At Global Editors Network's News World Summit 2012, nearly twenty startups took part in the Startups for News competition. They each gave a five minute pitch on the value of their product to the media industry in front of the leading news professionals around the world. After much deliberation between jury members, Teleportd – the social media search engine for visual content – was named the winner of the the first Startups for News. Cofounder Gabriel Hubert explains the concept of Teleportd, and comments on what the future holds for both the platform and newsrooms.
What is Teleportd, and how is it relevant to newsrooms?
We are a software service company who provides value by making it easy to search, select, and eventually display visual content which comes from different mobile applications such as Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare. We have a search engine that makes it easy to look through content on different mobile applications all in one go, and using parameters that you couldn’t necessarily use on the native apps. Our customers can then select the photos which they believe are interesting, and tag them as being part of a given group. We call these groups "capsules," but they really are just albums of photos that people can build in a smart way so that new photos matching a certain set of quires can be automatically added to that capsule. For example, if you are following a demonstration taking place at Republique in Paris, you can set a subscription to that location, and specify that any photo coming from that area and mentions the word demonstration, elections, or candidate will be automatically added to the capsule. You will be notified when new photos are added to the capsule, so you can check and see if those photos are of further interest.
Regarding the display side, we’ve built a number of easy to embed plugins that basically act as a YouTube player, in that all you have to do is paste a couple of lines of code onto your website to display those photos. If I am a newspaper and I want to make sure I have the rights to those photos before I display them, what I can do is paste the code onto my page preemptively, and then set the rules so as soon as those photos have been properly licensed, they will automatically be available to the visitors on my website. You can program the photos to be available once they are licensed from their authors.
Teleportd is a real time search engine, and newsrooms can definitely leverage this aspect. It allows people to focus on the visual content that is coming in from multiple social networks and are searchable by different dimensions that are very relevant to breaking news. You can search by location and get the latest photos from a given place, or search by keywords and get the latest photos against a certain content. If you happen to know the protagonist of a given event, you can search by username and get the feed of those particular accounts. So I think newsrooms can use Teleportd as a means to get quick and efficient access to content.
Do you have specific examples where media organizations have used Teleportd successfully?
Media organizations have used Teleportd, although the content was not necessarily posted because the platform was used as a way to reach out and double check facts on a story, or to comment on additional information. I don’t know for sure if a photo was purchased via Teleportd, because at that time the licensing part of the product didn’t exist. It was just possible for users to message the author after having found that photo on Teleportd. Yet over the summer, we’ve seen anything ranging from small blogs to larger news organizations at least look at the content that was coming through Teleportd. We definitely have accounts that used the social media engine to search for content in Syria, for example. Additionally, during the French elections last May, media organizations used the search engine to look at demonstrations, public speeches, and events occurring around France in order to keep track of where the different candidates were moving and speaking. Another example is the Empire State Building shootings that occurred over the summer, where we saw photos come in that had no comments or hashtags, which were posted by people in the building across the street from the horrendous event.
How does the verification process work for these crowdsourced photos?
The platforms don’t all provide data that is at the exit level quality, but we take in all the data we can get, which can be geolocation and the time stamp. There is no 100% guarantee that the information is correct, however it’s important to remember that because we are looking at all the different social networks at the same time, the overlap of information that is produced during large events serves as the most efficient way to check information. If I think about the particularly Empire State shootings in New York, we used the search engine to look at the photos that came out of that particular moment, and obviously because you can compare different photos taken at the same event at the same time, you can get an idea of which photos are being posted live and which photos are being posted with a delay.
The second aspect is we always connect the photos with the original place which it was posted on the internet, as all these photos come from social apps, such as Twitter, Instagram, or one of a dozen services in which we currently aggregate. You can reach out to the author, as the original post is always made available and transparently shared when you use Teleportd. We are currently testing out an internal messaging system that allows users from our service to contact the authors of the photos which are interesting, so they can check a story, check a time stamp, or check the location. That is the same way we want any form of licensing to happen, because we want the author to be in control of the way his content is being used, and we think that the easiest way for that to happen is for journalists and news professionals to be able to very quickly reach out and post a message on that person’s messaging board.
What is the copyright policy on the content that is generated through Teleportd?
The intellectual property is in the hands of the author, there is no doubt about that. We claim no rights to the content, as all we are doing is making it easy to look for publicly available images that were either posted on Twitter or Instagram, so there is no question of seeing content which you could not have otherwise seen. The idea is that we add value by making it easier to get access to that content. Once you figure out you want to use that content, then it’s important to get the rights. There are different ways to attack this issue depending on the country where the end user is and the copyright laws which takes effect over there.
The basic statement is we don’t hold rights to the content, rather we want to make it easier to license that content from the author. At no point in the process do we claim licensing for us on behalf of the author without first reaching out to the author.
How does Teleportd make its revenue?
All the services on a premium account come at a cost. Having a premium account is different from a free account because you get access to subscriptions, our support, and you get our APIs which allow you to customize the final display.
How did you get started with Teleportd?
My cofounder and I started Teleportd a little over a year ago last summer. We both quit our full time jobs early 2011, and we worked on another completely unrelated entrepreneurial idea which was wasn’t working out. As we were avid amateur photographers we were both in the photo space back then, but we didn’t see the value of building yet another photo app. We tried to look at what was being done by the other players, and at the time Instagram was gaining a lot of traction, and Foursquare was allowing people to post photos that were all geotagged. We started thinking building an app that would bring in content from third party applications, and making them available on a platform. We raised a little bit of seed funding, and as we were making progress on the product more professionals rather than consumers grew interested in the product. From an early B to C vision, we very quickly morphed into a B to B service for professionals. The three segments we decided to focus on were brands, events, and media, and we wanted to provide these target users with a service that could allow them to improve how their content was leveraged and make sense of the photos that are already out there.
What are your future plans or features you’d like to add to Teleportd that are relevant for the media industry?
The licensing side is very relevant, as one of the initial visions is to provide media with an all in one tool that can allow them to request licensing rights on photos from the app without manually message people, and that takes some time because there is the legal and technical side of being able to message multiple authors. I think it would be a great tool if journalists could see fifteen viable photos, automatically ask those fifteen authors for the rights, bid on a certain price, come back once the acquisition has been completed and have the account automatically debited, and the photos automatically show up on the website. The journalist just writes and posts the article, and then the photos come in live as they are made available by their authors.
There is more technical integration on another front which is event detection. We are working out how you can algorithmically detect areas of interest based on spikes in photo activity. We’ve built prototype, and even though there is a lot to be improved upon. The idea is that if something unusual is happening then it’s more likely that people will be taking more photos of it. If we can build a smart grid of what the usual photo activity is in a given location. For example, there are a lot of tourists taking photos of the Eiffel Tower, but if something happens under the Eiffel Tower that is unusual, how can we detect that from the noise of the normal number of photos being taken there? I think that is another tool that could be useful to the news media, because it would act as an alert system, and we could provide the top places on earth where photo activity is not at its usual level.
Do you have one piece of advice for GEN’s editorial community?
I think the editorial community is understanding of technical approaches to solving editorial problems. It is going to take some extra time for startups and the editorial world to speak the same language, but it is the same thing with every vertical we deal with, agencies and brands are no different.
So if I have any advice, it would be to of course remain cautious and not sell out to the lowest denominator of blogging, but also be curious about some of the real technical breakthroughs that some young startups are working on. I don’t believe there is any correlation between the size of a company and the value it brings to a community. I am seeing many young and ambitious startups come up with some incredible stuff, who don’t always make it through the door of a newspaper because internally those organizations are busy fighting between the editorial and the technical teams. I think the debate around how technology needs to help news goes beyond where the payroll should go and control of the newsroom. If I’m not mistaken, this tension is occurring now that the online part of the newspapers is generating if not revenue, at least traffic. I think the digital teams and the editorial teams of many players not necessarily agreeing on the goals, so they need to at least know what their common interest is in the external world. They need to be more willing to work with startups and to put effort in building new stuff that is going to help newspapers not turn into blogs.
Photo credits: Screenshots from Teleportd
If you are interested in joining our next Startups for News competition, contact GEN deputy Director Antoine Laurent.
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