be social? That's been one of the most contentious questions around the Internet of Things (when real world objects are connected to the Internet). Several startups have tried to do this, including StickyBits, TalesofThings and Itizen. I've been skeptical of these efforts in the past, but a new product called ThingLink is taking a slightly different tack - and they may just be onto something.Can 'things'
ThingLink allows you to tag and link things in images. For example: tagging a chair inside an image, giving some information about its design, and linking the chair to the store that sold it. ThingLink calls this an "interactive hotspot." While the concept of tagging things in photos isn't new - Facebook, Flickr and others have been doing this for some time now - ThingLink's tagging is richer and offers a lot more information and linking possibilities.
Why is ThingLink richer than tagging photos in Facebook? Because in addition to tagging an object within an image and linking it to a social network or web site, ThingLink can integrate information, videos and sound inside that image. So for example you can view a video from YouTube or listen to music from SoundCloud by hovering your mouse over a thing in an image and clicking a 'play' button.
(each round dot in the screenshot above points to a 'thing' with more information and links)
ThingLink: Much More Than Socializing Objects
ThingLink has evolved somewhat since we last mentioned them, back in February 2010 when it was in a private beta. At that time ThingLink's Ulla-Maaria Engeström explained that Thinglink was focused on defining the relationships people have with things - who made them, who designed them, who manufactured them, who sells them, who owns them, who likes them. She said that ThingLink was the "social graph of things" and that "every thing has their own social network." Thinglink began in 2005 by giving things identities via their product codes, a.k.a. Unique Identifiers.
ThingLink is now public and it's not so narrowly focused on socializing objects, although that is still part of the plan. The main benefit to ThingLink seems to be that it offers granular contextual information about objects inside images, which is of most immediate benefit to retailers and suppliers. I think this is a much more viable business prospect than enabling social networks around objects, which is both a crowded market (StickyBits, TalesofThings, Itizen) and one with a dubious outlook. ThingLink has their sights set on a broader range of commercial use cases, which I think is very smart.
The below image, from a Tumblr blog called lovegolf, is a great example. It shows a variety of golfing equipment used by the professional golfer Michelle Wie. When you hover over each object, you get information about the object and optional links to more details. This image features a video of Wie and a link to her Twitter account (which you can follow from within the photo).
ThingLink is aiming to attract retailers and suppliers to tag their products in images and drive people to buy them. The company claims that their "average in-image campaign click-through rate (CTR) ranges from 1.5% to 5%." ThingLink also allows you to track how your tagged images are shared around the Web.
Can ThingLink Find its Market?
ThingLink reminds me a lot of Apture, a product we use on ReadWriteWeb to offer more contextual information. When you highlight a word or phase on our site, you see a 'Learn More' button which - when hovered over or clicked on - pops up a box with additional information like photos, videos and external links. In some ways, ThingLink is like an Apture for images.
Just as Apture has found a ready market in media publications and professional blogs, I believe ThingLink has a potentially large market in retailers and suppliers. It will also be useful for bloggers or media publications which use imagery a lot, such as food bloggers.
ThingLink currently offers plug-ins to the major blogging or publishing tools including Wordpress, Blogger, Tumblr and Drupal. I set it up on my Tumblr blog in a few minutes, so it's easy to get started.
If you want to test out ThingLink for yourself, follow these instructions: