Summary:

What if a photo could be more than a static image, and tell a story through tags, links and videos? Stipple’s updates Thursday bring forward what it hopes is the “smart image,” allowing photographers and brands to track and monetize their photos across the web.

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With the popularity of photo sharing and re-blogging sites like Pinterest and Tumblr comes the issue of photo ownership and identity. A beautiful photo of a cake or pair of shoes on Pinterest raises a lot of questions: Who took this photo? Where did it come from? And, maybe, where can I purchase or learn more about the items?

Stipple, which originally launched in September as a marketplace for photos challenging the likes of Getty by paying independent publishers for clicks sent back to brands, is announcing major additions Thursday that will incorporate tags and links into photos around the web that will remain when those photos are re-published across different pages and services.

Now if you log into Stipple’s site, you can tag your photos just as you do on Facebook, clicking on someone’s face or a location to add information. Except Stipple’s tags let you do much more than add a person’s name — you can include video links, Twitter bios, text, or site links, all of which make Stippled images more like multimedia presentations than static photographs.

Photographers can also tag their photos on Stipple with their personal information so that re-published photos can be traced back to them — a move which also allows them to monitor analytics for those photos.

These new additions are reminiscent of some other image tagging services, notably Finland’s ThingLink, which launched what it calls “rich media tags” over a year ago. Stipple’s move is that it connects those images to its marketplace, while ThingLink is more focused on working with advertisers and marketers.

But there’s a big catch to the way Stipple’s making its version work: users will have to download the Stipple web browser extension to view tags on Stippled photos across sites like Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr. However, companies like Zappos who choose to tag and publish Stippled images can make those tags visible to all users. Brands can compensate bloggers and publishers who send traffic back to the brand’s site by republishing those images.

The technology has interesting implications for e-commerce. If a company like Nike could tag an image of an athlete with links and information on that athlete’s shoes and shirt, the reader of a site with Olympics coverage could very quickly become paying Nike customers. Similarly, small business owners with items listed in Etsy stores will now be able to tag all their photos through Stipple, so that items re-blogged from Etsy can be traced back to the seller and could more quickly turn into purchases.

Stipple’s site goes into public beta on Thursday, and so far it has raised about $7 million in funding from investors including Floodgate, Kleiner Perkins, and Relevance Capital.

“Our goal is to make images smarter,” said Stipple CEO Rey Flemming. “We think it should be, ‘Stipple: Superpower for your pictures.'”

Here’s an example of a Stippled photo, complete with tags and links:

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