Tara Hunt and Riya.com
What about an interview? An interview through IM? Cool, you say.
Tara Hunt is one of the people working behind the going-to-be revolution of photo search, Riya. It's still in the alpha development stage, mind you, but I am told that the beta version is just next door. The beta version will be available for those people who've emailed for an invite (like me!) but the others should not worry. The final version will be available on the Internet... eventually.
Note that the interview has been edited only minimally. I personally felt that it is better this way, though space constraints required some abridging. This interview conveys its own raison d'etre. In addition, the username of Ms Hunt has been edited to protect her privacy.
Anyway, I am definitely watching Riya closely and can't wait for the beta version to hit the web. It is very promising, in any case. There are rumours that Google have approached Riya with a fantastic deal to buy the company. Maybe Ms Hunt wouldn't like that, though...
Editor's note: to preserve the feel of an instant-messenger conversation, all the original spelling and grammar has been preserved. The interview has only been edited for length and clarity.
NotScientific: hello. waited for a long time?
Tara Hunt: Nope... Hello!
NS: so before we start there's a couple of things I'll just need to tell you
TH: Sure. Shoot.
NS: firstly its an interview with you, the woman who works for riya but not a representative of riya.
TH: k sounds good
NS: secondly, although the article will appear at bbc.co.uk The h2g2 Post, I'll still hold all the rights and the interview may appear anywhere else, if you agree. Is this ok?
TH: Cool. Can I link back to it?
NS: Of course. And also this whole conversation will be saved and any part of it may be used for future reference by bbc.co.uk The h2g2 Post and by me
TH: Okay...[note to self, don't say anything silly or damaging... ]
NS: So? Should we start.
NS: What questions are you expecting?
TH: Is this the first question? LOL Erm... I usually get questions regarding the technology, privacy and what it will do for the public. THAT's a tough one.
NS: we're interviewing you not riya.com. This interview is just about you.
TH: OK... then I usually get questions about my gaffs online.
NS: Do you like the name riya? Is it a sexy name?
TH: Not in it's current context. It is quite exotic, but I know Riya as being an adorable little girl who is a fighter. Sometimes you associate names with people. Sometimes you associate names with ideas and histories. Deven is Munjal's son. Riya is Azhar's daughter1. They are both founders of the company.
NS: Why wasn't the site named deven then?
TH: Munjal's blog is named Recognising Deven... I believe his thoughts are to roll out products named after other employee's and founder's children, too. He's a family-oriented guy and respects that in all of us.
NS: What about you? Do you have a son or daughter? And what if Munjal named a new revolutionising service after your child's name? Would it be yes or no?
TH: I have a 12 year old son named Thaddeus (Tad). I own www.taddyman.com and am looking forward to the day it can be the next killer app site.
NS: About your website, did you do it all by yourself?
TH: Yes, I do horsepigcow.com all by myself.
NS: Where did the inspiration come? Mum and internet only?
TH: Yes... I take it you read the background. You know... it really sticks to people and it makes them laugh. It always reminds me not to take myself too seriously.
NS: I thought [it] was great btw
TH: thanks! It's a total work in progress...
NS: what about the photograph on the site?
TH: The horse, pig and cow all come from Flickr members I requested permission to use their fabulous photos from.
NS: the magic of sharing, right? let's change topic then.
NS: why do you blog?
TH: Um... gee... that's a tough one... I STARTED blogging because I wanted to explore why I was hearing so much about it. I had this hunch that it was going to be big. Really big. That was about 2 years ago. I think I started a cat blog. It was sad. Then last year I got a little more serious.
NS: why sad? the cat died?
TH: No, cat blogs are sad. I mean, I respect cat blogs, but they get a good deal of flack. When you blog something just for the sake of blogging it, it's called, 'Blogging the Cat' (y'know, like Jumping the Shark) LOL. I've had my share of blogging the cat days, though. geesh!
NS: ahhhhhhhh! i knew it
TH: Why, you have a cat blog?
NS: no i have a dog blog! My pet is an imaginary one actually. now that even imaginary pets are getting blogs, do you think blogging can get much bigger than what it is at the moment?
TH: Yes...we've hit the 'tipping point' with blogs. But, we'll get alot of garbage with that. Spam blogs (I hate them), Corporate blogs, Burger King and MacDonald's blogs. You know that Captain Morgan had a blog? That's screwed up.
NS: what's wrong with those (not refering to the spam blogs)?
TH: Well, here is how I see it... My favourite quote about blogs comes from David Weinberger. He said (and I don't know if this is verbatim, because I scribbled it down): 'We are writing ourselves into history, one blog post at a time'. I mean, that is why I got addicted to blogging. That is why I love it. It's our legacy. Our story. Our history. Joe Schmoe and me can make a mark.
NS: why didn't you choose to write a simple journal then?
TH: Our story can survive, accessed by Google or Technorati or some crazy 'WayBackMachine' archive for centuries to come. Simple journals are okay, but they have been lost.
NS: but won't it get lost among the other millions of blogs?
TH: Sure. But I know that there are a handful of people that read mine daily. Okay, like more than a handful now (thanks to some fabulous linkage strategy... mmmm). Let me back up here a bit. Blogging for me may be a very different experience than blogging for the next person. I think it is the legacy thing, though, that resonates with many bloggers.
NS: the raison d'etre of blogs is not the same for all bloggers but the thrill is identical. right?
TH: Right. I'm not going to get into knitting blogs or scrapbooking blogs or Vespa blogs, but those niches, they also serve a purpose
NS: you mentioned that blogs did get you in trouble though? What kind of trouble?
TH: Someone said on their blog once... I think it may have been Doc Searls or Steve Rubel or some other A-Lister type, but someone said that we used to be famous for 15 minutes2, now we get to be famous to 15 people. I wonk off in my corner from time to time. Before, when nobody knew who the hell I was, it didn't matter. I could wonk to my heart's content. Now, I have readers and a bit of a name for myself in the blogosphere. Now I'm accountable for what I'm saying. Bloody hell.
NS: that's the downsight of being a popular figure i suppose.
TH: Blog Hijack I call it. Shel Israel, my mentor (who brought me to Cali), has an excellent following on It Seems to Me. When he returned from vacation with his wife and wrote about it, he got all sorts of complaints. It's his flippin' blog! Shouldn't you be able to talk about what you want on it? I'm going to start a myspaces blog and only allow people I really trust to subscribe and then I'll wonk off about whatever I want. Cats, girl stuff, work, whatever. But seriously, I do love the attention. I'm a bit of an exhibitionist. I think a blogger has to be on some level.
NS: are there any plans to integrate the riya technology in those areas such as blogs?
TH: There will be an insta-blog this button on every photograph in Riya. And, we have other plans... but it's a photosearch. So, we want to stay away from the 'storage/community/sharing' paradigm. There are oodles of great companies that do an awesome job of that.
NS: What is it you actually do at riya?
TH: I'm the online marketing manager and chief blogger
NS: you don't just blog all day then?
TH: Nope. I think I have less time for blogging now that I'm the chief blogger than ever!
NS: but do you consider yourself as a professional blogger?
TH: Yes and no. I consider myself an expert in the field of social software and social networks. In the way they pertain to guerrilla marketing - viral and word of mouth, etc.
NS: why accept the role of chief blogger? only because you loved blogging?
TH: Because I thought, 'Wow, someone will pay me to do what I already love doing? That's killer cool!' But it's not as simple as that... Even bloggers have to eat and buy their children the latest PSP
NS: you, photographer?
TH: Um, I consider myself to be an avid picture taker. But I don't know how the hell to use my SLR type camera. Gee, I don't even know what SLR stands for.
NS: your pics are under a Creative Common Licence as well?
TH: Yes, anyone can take them, manipulate them, make money off them. I don't care. Just tell me so I have bragging rights. Although, they suck, so nobody really has. Oh, someone did. Bart Decrem, Flock dude. Took one of my photos and made it his official portrait. He told me that I took the only good photo of him he ever had.
NS: what is it with this sharing culture which has swept all over the internet?
TH: Yeah, I mean, we've all been told to share all of our lives and now we do it all freely? That's weird. No, seriously, though... People are programmed to share. I really believe that. None of it is altruistic, that's where we've pegged the motivation wrong. We all get something out of it. Friends, jobs, money, fame, sex, whatever.
NS: people even share the codes of their genius works as well
TH: Yes, it is amazing how the code has been set free. Linux, I believe, started it all.
NS: do you think that riya will enter the sharing work as well? an open source thingy?
TH: We will be open in some really useful ways (as well as the API)... We want metadata to be free. Currently, when you tag your photos, there is very little (if any) portability with your metadata. If you want to leave a service or move your photos anywhere else, your tags get left behind.
NS: but this all changes with the metadata?
TH: We intend to embed all of your hard work into the XIF file - both the searchable photo and your original (wherever it may lie). Then no matter where you take your jpgs, your metadata travels with it.
NS: sounds really more and more impressive. how much time do'u think it'll take to get all of those implemented?
TH: By beta - which I can't even guess a date on right now. There are some core technology issues we are sorting out right now and we are slowly eking out the alpha. We also have to convince all of the other photosites to work with us on this one. We are photosearch, but our technology may be a little threatening to some. I'm hoping they are all working for the same goal in the end: user experience.
NS: What do you think I'll be asking now? any ideas?
TH: My favourites.
NS: go on
TH: Favourite book: Cluetrain Manifesto Favourite food: Butter chicken Favourite marketing figure: Seth Godin Favourite blogger: Hugh Macleod Favourite tv show: Coronation Street or Desperate Housewives (although we don't get CS in america)
NS: Favourite website?
TH: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/ of course! Seriously, because I'm not a suckup...
NS: about riya: do you make sure that normal doesn't get worse or do you make sure that normal gets better?
TH: Normal schmormal. I hope that Riya allows for a good deal of abnormalcy. You know, that's what I love about the Flickr story. Stewart and Catrina set out to create this neverending game thingy. Then their little bit on the side, Flickr, that just took off. People were connecting through photos. And tags! Tags are these inane things. What, like a card catalogue? Classifications? Gee, that sounds sexy...but no! They are powerful connectors in the context of folksonomies. People connecting through memes...all over the world. It's so geeky, but when that tips...man...that will be powerful.
NS: and how will riya fit in a world saturated by flickr?
TH: I don't think that the Flickr people knew what hit them. Flickr will always be powerful, Riya is a photosearch site. We will search your photos on Flickr, your desktop, oFoto, Shutterfly, whatever. We will search your photos hosted on your own website, your photoblog.
NS: isn't riya sort-of destroying tags?
TH: Nope... we are using them and reaching the connection further than Flickr can. We are taking those folksonomies and opening them up for the whole internet someday.
NS: yahoo got flickr.
TH: Yes. Yahoo got a bargain there. It's a force bigger than anyone knows.
NS: what if google approaches riya? is that too far-fetched?
TH: What will happen is that tagging, social tagging and folksonomies as well as mundane tagging (which is what we enable through the face recognition and text recognition and someday, geo-tagging, etc.) When they tip (I'll answer your other question, just let me rant a bit). When tags reach their tipping point like blogs have, we'll be seeing all sorts of crazy memes going down. It will change our offline behaviour as much as our online. I guarantee it. Tagging is the new blogging.
NS: to me, it's still hard to believe.
TH: If Google approaches Riya? What? You don't think all of the big guns aren't already courting us? LOL Okay... so here is where my theory derives from: Hip hop. Hip hop started in very localized hoods. Now look at it. It's a multi-billion dollar industry. Hip hop is a viable format of music. It's everywhere. Record stores have real sections, they don't just stick it in the pop or R&B section any longer. Tagging. Tagging is a frenzy here. There are little niches of mad taggers and meme-drivers all over the world. They are being vetted by Del.icio.us and Flickr and other emerging tools to spread the word. Very soon you will see tagging in the mainstream.
NS: so tagging might just be the next big thing?
TH: Remember when businesses started putting: http://www.businessname.com on their literature, billboards and in their ads? Soon, they will be putting: Tags: name, category1, category2. The smart ones are already directing their own tags. The only real barrier to making it mainstream is the time involved in maintaining tags... oh, and the learning curve, of course. I'm actually hoping that we become the next Google, but in photosearch. We want to own photosearch.
NS: i hear the marketing director or something speaking
TH: I know, it sounds all 'spinny' but it's my mantra as I go forward.
NS: a powerful company (the big-guns as you say) might want to help?
TH: Traditionally, big companies buying innovative smaller companies have killed innovation. When you are small, you have the ability to react fast. You are closer to the ground. Your people are all within earshot. Me working at Google or Yahoo or MSN? Do you think I'd have 'FT' (face time) with the decision makers? I somewhat doubt it. Robert Scoble is a killer example of someone who is breaking that mold. But even then, who up top is listening?'
NS: i'm not an expert but that's only one side of the story?
TH: Sure. But big companies need structure and structure slows you down. I do have alot of work to get back to.
NS: A last question before i switch off. Why do you think I asked all these questions?
TH: I'm not sure. I originally thought you wanted to interview me because of the technology. Then I thought you were interested in interviewing a person who blogs for a living. I'm not sure anymore.
NS: i'll leave with your work then. bye
TH: thanks! ciao!
Other science issues (not too complicated, don't you worry) can be found at: