Photo Albums Are Stupid. Moju Labs Is Building What Comes Next.

Posted: May 22, 2013 in GT, Startup

With years of digital exhaust now behind us – over
240 billion photos on Facebook, 8 billion on Flickr,
and not to mention the 72 hours of video uploaded to
YouTube every month – we’re now transitioning to a
time when we’re in need of smarter tools for
organizing and accessing our personal data archives. Only a few companies so far have dared to step into
this space because of the technical challenges it
presents. One which shows some promise is the
stealthy Moju Labs, a new consumer “big data”
startup, which is soon preparing to launch. Founded by the former chief scientist at PayPal and
current entrepreneur-in-residence at North Bridge
Venture Partners, Mok Oh, Moju Labs is worth
keeping an eye on for its team alone. That team now
includes ex-Google and Palantir engineer Justin
Legakis and former Luvocracy product head Andrew Holt. The company isn’t yet talking about its product
details because, well, there isn’t actually a product
yet. There are, instead, a handful of prototypes
whittled down from around a dozen to start. But there
is an idea. And there’s a funding round about to close. Oh was with PayPal up until around six months or so
ago. After leaving, he joined Northbridge as an EIR,
which was where he began cooking up what’s now
Moju Labs. He says his original inspiration actually
came from his grandfather, who passed away about a
decade ago. “There are all these great stories. He lived a great
life,” Oh says. “But at the end of the day, I wished I
knew him more.” This sparked something in him, and
he decided he wanted to build something so that his
kids, your kids, and our kids’ kids, wouldn’t have to
feel the same way. “We’re always carrying around a device that’s called a
smartphone, but it’s really a sensor device and we’re
capturing so many things – not just photos, but audio
and visual, too,” he says, hinting at what’s to come
from Moju. “And on top of that, we’re wearing
wearable computing stuff, and quantified self gadgets.” All these things are constantly being used to capture
and measure data about you, but this is “dumb data,”
Oh explains. It’s information, but it’s not stories. “And
what really matters is people’s relationships and
stories,” he says. Over the past few years, companies have been
focused on building beautiful and simple mobile apps
that allow us to easily capture and share our photos,
videos and other data, but they’ve all been missing
the “smarts” on the backend. So users have instead
taken on the job themselves to tell the story they wanted to share, by organizing photos into albums,
tagging people, adding captions, writing posts, etc. This may not be a sustainable process, given the
amount of data we’re now creating. Another wave of startups will begin to solve this
problem. Already, we’ve seen some progress.
TechCrunch Disrupt 2011 finalist Everpix, for
example, built software that analyzes the visual
content of your photos, organizes them into
“Moments,” hiding the bad photos, reconciling duplicates, merging corresponding metadata, and
more. And just last week, Google at its I/O developer
conference, further legitimized this space with an
updated version of Google+ Photos which
automatically picks out your best images, fixes and
enhances them – essentially putting the power of
photo-editing software in the cloud, and then doing the work for you. A feature dubbed “auto awesome,” for
instance, can automatically create a group photo from
a series of photos by combining the ones where
people were smiling and others were not. Microsoft had launched similar technology back in
2010, but through its desktop software suite,
Windows Live Photos. It never caught on. To be clear, Moju Labs wants to do more than just
automatically – or automagically – organize and manage your photo collection. That would be only one
piece to its overall vision. Photos are a starting point,
but the company plans to eventually support all your
personal data, then create a system you can query
using natural language. So imagine that, one day, you could simply ask the
service to tell you a story about a time when your
family was on vacation, and everyone was happy.
That sort of advanced query is Moju Labs’ end goal. “The whole albums system is really, really stupid right
now,” laments Oh. But what’s the alternative? Of what his company is building, Oh will only say that
“it’s not you going through a ‘timeline’ – these are
non-linear created stories that are very relevant and
very contextual.” “Photo albums are so stupid. Timelines are so stupid.
Social media posts – not the content, but the way we
consume them – are so stupid,” he adds. “It’s all very
linear and time-driven, but it shouldn’t be that. It
should be a collection, brought to together as a story.” With Moju’s product, as you query these archives
using natural language and interact with the system,
the system then learns and improves. As for what it will do when it launches, however, it’s
probably going to look more like something that’s
closer to Google’s product at first, but the team hopes
to soon move beyond that. As impressive as
Google’s advancements were to us, the end users,
Oh considers them differently. “In terms of the backend learning, we’re pushing that
an order of magnitude more than what Google’s doing
at this point – I think they have very simple
algorithms,” he says.

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