Calling It Like I See It (But Do I See It Correctly?):
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I received an email today from someone at, asking whether I might be able to discuss Lightroom-plugin development with them. I get this kind of request fairly often. As is often the case, I had never heard of them, so I checked out their website.

They have a video on the home page claiming that with their service, you can keep track of your photos on the web wherever they go, no matter what anyone does to them. This seems fanciful (impossible) to me, but we all know Author Clark's third law (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”), so maybe I was merely lacking the technical skill to understand?

So, I replied that I'd be happy to discuss their Lightroom needs, but added...

In looking at the video on your home page, I'm having a difficult time imagining that what is being presented is actually possible. It claims to offer the ability to “manage your photos as they travel the web”, and that you keep an author connected to the photos “wherever they go”. “The web” and “wherever” are very big spaces. Did you perhaps intended to convey that they work only where some kind of proprietary viewing method is used?

I ask because the engineer in me tries to imagine how that presentation can be honest, and I can't come up with anything. Hopefully I'll find out that it's my technical skill that's lacking instead of your integrity. In either case, those are points we both want to understand before moving forward with anything.

I received a very short reply thanking me for my response, adding “Doesn't sound like there's a good fit”. Doh!

So, one can surmise that I was correct: their presentation is deceitful, or I'm lacking the technical skill to understand.

I wonder which it is. 😉

All 13 comments so far, oldest first...

“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” Napoleon Bonaparte.

— comment by Patrick Keogh on August 17th, 2012 at 8:01pm JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

I’m not sure its impossible. You can search for your images using Google Image Search and it will show you where else they are used (I’ve caught a few infringers this way) and there’s quite a few reverse image search engines, such as TinEye around.

I expect you’ll need the browser plug-in they tout in order to see the data you’ve linked to your images but it doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility to me.

I’m a happy user of those services too, but they’re a far cry from “wherever on the web”, particularly considering the services claimed to be offered (such as real-time product price displays). I’m sure it requires that the browser or web server coordinate with them, and I certainly such a service can be of value, but only if presented honestly and ethically so that the customer understands what they’re getting. —Jeffrey

— comment by Nick P on August 17th, 2012 at 9:59pm JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey, I don’t believe that the website has nefarious intentions. From the looks of it, it’s trying to emulate on concepts similar to Pinterest. This may be a case of poor copywriting.

“Nefarious” is a pretty strong word, and not one I would choose either. What they say they offer is pretty clear, and either they can do it or they can’t. I suspect they know which it is, and if it’s “can’t” but they choose to say they can, that would be someone I would not wont to work with. (And conversely, if they “can” and I’m just not smart enough to guess how, I’m not someone they would want to work with.) —Jeffrey

— comment by Pavel K. on August 17th, 2012 at 11:34pm JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Well, they are definitely over selling what they have to offer and behind the scenes I bet they are just using Google image search but the dashboard and tracking us interesting. The data tagging and whatever else is just crap though. They seem to be intentionally vague about it too. Your email was very fair and based on their response it probably really isn’t a good fit. 🙂

— comment by Jeremiah on August 17th, 2012 at 11:57pm JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

I am Rey Flemings, the person from who wrote the email inquiring about working with you. The facts surrounding our exchange are less dramatic than you portray. I messaged a few people about developing plugins for Stipple across various Adobe products. Several people responded and you were not the best fit. Why weren’t you the best fit?

The reason that you weren’t the best fit of the respondents had nothing to do with the last two paragraphs of your response and everything to do with the first paragraph of your response. It’s conspicuous that reprinted the last two paragraphs in their entirety, but chose to omit the first paragraph in its entirely. Instead you mis-stated your response to me for your readers by saying, “I replied that I’d be happy to discuss their Lightroom needs”. For a person impugning the character of another person, you should make every effort to get the facts right. Your first paragraph actually said the following:

“My bandwidth is pretty limited (and I develop only for Lightroom), but if
you could outline what you wanted in a plugin, I could at least suggest how
plausable that would be to implement.”

So my reason for not moving forward was simply that there were respondents who could develop across Adobe’s platform and were available to work immediately. Our project is time sensitive and we needed quick turn around.

I see, sorry about that, but I’m still curious about what I brought up in the last two paragraphs. —Jeffrey

— comment by Rey Flemings on August 18th, 2012 at 12:52am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

I’m a photographer and use the service and it works just as advertised. They use the combo of a publisher network and a browser plugin to identify photo’s and use a proprietary matching algo to accomplish the same…at least that’s what my understanding is and I am in no way technical.

Overall, I like the service and have not seen anything similar. Sure, suspicion is good but maybe you jumped the gun this time? Also, if someone thinks that you are not a good fit does not mean that they are being unethical…it just means that you are not a good fit. Learn to deal with criticism.

Glad to hear someone’s happy with their service, but what you describe (“publisher network and a browser plugin”) does not, to my technical imagination, sound like I could possibly fulfill what I saw advertised. And FWIW, I certainly didn’t feel I was being criticized. —Jeffrey

— comment by James McKernan on August 18th, 2012 at 1:15am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

So they are trying to sell a greasy hamburger as a 4-star French meal, and when you asked about the beef they decided you weren’t the type of sucker, er, customer, they are looking for.

— comment by Zachary on August 18th, 2012 at 1:38am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

You”ll love this. They (stippleit) are contacting people who comment on this blog post trying to use it as a selling opportunity.

—— email text below ——–

Hi JP,

I read your comments on Friedl’s blog and would like the opportunity to introduce our product to you. The service is free of charge and if you’d be willing to tak a few minutes, I’d be happy to walk you through the product via webex or skype.

We’re a small start-up and one of our long-term goals is to fix the attribution and metadata problems on the web.

This message was sent from the following page:

I dunno, based on what you wrote (guessing what they might offer and how), it doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to me. If they were to blanket spam everyone just for commenting, that’d be one thing, but the one message to you doesn’t necessarily indicate that. —Jeffrey

— comment by Jeremiah on August 18th, 2012 at 7:17am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

We’re more than happy to have an open and honest dialogue about our services. And it’s more than fair if that dialogue can include criticism. We are not know it alls, we are fallible and if there’s something we’ve done wrong, we go out of our way to correct those things quickly and make amends. We’re trying to tackle a giant problem with a small team and sometimes we miss the mark.

But that’s not what this thread is really about is it? My original note to you and ‘JP’ was to introduce our services to each of you. There’s been no interest in actually seeing the product. Instead, there’s a misleading blog post, replete with factual inaccuracies and not-so-veiled attacks. Despite all of this, I still planned to respond and explain.

However, I see that you’ve chosen to reprint my personal cell phone number in your comment thread. I am frankly baffled that you would turn a simple discussion of product capabilities and marketing messages into a personal attack against a complete stranger and publish my personal information in the process. I can no longer participate in this discussion as it’s clear this has nothing to do with the Stipple and what we can or cannot do as a company. This has turned into some odd attack for reasons I still don’t fully understand. Suffice it to say, I don’t believe I did anything to deserve that treatment. But it’s your blog and you’re free to publish whatever you choose.

Holy cow, I didn’t notice the phone number. So very sorry… I should have noticed and redacted that. FWIW I’ve done so now.

As for what this thread is about, it’s about whether your company presents itself honestly. We’re all used to marketers “stretching” the truth, but what your company claims to offer seems to my technically-inclined mind to be wildly impossible. If it is beyond possible, yet you claim so boldly on the front page of your web site that you do it, how can it be anything but dishonest?

But maybe I’ve got it wrong, so I clearly let you know in my initial response that I was was willing to advise you on Lightroom things if you could allay my worries about your integrity, and you deftly sidestepped the invitation to do so, and again with your comments here. Given this, it’s not difficult to imagine what folks’ conclusions will be.

You may be a hardworking group of smart folks doing great things, and if so then more power to you, but honesty and integrity are the first litmus test for most interactions in life, and if one fails those, little else matters.

If nothing else, you can take this as a learning experience that your front-page presentation raises visceral “BS” red flags among those with a technical background (which is perhaps a non-trivial subset of your target demographic), which is probably not what you want whether you’re honest or not. —Jeffrey

— comment by Rey Flemings on August 18th, 2012 at 11:20am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey,

Am enjoying your blog and especially your photos.

It seems like Stipple is adding or manipulating image metadata to track to social networks and product/vendor databases glued by javascript.

I can see how the whole entity (image + data) can be hashed and re-hashed continually and dynamically, but I don’t see this as a phtographer tool (I might be missing something here), but more of a social photo shopping app.

Will be interesting to see what the image metadata / JS looks like.


— comment by Ted Matsumura on August 18th, 2012 at 1:38pm JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

I watched the video, which reminded me of the “Dropbox” commercial (although with a buttload more magic and spells flying around).

So if I got this right, the images should retain information about the original publisher on top of the exif-data. I checked their example images and first of all, it’s really annoying to have those info-balls popping all over the image. Second of all, “Through our browser extension. When people install our browser extension they can view your Stippled content anywhere on the web.”. Is the browser extension a requirement for seeing the “Stippled” content or does it work like on the example images? If it doesn’t work without the browser extension, it would have to go absolutely viral for this to work in any way and I don’t see that happening. I really don’t want to install an extension to see some crap on images…

Actually the first thing I did as a small test was to “Save image as” and test post it on my blog. I didn’t see any “Stipples” on the image (which is not a great surprise). So I guess it only works when the image is re-posted, blogged etc., but it fails when it’s saved in between posts.

Don’t know, maybe I don’t just get how the system works, so enlighten me if you can.

— comment by Janne on August 19th, 2012 at 3:51am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Could use a visual watermark that survives resize/conversion operations. While it wouldn’t automatically find all your images, it could tell anyone with their plugin where an image originated from (if it had the watermark).

— comment by Chris on September 3rd, 2012 at 12:34am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Dude, they probably just wrap their user’s images in a Flash viewer – which also allows for the interactive annotations.

Then, anyone who copies it still has the wrapped image phone home to them, and you can see your nice statistics, complete with Referer information.

Doesn’t seem impossible at all to me.

— comment by Olivier Pernet on September 8th, 2012 at 9:27am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink
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