A picture is worth a thousand words only if it inspires people to linger, feel something, and pass it on. But finding that kind of picture—and securing permission to use the image online—involves a tedious search through mediocre stock photos, high-priced custom photography, and a questionable collection of shots that people are willing to share for free.
“People are desensitized to stock photography and they’re looking for relevant, fresh images, which are hard to find,” says Christina Hawatmeh, ESIA ’10. To address this gap, in April of 2016, Christina and a team of “machine-learning experts and passionate communicators” launched Scopio, a search engine that mines and licenses user-generated images and videos.
In other words, Scopio helps companies find—and pay for—great shots and video clips that people have posted on social media sites.
Here’s how it works: People are invited to tag Scopio when they’ve posted a look-worthy photo or video clip on Instagram or Twitter. If the Scopio team likes it, the image or video gets added to a Scopio library. And for companies looking for photos, a search through these libraries yields relevant photos and footage, spontaneous shots that capture the human experience.
“For example, if GW wanted to find images posted [on social media] about GW, we would act as a fishing net to collect the content,” says Christina, CEO of the new venture. “That goes from a picture of a puppy, a GW game, or a breaking news event.” According to Christina, people engage 40 times more with social media images than with stock photos, and they only read about 10 percent of the text on pages. Because of this, choosing the right image is key to creating memorable content that encourages visitors to hang out on a site and come back for more.
Christina describes herself as “obsessed” with social media, beginning with her senior study at GW’s Elliott School. Early on, Christina planned to pursue a career in politics, but she fell in love with technology and its more immediate possibilities. “A lot of problems we talked about in class could be solved by technology, especially organic solutions to local problems. For me, leadership, decision-making skills, and the ability to craft an argument are totally from my experiences [at GW].”
After graduating, Christina was particularly intrigued by the use of social media as a social change tool and the information-sharing made possible by online images. “Companies had been exploring search and discovery, but none were approaching it as this messy and interesting data problem,” she says. “As a result of my searches about the protests during Arab Spring, my co-founders and I were able to take a more global look at the big data problem of search and discovery—and licensing.” From that point on, she sought to make real-time photos and videos available for purchase, moments in time captured by people at parties, at work, on trips, on campus, and at major events as they unfolded.
Like all successful entrepreneurs, Christina’s vision continues to evolve. “I love the intersection of technology and society, and I hope to continue to work in this space as my career progresses,” she says. “The craziest idea I have—which people are already working on—is to make the internet a public good. Everyone should have access to it.” Christina adds that user-generated content is here to stay, and that the world wants even more of it. “We’re looking for partners who believe this, too.” Currently, she is actively pursuing collaboration with media and publishing companies, and she invites input from fellow alumni at GW as well.
“I love GW,” she says. “My best friendships in the world happened there, and it has a piece of my heart forever. I would love to be more professionally involved with alumni.”
Click here to learn more about how Scopio works, and feel free to contact Christina at Christina@scopio.io.