Cooliris hopes you think its multimedia app is cool enough to download
Cooliris hopes you think its plug-in, which can be seen on various sites around the Web, is cool. Because the Palo Alto company doesn't make a cent until you download it.
The 3-year-old Web start-up offers a sleek program for virtually perusing a plethora of pictures and video using a flick of the mouse -- or a swipe of your finger on its iPhone application and its Media Gallery app, which comes with Google's Nexus One phone.
At the core of the venture capital-backed company is the Cooliris software. Users download the program, which connects with most Web browsers. The stunning interface shows thumbnails sitting congruently atop a black backdrop. Users fly through a series of images, which can point to photos on Facebook or Flickr, YouTube videos, family photos pulled from the user's hard drive or TV programs on Hulu.
The Cooliris desktop client has 3.4 million users a month and a total of 20 million downloads, according to Michele Turner, a Cooliris product executive. The start-up makes money from ads in the software and from the deal with Google, though Cooliris is not yet profitable, said Preston Rutherford, who works in business development for the company.
Cooliris' newer products, which focus on online publishers, don't pull in any revenue to support the company's 35 employees. Those services got some significant upgrades Tuesday, which the company hopes will spur more websites to use the plug-in and, in turn, more downloads.
One of those products, Cooliris Express, lets anyone input a media-rich feed to be turned into a widget that can be placed on a blog or social network as easily as embedding a YouTube clip. For example, you could display a visual browser on your blog that shows recently added Flickr pictures. The interface will automatically update when a new picture is uploaded -- a feature added Tuesday. Users are making 400 to 500 walls a day, Turner said.
Another service, Cooliris Wall, provides a similar but more fully featured visual browsing interface based on Adobe's Flash to publishers, including TV.com, CBS and soon the Hollywood Reporter. Cooliris developers have made tweaks to integrate Facebook and Twitter sharing, as well as making it play nicely with industry-standard analytics crawlers.
True, Cooliris doesn't make any revenue directly from these products. Publishers can freely mold the developer kit to suit their needs or rely on the user-focused, limited but ultra-simple Express Web tool -- as Sketchers recently did.
But Cooliris is hoping to bowl over Web surfers with its cool interface to drive downloads of the software -- and eyeballs to its ads. Every Web plug-in contains the Cooliris logo, which links to the company's website.
"With every wall that goes up, our brand is on there," said Turner in a phone interview, "which is a big deal for a start-up."
The program has technical advantages over the Web-based version. Because the latter uses Flash (which doesn't tap into a computer's full graphical power), it's slower to scroll and lacks some visual flair.
As a brand-building, click-driving tool, Cooliris is pleased with the results of the embeddable Web versions. But another problem with relying on Flash is that they're invisible to most smart phones and to Apple's iPad.
Turner didn't seem concerned about that for now. "We're going to watch that space carefully," she said. But if devices like the iPad take off, Turner said Cooliris' developers will look at replicating the interface with one built using HTML5.
[Updated, April 21, 10:41 p.m. Added the Cooliris employees more official job titles.]
-- Mark Milian
A visualization of the Los Angeles Times' Flickr photo stream made with Cooliris Express