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“Premise maps truth from the ground up.” It’s a heady claim made by the San Francisco-based company, Premise — which is profiled in today’s issue of The New York Times. The quote appears on the company’s website, emblazoned above a photo of a market scene. And when it comes down to it, photos are essential in the company’s business model.

Employing 700 people in 25 countries around the world, the company collects thousands of data points a day in the form of photos, mostly shot by under-employed college students and homemakers. As detailed in the Times story and on the company website, the photos range in subject matter but are taken primarily of food in markets — be it mom-and-pop grocery stores, bodegas, open-air markets or Wal-Mart.

The photos, which illustrate placement on a shelf, product quality and price, are meta-tagged with time and location, offering real-time data that aids a range of interested parties — hedge fund mangers, shipping agencies and food companies included. Writer Quintin Hardy continues:

A picture of a pile of tomatoes in Asia may not lead anyone to a great conclusion other than how tasty those tomatoes may or may not look. But connect pictures of food piles around the world to weather forecasts and rainfall totals and you have meaningful information that people like stockbrokers or buyers for grocery chains could use.

The article goes on to illustrate how the data collected by Presence is being cross-pollinated with public government data like population and land use. In a fascinating case study, the company tracks the spiking price of onion in India, which has resulted in “great economic distress and leading to pre-emptive monetary policy moves on the part of the RBI (India's Central Bank).”

By indexing the onion prices via markets in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, Premise subscribers were given data that could, theoretically, provide advantage. What that advantage entails is well above our pay grade, but the concept is pretty damn smart.

More on the linking of food and technology on Food Republic: