Tel Aviv - 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 American celebrity investors Leonardo DiCaprio, Serena Williams, Lance Armstrong and Tobey Maguire, has raised more than US$90 million (S$121 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 centre of the event," Mobli chief executive Moshe Hogeg said.
"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.
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's Huffington Post.
Mobli expects to share revenue with publishers from advertising as well as earn money from advertisements 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 Mr Hogeg recruiting specialists in computer vision and natural language processing from the defence industry.
He 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 finals, you will probably like to see photos of players and less of the crowd," he 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 Mr Slim's companies, but Mr Hogeg is not disclosing names. Mr Slim owns telecoms group America Movil and is The New York Times Company's largest shareholder.
Investors in Mobli include Mr Vic Lee, co-founder of Chinese Internet firm Tencent, and Kazakh businessman Kenges Rakishev, who invested US$22 million. Other investor stakes were not disclosed.