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WSJ Article – Google Eyes ‘Visual Search’ Specialist

Web Giant Holds Talks With Comparison-Shopping Site Like.com in Bid to Profit From ‘Under-Monetized’ Online


Google Inc. and other Internet companies are stepping up efforts to make money from the Web’s more than one trillion images.

The Web search giant has been in talks to purchase comparison-shopping site Like.com, according to a person familiar with the matter. The closely held company, based in San Mateo, Calif., offers a “visual search” feature that lets users scour online retail sites to find clothes and accessories that look alike.

Google is in talks to purchase Like.com, a site where users can ‘visual search’ for look-alike retail items.

A spokesman for Google declined to comment. A representative for Like.com didn’t respond to a request for comment. The possible deal, which was first reported on Internet-technology blog TechCrunch, comes as Google and other companies have been trying to realize the financial potential of online images.

Last month, Google revamped its Google Images search, attempting to improve users’ experience in finding certain images while giving advertisers new opportunities to pay to use images alongside traditional text ads. Google could use Like.com’s image-recognition technology to enhance both its image-search and product-search sites, which generate ad sales for Google.

Google’s moves come as a host of start-up companies are essentially trying to turn images into advertisements that, among other things, help users purchase clothes and other products that are identical or similar to the ones seen in the photos. Some image-advertising start-ups, including Image Space Media Inc. and GumGum Inc., place text and so-called display ads within the images themselves, typically on the bottom section or corner.

Another example is Pixazza Inc., a Mountain View, Calif., start-up backed by Google’s venture-capital arm, Google Ventures, and other investors. The service helps Web users purchase products they see in photos on some celebrity or home-design sites.

With Pixazza technology on celebrity gossip blog ImNotObsessed.com, for example, readers can use a mouse to scroll over a photo of actress Jennifer Aniston at a film event to check out what kind of ring or skirt she wore. Users can then click on a link to fashion retailer Charlotte Russe to buy similar items.

The approach has caught on with entertainment and celebrity gossip sites, but promoters hope to move into additional fields. Image-ad specialists generate revenue based on how many users see the ads or clicked on them, and split the earnings with the website publishers.

It remains to be seen if image-ad purveyors can create a major industry. Andrew Frank, an online analyst at research firm Gartner Inc., said many large-brand advertisers are cautious because they “don’t control the context of what’s on the screen” surrounding the images. He added, however, that “looking at images online is clearly a mainstream activity, and it is probably under-monetized,” or an area with revenue potential.

Bob Lisbonne, Pixazza’s chief executive, said more 28 million users each month see images that incorporate Pixazza technology. On average, users hover their mouse over 15% to 20% of the images, causing a box with information about the products—and retailer links—to pop up.

Last month, Google revamped its Google Images search, attempting to improve users’ experience in finding certain images.

GumGum, started three years ago, overlays ads on images in large sites such as TMZ.com and MTV.com. Miramax Films is using the Santa Monica-based company to get users to click on a trailer for the upcoming film “The Switch.” GumGum ads are seen more than 500 million times a month largely on English-language sites around the world, said CEO Ophir Tanz.

DailyFill.com, a celebrity entertainment news website that gets about one million unique visitors a month, saw “thousands or sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in revenue” per month after incorporating GumGum ads into its images following the site’s launch last year, said Alyssa Santos, the DailyFill’s general manager.

Image Space Media, based in New York, each month serves 300 million text ads that appear within images on more than 6,000 small to midsize websites in the U.S., Latin America and other regions, according to Jesse Chenard, the chief executive.

Users click on ads served by Image Space nearly one million times a month, he said. The company, started two years ago, uses ads from third-party networks where movie-rental service Netflix Inc. and State Farm Insurance are among the advertisers.

Mr. Chenard said his firm soon expects to supply ads to newspaper sites. “Publishers need a monetization solution for photo galleries,” he said.