Stellar Startup: Dusting off the digital photo album

Technology has forced us to look at objects and devices we thought we knew through a whole new set of eyes.

By DAVID SHAMAH
December 16, 2007 09:37
Competico 88 224

Competico 88 224. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The computer age has redefined products - and relationships. Technology has forced us to look at objects and devices we thought we knew through a whole new set of eyes. Take photography, for example. In the age of digital cameras, even the name "photography" is outmoded, as it refers to a traditional craft of developing on paper images captured through a specific technology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photography). While the basic idea of picture taking hasn't changed - i.e., capturing images and storing them on a permanent medium - the technology to take those pictures is far different than it was just a decade ago. As is what happens to those photos, once they're shot. Used to be you'd take your film down to a processing lab, which would develop them and print them on paper. Nowadays, you might "develop" your photos by printing them out on paper on your home printer. But chances are you'll just store them on a hard disk, perhaps making a slide show or mini-movie out of them, if the mood strikes. The technology that lets us download photos to a computer rather than take them to a photo processing store for developing has had a major impact on the way people take pictures in the digital camera era. Whereas developing pictures was a hassle - and an expense - it's simple - and free - to download and store your pictures to a computer. That and the fact that there is no longer an issue of "wasting film" on bad photos means that nowadays, people take a lot more pictures than they used to. Which pleases the folks from Israeli start-up Competico to no end. Competico, based in Ramat Gan, runs a photo contest site (http://www.competico.com) where users can upload their digital pictures and enter them into contests, with other members of the site voting on their favorites. The photo that gets the most votes wins prizes - cash prizes, that is As computer hard drives get stuffed with photos, says Competico CEO Ran Sheleg, photography hobbyists - as well as casual users of digital cameras - are naturally seeking a way to utilize them, instead of having them sit on their hard drive collecting digital dust. And Competico gives them the opportunity to show off their work - as well as the opportunity to earn money for their photos. Competico, he says, is great "for anyone who likes to take digital photos, have fun and earn money - in other words, just about everyone" Joining the site is free, and users pay a dollar to upload their photos (the first uploads for new members are free, Sheleg says). Once in a contest, the participant sends out links to their photos to friends, neighbors, and relatives, who vote for their photo on the Competico site. The winning picture wins a prize based on the number of photos in the contest and the number of voters participating; the "bigger" the contest, the bigger the prizes. "Half the fun is getting your friends, relatives and coworkers to vote for your photo," Sheleg says. "Once a voter clicks on the link, your photo gets a credit. The photos with the most credits win, with cash awarded for first, second and third place, as well as a consolation prize." All the contests are themed. "We've awarded prizes for photos of the prettiest sunset, the cutest pet, the nicest wedding and all sorts of other themes." Current contests include Best Portrait Photo, Funniest Picture, Most Incredible Trip and about a dozen others. There are other photo contest sites on the Web, but most are either one-time events sponsored by a large corporation or print publication - while the others are geared to semi-professional photographers and serious hobbyists. Competico's idea is quite different, Sheleg says - it's a site where amateur photographers can utilize the "digital capital" already on their computers to win prizes, and show off their work, as well. A system like this could be abused in several ways, Sheleg says, which is why Competico maintains very high security standards to ensure that the contests are clean and honest. "We've checked out the laws on these kinds of contests in the countries where we operate very carefully and we strive to ensure that we follow each and every stricture to the letter of the law. The last thing we need is a problem that will compromise the trust we've been able to build up with users," Sheleg says. The same goes for the on-line payment system for members who upload photos; Paypal is the preferred method of payment, Sheleg says. "PayPal is a name Web surfers know and trust, so the entire transaction is as secure as is technologically possible. There is an option of using a credit card as well for those who wish to do so, and an SMS payment system is in the works," he says, adding that Competico employs state of the art Web security technology to ensure that participants' money is safe. Competico is a bootstrap operation - it's got fewer than 10 employees - but it's already made a strong impact on the digital photo-taking public, with tens of thousands of users in the few months the site has been operating. During that time, the company has perfected its contest engine, smoothing out the glitches in a complicated Web 2.0 presentation. "We've produced a streamlined product that can be deployed in a number of interfaces," Sheleg says, adding that the company has cleared all the potential legal pitfalls that contest sites often face. "Sites that employ our engine are guaranteed a hassle-free contest experience for their users that is almost guaranteed to increase traffic and profits," Sheleg says. It's not just about contests either, he says. A site like Competico, where users with a common interest gather, is a prime hatching ground for a digital community of like-minded digital photographers, who can gather to share tips, tricks, and ideas. Bringing people together, and a chance to win prizes. Competico certainly has a winning - and heartwarming - idea. I think I'm having a "Kodak moment" startup@newzgeek.com

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