Electric Objects Poised To Launch Digital Art Display Service

May 13, 2014 by Dave Haynes


Electric Objects got some tech-blog love recently from TechCrunch, which wrote about the NYC start-up has raised $1.7 million to launch a service that I’d describe as a first-cousin of digital signage.

The company is developing a service that allows people to hang digital art posters in their living or work spaces and subscribe to digital art channels. The display medium would be 23-inch LCD panels and content would be moved around via Internet coonectivity.

Sound familiar?

But the company says it does not think of what it does as digital signage, and much more of a digital art model. Here’s how they describe it …

You would buy these displays, driven by embedded devices, and subscribe to a channel – like a particular public art gallery or art cooperative – for $5-$20 a month, and establish you settings as to how you want content to show.

The founder is Jake Levine, who previously managed the Web content service Digg.

Here’s how TechCrunch reported on the company:

I spoke to Levine yesterday, and he offered a few more details about Electric Objects’ plans. He said there are four main pieces that the company is working on: There’s the Internet-connected display itself, which he said will “probably” be a 23-inch screen. There will be “community applications”, where people can find and share different media. There will be a store where artists and designers to sell their own content. And there will be an open API, allow outside developers to integrate their products with the Electric Objects display.

While discussing the idea, Levine acknowledged that he has to adjust the pitch depending on who he’s talking to. For less tech-centric folks, he pitches it as the digital equivalent of a picture frame, though he thinks there will be more unique uses possible. He added that it’s probably “the weird and crazy stuff that’s most interesting to my investors.”

And despite emphasizing a fairly open and experimental approach, Levine also said that Electric Objects is going to be “pretty disciplined about constraining it to things that don’t demand your attention” — so, for example, you won’t be seeing TV shows on the platform.

I was also a little surprised to hear that Levine, who has been focused on the news business in the past few years (while at Betaworks, he managed News.me, and then Digg), is working on a hardware startup.

Levine noted that he’s not working on this alone, with Bill Cowles working on the industrial design and Zoë Salditch focused on artist and community relations. And he said that “all the stuff I talked about, information and feelings of anxiety that people feel on the Internet, it’s not new” — and thanks to new hardware capabilities and lowered costs, now is the time to address them with a startup.

The funding was led by RRE Ventures and First Round Capital, with participation from SV Angel, Dennis Crowley, Alberto Ibarguen, Scott Belsky, Kal Vepuri, Red Sea Ventures’ Scott Birnbaum, Rich Greenfield, and Flybridge’s Matt Witheiler, as well as previous investors Betaworks, Strauss Zelnick, Nate Westheimer, and Alex Rosen.

I told Salditch they might just want to look at stuff like the Samsung Smart Signage displays – which come in all kinds of sizes – instead of going through the misery of developing custom panels and having just one size, when people will inevitably ask for other sizes. I also suggested the world doesn’t need another content management system, and what they’re doing could be built on top of countless easy  options, some as simple as WordPress.

I don’t think is the first time the idea of networked digital panels as art displays has come up, but the difference these days is that panels are much lower cost and much higher resolution, skinny enough and light enough to hang like pictures, and ARM processors and WiFi make it all relatively simple.

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