With big picture in mind, Pixazza rebrands as Luminate

Pixazza, a digital ad platform that embeds e-commerce links to items within online photos, has renamed itself Luminate. The newly branded company is also broadening its services, turning into a platform for apps that generate in-photo links for a wider array of categories beyond clothing and accessories.

Since its inception in February 2008, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company now known as Luminate has had a solid reception in publishing and advertising. The Pixazza product, which is perhaps most popular for its use on entertainment blogs linking to items similar to those worn by celebrities, has been adopted by more than 4,000 publishers. In fact, the company claims that some 20 percent of people who encounter an image embedded with Pixazza information interact with the technology.

But it has now set its sights on a much larger target. Luminate aims to organize the plethora of images available online — not just the ones of celebrities toting cool handbags — and turn viewing them into a richer and more interactive experience, chief revenue officer Chas Edwards told me in an interview this week.

Luminate’s new platform will host applications that provide additional info about any kind of picture published online, such as stats for a professional athlete pictured in a sports story, a geo-tag of where a photo was taken, or a movie trailer related to a certain image. The Luminate platform is launching Wednesday with a handful of in-house apps, and plans to open up its API to third-party developers later this year.

According to Edwards, Luminate works because it tackles the notoriously difficult technical problem of picture categorization in two different ways: It utilizes both programmed machines and people. Luminate has nine patents pending on algorithms and other technologies for identifying and sorting in-image items. The company also employs a staff of some 130 contractors to tweak the photo tags and add details that humans are still quickest at identifying.

To date, the company has taken on $17.75 million in venture funding from August Capital, CMEA Capital, Google Ventures (s goog) and Shasta Ventures. As Pixazza the company has generated a solid revenue stream, so Luminate has no near-term plans to take on more venture capital, Edwards said. “We’ve got a fair chunk of our venture capital investment still in the bank.” However, he said the company may look to raise more funds in the months ahead as its platform grows.

But if Pixazza was so lucrative, why would the company expand in such a way that could potentially water down its margins? After all, linking to sites that sell consumer products is surely more directly profitable than providing in-photo information from such sources as Wikipedia. Edwards said the decision to broaden Luminate’s scope is a natural and necessary extension of the company’s original goals. “The past couple years have been phase one for Pixazza, and it’s been optimized for entertainment sites. But we’re now starting to think of interactivity much more broadly and more robustly,” he said. “Certainly other companies that have come along and said, ‘Let’s just put ads on images.’ But we have a bigger aspiration.” And ultimately, Luminate surely plans for those bigger aspirations to lead to bigger revenues at some point down the line.

Here are a c0uple screenshots of Luminate at work (click to expand):