Twitter buys an image search startup

Madbits focuses on developing technology to understand and organize information about images. The move comes as the social network is increasingly targeting visual content.

Zak Stambor

Twitter Inc. has bought a startup that could help Twitter users more easily find images and videos on the social network.

The social network acquired Madbits, a New York-based image search startup that has spent the last year focused on developing technology to understand and organize information about images.

“Over this past year, we’ve built visual intelligence technology that automatically understands, organizes and extracts relevant information from raw media,” write Madbits co-founders Clément Farabet and Louis-Alexandre Etezad-Heydari in a post on the startup’s web site. “Understanding the content of an image, whether or not there are tags associated with that image, is a complex challenge. We developed our technology based on deep learning, an approach to statistical machine learning that involves stacking simple projections to form powerful hierarchical models of a signal.”

The Madbits co-founders say that rather than launch the 10 different image-related applications the startup has been developing on its own, it will bring the technology to Twitter. They call Twitter “a company that shares our ambitions and vision and will help us scale this technology.”

The move is the latest in a string of recent acquisitions by Twitter. For instance, last month it bought CardSpring, a platform that lets retailers and publishers craft payment card-linked online-to-offline promotions. In June it acquired SnappyTV, which lets users edit and share video clips from TV.

The Madbits deal comes as Twitter has become increasingly focused on both visual content and making its platform easier to use. For example, Twitter said during its conference call with analysts earlier this week that it plans to test a new promoted video ad unit later this month. It also said it plans to “continue to improve the product to make it easier and more efficient for users to find the content they are looking for.” Those improvements could include swapping out the real-time manner in which tweets are presented to users, said Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO, during the conference call. If Twitter began using an algorithm that presented users with what it deemed relevant content it would make Twitter more like Facebook.


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