ThingLink targets advertisers with new Facebook embeds

Finnish startup ThingLink has been trying every way it can to get people using its rich image service — and not always with success. Now it’s hoping that it has hit the mother lode by building a system that lets advertisers embed its images inside Facebook.

ThingLink’s proposition is fairly straightforward: the idea is that pictures can be a platform, with a system that makes static images interactive by adding a layer hotspots that can show users videos, text, or link to other pages when they roll over it with their mouse.

Today the Helsinki-based company is publicly rolling out a service that lets marketers and advertisers (and anyone else) build these interactive images and use them on their Facebook pages.

The result is that page owners can turn their Facebook presence into a sort of interactive landing page. There are a few experimental examples already out there, including the likes of Iggy Pop and British comedian Steve Coogan, who is using a ThingLink embed on the Facebook page of his latest book.

Anyone subscribing to one of ThingLink’s plans — priced at $5 or $20 — can embed linked images into Facebook, a move that the company’s Neil Vineberg said came after discussions with partner businesses.

“We’re listening to the market,” he told me. “As we started engaging with other publications, record labels and agencies we got feedback that they wanted better Facebook tools.”

Right now it has been trialled with a few publishers and record labels, but in the long term Vineberg says the idea is that the company can get more users of all stripes by being able to showcase its tools in front of Facebook’s millions of users.

“We actually think the Facebook application could be the first point of entry… and that will lead folks into using Thinglink across the Web.”

But will it work?

I can certainly see the appeal to advertisers: after all, it makes their pages look different from other people flogging similar ideas or products, and allows them to use existing artwork and photography to try and capture a bit of their audience’s attention.

Used well, it’s an exciting layer of interactivity… but when ThingLink doesn’t work, it tends to feel a bit strange, outdated and spammy — like an old-fashioned interactive poster, or a some kind of strange evolution of Flash, or a closed-down version of the Web.

And then there’s the question of how Facebook itself feels about services like this. The company, after all, is built to take money from advertisers — and ThingLink bypasses that business somewhat by allowing advertisers to build their own interactive billboards. Plus Facebook is bound to be looking for ways to extract more cash from marketers, given both the forthcoming IPO and the increasing evidence that one of its other big bets — Facebook storefronts — just doesn’t work.

Whatever the case, it could prove an important step forward for ThingLink, which has twisted and shifted its model significantly in an attempt to find success. What started out as a concept for giving every physical object an online identity — the original vision of founder Ulla Engeström — has now become something very different.

The first version of the current ThingLink was a sort of image annotation engine that could only contain text links to other pages, but it has been expanding its approach since last summer, when it extended its service so that images could contain videos, sound files and Twitter messages.