Type “home improvement video” into a traditional search engine and you’re likely to get clips of the TV show starring Tim Allen, how-to segments on lawn sprinklers and video of groundbreaking ceremonies of a new Lowe’s in Derby, Conn. Now, some video search engines are creating new tools that make it easier to search and sift through the results.
Traditional search engines depend on video publishers to add tags and keywords — called metadata — to the clips before they are uploaded to the Web. But a lot of videos lack detailed metadata, making it hard for search engines to automatically categorize the content. Worse yet, some videos may be tagged incorrectly — sometimes intentionally, a practice known in the industry as “tag spam.” A video tagged with “Olympics” that is actually a clip of a political attack ad is an example.
VideoSurf technology analyzes images to aid searches.
So some video-search sites are moving beyond tags and keywords. For example, San Mateo, Calif.-based VideoSurf Inc. is using technology that can search the actual content of the video. Inside YouTube, Google Inc. is experimenting with speech-recognition technology to identify the words and phrases spoken in videos. Some sites, like CastTV, comb the sites of publishers’ such as CBS.com and ComedyCentral.com and compile an index of links for one-stop surfing. Other search engines are supplementing traditional search technology by mining for additional details about video clips, such as how they have been rated by viewers and how many times they have been viewed.
Web users in the U.S. enjoy their video — more than 11 billion clips were viewed online in July alone, according to comScore Inc. That’s up from nine billion videos in July 2007. YouTube, along with blogs and online networking sites MySpace and Facebook, have helped drive those numbers.
By far, YouTube is the leading host of Web videos, garnering five billion video views in July alone, according to comScore. Here, media companies as well as amateur videographers upload clips to the site and insert metadata so that videos are searchable by type, by popularity and by user ratings. But on YouTube, users will find only video that has been uploaded to that site; they will miss millions of other professional and amateur videos elsewhere on the Internet.
Tony Velasco, a 35-year-old small-business consultant from Austin, Texas, visits YouTube to watch music videos and Funnyordie.com for original content. But copyrighted content can be tricky to find sometimes, he says, since some if it is never posted, or clips are removed after a certain time period.
‘Hit or Miss’ Search
For example, finding clips of ” ‘Saturday Night Live’ is very hit or miss” on YouTube, he says, because oftentimes the content is pulled in a matter of days. So he must look elsewhere.
That’s why sites like CastTV search for content directly from publishers, going beyond just YouTube. Alex Vikati and her husband, Edwin Ong, founded CastTV after a trip to Asia, where they grew frustrated searching piecemeal for sports highlights across the Web. The San Francisco-based company wants to index every video on the Web so that users need go to only one site to find it, Ms. Vikati says.
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VideoSurf can sort video clips in multiple ways.
Elsewhere, VideoSurf Inc. is analyzing the actual visual content of videos using technology known as “computer vision algorithms,” which produces more relevant search results, says Lior Delgo, the company’s chief executive. Computer vision is the science of programming computers to process and analyze images and video.
For example, VideoSurf’s technology can identify characters within search results. A search for the television show “Lost” brings up results for the show and also a thumbnail photo for each character. Clicking on the thumbnail of “Lost” actress Evangeline Lilly will bring up clips from the TV show and also other clips of Ms. Lilly, like her appearance on the “Late Show With David Letterman.” The site has indexed 10 million videos from 50 different online video sources.
Google, meanwhile, recently released a search widget called Google Elections Video Search. Using speech recognition, videos uploaded to YouTube’s Politicians Channels are transcribed and indexed. This lets users search for words that are spoken in a clip. Viewer can also automatically jump to the exact point in the video when a phrase is said.
Several sites like Burbank, Calif.-based startup Mefeedia incorporate social aspects — like which clips are making the rounds on popular blogs and what site uploaded the video — into their search approach. As a result, clips that have been rated highly by viewers and that are embedded on popular sites are ranked higher in Mefeedia’s search results. The site has indexed 15 million videos from 15,000 sources, according to the site.
Viewers are fickle, says Frank Sinton, Mefeedia’s chief executive. “Only one percent of people go to page two” of the search results when looking for video, he says, so it’s important to have the relevant results on that first page.
Blinkx PLC, one of the bigger video-search sites, is another company that has worked to improve its understanding of viral videos, says Suranga Chandratillake, the company’s chief executive. Because it’s difficult to determine which video clips will become Internet sensations, Blinkx says it developed technology that points to clues that a video will take off — like if it gets linked to Wikipedia articles or on social-networking sites. According to its site, blinkx has 350 media partnerships and indexed 26 million hours of online video.
Searching for TV Shows
Blinkx has also expanded its search services. In August, the company launched a new service called “blinkx Remote” to search specifically for TV shows. Blinkx Remote indexes full-length clips that are legally available from sites across the Web from sites like Hulu, CBS.com and Showtime’s site at Sho.com. The company hopes users will use its site instead of visiting each site individually to find content.
Some sites haven’t given up on human intelligence when searching for video. OvGuide.com, a Los Angeles-based start up, says it uses people to identify only the best video. “We only search what we think is a good site so we control the results; and we also control the ranking editorially,” says Dale Bock, OvGuide’s president and founder.
OvGuide’s staff reviews every Web site that it searches to make sure only high-quality videos are on the site. If a site has too many non-working video links or page after page of video spam, the site won’t be included in the search index. This approach ensures that viewers can find videos that are relevant to them, he says. OvGuide searches about 2,650 different sites and has more than 300 million accessible videos.
Thad Mcllroy, a 52-year-old electronic publishing analyst from Toronto, has been using OvGuide to find new video sites for about a month. Mr. Mcllroy says he enjoys the site’s travel and news sections, where he watches videos from the BBC and The Guardian.
Mr. Mcllroy, who now watches a few videos online a day, says he is looking for videos online more now. Before, it was hard to cut through the clutter. “You get far too much thrown at you and waste far too much time,” he says.
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