg said.

EyeIn can scan a story on a news website to calculate what the event is about and create an album of photos that will update itself as the event unfolds.

Mobli will partner some of Slim's companies, though Hogeg would not disclose names. Slim, who owns telecoms group America Movil, is the largest shareholder of New York Times Co.

Other investors in Mobli company include Vic Lee, co-founder of Chinese Internet firm Tencent, and Kazakh businessman Kenges Rakishev, who invested $22 million. Other investor stakes were not disclosed.

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