Microsoft acquiring Seadragon Software
Seattle Times technology reporter
Coast to coast startup
Founded: In 2003 by Blaise Agera y Arcas, then a graduate student at Princeton, N.J. Agera y Arcas moved the company to Seattle in 2004.
A K A: Sand Codex. The company changed its name to Seadragon this past summer.
How it's used: The company says its technologies can be applied across a range of fields, including libraries, digital mapping, newspapers, video, virtual photo albums and shopping.
Little-known fact: Agera y Arcas received attention in 2001 for discovering a type of printing technology used by Johann Gutenberg.
Microsoft is acquiring Seadragon Software, a Seattle-based company developing technologies that could be used across several of the software giant's businesses, including Web search, cellphone services, mapping and digital-photo programs.
The acquisition was expected to close as early as yesterday, according to a person familiar with the deal.
Terms were not made public, and neither Seadragon nor Microsoft would comment on the matter Friday.
Seadragon has developed technology that lets people quickly view large images from a personal computer or other devices. A user could zoom in to see a small road on a vast map, for example, or pick out a single word from hundreds of pages of a novel.
The technology can also focus in on one photo from a collection of images. A demo on Seadragon's Web site shows how a user can smoothly navigate within 800 high-resolution images from a map collection at the Library of Congress.
Seadragon has 10 employees and was founded in Princeton, N.J., in 2003 by Blaise Agüera y Arcas, then a graduate student at Princeton University. He moved the company to Seattle's Ballard neighborhood in January 2004 after his wife, a computational neuroscientist, received a faculty appointment at the University of Washington.
It didn't take long for venture companies to commit to the technology. Seadragon received at least $2 million last year, including a Series B round over the summer from Madrona Venture Group. The company was originally named Sand Codex, said Agüera y Arcas, but after receiving the Madrona funding it changed its name to Seadragon Software.
Band of Angels, a Silicon Valley venture fund, gave Seadragon at least $300,000 last year. Managing Director Ian Sobieski wouldn't say exactly how much Seadragon received but said the fund's typical investment is $1 million.
"The technology that Blaise demonstrated to us is fundamentally different than other ways of imaging and viewing imaging currently in the market," Sobieski said. "It was supercool."
Sobieski described Agüera y Arcas as a savvy inventor with business know-how — a combination not always found in tech founders.
"He's really smart," Sobieski said. "He seems to have a lot of the business sensibility that we often find is lacking in other entrepreneurs who only have a technical background."
Agüera y Arcas has given Seadragon demonstrations over the past year to libraries and research organizations around the country. The technology could improve information retrieval, particularly on search engines, said Peter Murray, assistant director for multimedia systems at OhioLINK, a higher-education agency run by the state of Ohio.
"You search Google and get 2.1 million hits," said Murray, who met Agüera y Arcas at a conference in 2004. "How are you going to make sense of that? What he's done is given the ability to really look at those 2.1 million search results in new ways."
Libraries can use the technology to quickly search through collections of books, video and images, Murray said.
Seadragon might have found an early connection to Microsoft through David Gedye, its vice president of products. Gedye was a group program manager of education products at Microsoft from 2002 to 2004. In the early 1990s he worked at Sun Microsystems.
Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company