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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Jet Streams Images



With the Cooliris plugin, a browser morphs into a flowing wall of pictures.


Leaving the Information Superhighway for Jet Streams of Images


No more gasps about the wonders of the Web. Twenty-somethings see lots of room for improvement, what with the hassles of searching for multimedia content, the inefficiencies of shopping sites, the maze-like feel of social networks.


Josh Schwarzapel saw the Web as "too text-heavy." With the mission to develop a visual Web-browsing tool, he and another Stanford student, Austin Shoemaker, formed a partnership with Soujanya Bhumkar, a seasoned entrepreneur with an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago.


"Our product is about answering the question, 'How do we make the Web more useful?'" Mr. Schwarzapel, 23, says. "It's meant to be a more efficient way of moving through media."


The product, at Cooliris.com, is a free accessory for Web browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer. To help search through images and video on the Web, it transforms the browser into a shiny, black 3-D wall and scroll bar. Tap the bar and you're zooming past an endless assortment of images that, when clicked, take you to the Web pages on which they typically appear.


A search for, say, cowboy boots becomes a fly-by scan of every online image with the word "cowboy boots" in its caption or file name. Click on a boot and you're back at your regular browser window displaying the Web site that sells them.


Cooliris is down­loaded 40,000 times a day, Mr. Schwarzapel says. Though not (yet) profitable, it is supported by advertisements embedded in its 3-D wall. With an infusion of venture-capital money last year, the company now has 30 full-time employees and 20 interns from Stanford.


When the start-up company was founded in January 2006, Mr. Schwarzapel was one of the university's Mayfield Fellows. A nine-month entrepreneurship program, it offers a paid internship at a local start-up and intensive courses on how to manage technology companies. Mr. Shoemaker had already logged experience at Apple Computer; he interned there when he was 15.


Mr. Schwarzapel came to Stanford knowing he wanted to start a company and calls the university the "absolute best place in the world to study entrepreneurship." But the university is also a victim of its own success; some start-ups become so successful their founders don't stay. Both Mr. Schwarzapel and Mr. Shoemaker have "stopped out": they have been granted a leave of absence for one year, can still take advantage of some student services (like the gym) and won't have to go through a full application process when they choose to return.


"Stanford is very good about that, about allowing you to go and pursue these types of opportunities," Mr. Schwarzapel says, stressing that he plans to finish his degree. But he couldn't pass up the chance to be part of a soaring company, he says. "What better time than now, when I don't have a financial risk to do it?




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