Photo Web site clicks

The Baltimore Sun

NEW YORK -- On a recent Sunday, Adam Seifer ate an elegant fish meal at a restaurant in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Earlier that same day, he had airplane food - "some kind of Monte Cristo/egg sandwich thing." The day before, he wolfed down a chicken roll at his desk.

Care to know what else Seifer, a 38-year-old Manhattan Internet entrepreneur, puts in his stomach? You might not, but 15,000 visitors a week log onto to check out and comment on his daily food blog, "Get in My Belly."

For Seifer, Fotolog's co-founder and chief product officer, sharing photos online isn't just a hobby, it's business.

Started four years ago, has become a leading photo blogging site, where amateur shutterbugs get to display their shots for everyone to see - a YouTube with pictures, instead of videos.

In February, the site's audience grew by more than 60 percent, to 12 million visitors, though rival Flickr still has more than double that number, according to comScore Network's World Metrix. Another Web research firm, Alexa, which gauges both visitors and page views, ranks Fotolog as the 28th most popular Web site in the world.

Fotolog and other photo-sharing sites, including Flickr and Piczo, have seen their audiences swell with the proliferation of cheap digital cameras and camera phones.

The more people snap away, the more they want to share their life moments and invite reaction from others. Some 27 percent of U.S. online users upload their photos, up from 15 percent in 2005, said Michael Gartenberg of Jupiter Research.

Recent shots posted on Fotolog run the gamut from a Colonel Sanders look-alike to a cute baby with a pacifier to an ominous-looking toy monster glaring at a girl doll. Fotolog members, who can submit only one photo a day, have put up more than 200 million. Nudity, sex and violence are not allowed.

"We have 7 million reality shows," said Seifer, who's making his second attempt at a Web business. His first site ended badly.

In 2000,, a social networking site he helped launch, was sold for $125 million - a seeming fantasy come true. But Seifer's payout, in stock, lost most of its value in the dot-com bust. "It was millions of dollars and then it went away," he said. "Thank God I didn't buy anything."

In the aftermath, Seifer, who started out as an ad copywriter scripting commercials for clients like Frank Perdue, didn't look for a job. Instead, he took his experience building a Web community and decided to create a new social network using photos to bring people together.

He maxed out his credit cards, borrowed money from his wife and, along with fellow Web entrepreneur Scott Heiferman, started all over again in 2002 out of his apartment. In a flash, Fotolog went from 200 members - mostly Seifer's buddies - to 200,000 in its first year.

Fotolog just started to sell ads in October and is still losing money. But some prominent Internet veterans are banking on big dollars down the road.

Former AOL President Robert W. Pittman and Huffington Post co-founder Kenneth B. Lerer signed on as investors last year. An early Fotolog investor, one-time Time Warner senior executive and Silicon Alley entrepreneur John Borthwick, 42, recently took over as chief executive.

The company, which now employs 23 people in a lower Fifth Avenue loft, has raised $11 million from venture capital firms and investors. "Over the last four years, they built an audience," Borthwick said. "Now it's at a scale where we can turn it into a business. One of the reasons I came here is to take Fotolog to the next stage."

But any payoff for investors is far from a sure thing.

Of the site's 7 million members, just a fraction, about 300,000, are based in the United States.

Fotolog's largely international audience - many are in South America - commands lower ad rates and is considered less desirable by U.S. advertisers mostly interested in American consumers.

Seifer sees Fotolog's large international audience as an opportunity for growth, not a liability, at a time when other Internet companies are looking to expand globally.

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