by Michelle Lentz

This morning, fotonauts,Inc debuted at TechCrunch50. Not without a large mission, fotonauts would like to “enable the creation of the definitive pool of images for everyone to contribute to, discover and use, covering all areas of human interest. fotonauts will deliver the world’s best tools to discover, organize, and collaborate wtih images, whereever they are stored.”

Sometimes I forget that as an early adopter, what is natural for me is not necessarily natural for everyone else. I always upload my photos, for instance, and don’t really think anything of it. fotonauts states that although more than 500 million digital images are captured daily, only 5% of those are uploaded to the major photo sharing sites. They see several problems: uploading is hard, images aren’t accessible to everyone, different services can’t work together, and collaboration is mostly through commenting. fotonauts aims to change all that. They don’t want to be your next service provider; they’re shooting more for a Wikipedia for photos.

They plan to use sync technology that makes uploading images to any service simple. I like that they also plan on unification: multiple users, subscribed to any service with an API, can work together on common creations. fotonauts also automates tagging of your images and albums. ImageRank, their specific search engine, uses tags and date to provide what they’re calling the global standard for image search.

Albums are apparently a big part of fotonauts, as you can enable albums made of up images from more than one photographer, and allows multiple collaborators. Albums, it would seem, have an seemingly unlimited size. In a beta conducted by the company, a World Heritage Sites album was made of up more than 10,000 pages and more than 15,000 from hundreds of photographers across the Web. Using widgets, the albums can be shared to any web site. From the screen shots, it appears that there is a discussion area where even the discussion, such as this from Wikipedia, can be credited and rich content such as Google Maps can be added.

It’s worth mentioning that they use Creative Commons licensing for all the photos included. One of the issues fotonauts has with the status quo is that the default on many services is All Rights Reserved. I point this out because some folks, myself included, choose All Rights Reserved for a reason. Using fotonauts will open your photos to conversation, collaboration, and sharing.

fotonauts is aimed at three distinct audiences: creators, photographers, and searchers. Creators can, quite simply, use the platform to create photo collections from the overall photo pool. Photographers can share their images with the world. Searchers, and I’ll probably fall into this category, help you find the most relevant photo for your search and will always display the photographer and their licensing choice. That’s right. You now have no excuse about using Google images when you can search fotonauts and get the information for giving credit to the creator.

Keep in mind that I’m currently limited to screenshots, press releases, and video from this morning. But thus far, I’m pretty impressed. I’m at least intrigued to start playing with it. At the end of the presentation, Scoble interestingly calls it “Flickr done right.”

fotonauts was originally formed in France by several ex-Apple employees, including Jean-Marie Hullot. Jean-Marie is the CEO of fotonauts but was previously the CTO of Apple’s applications division and former CTO at NeXT. The team also includes several developers who were all part of Jean-Marie’s iSync and iCal teams at Apple and fotonauts President Keith Teare. The company formed in 2007 and has since received a seed round of $2.3m from several VCs and angel investors.

Beta invites are available, albeit slowly, on their web site. Their TechCrunch50 presentation available on UStream. There are some interesting questions at the end as to whether their business plan of integrating advertising is even feasible.

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Contact Michelle with your news, apps, and events via email, Twitter, Pownce, or FriendFeed. Visit Michelle at Wine-Girl.net and Write Technology.

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