Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Searching Just got Smarter

As a result of the emergence of video-sharing, user-generated video, free digital storage, mobile videos and broadband, the volume of videos on social networks like YouTube and MySpace, as well as on news and entertainment sites has exploded. According to a New York Times article, CacheLogic, a company in Cambridge, England claims that the proliferation of large video files, video accounts for more than 60 percent of the traffic on the Internet and alarmingly they prerdict that within two years this could be 98 percent! What is unquestionable is that the Internet is now awash in digital video, but all too often finding the right videos is proving difficult.

Today’s search engines were developed to resolve text-based content and not to searching this rising sea of video. They don’t search the videos themselves, but rather the “metadata” (keywords or the semantic tags that describe different content, video-file suffixes (like .mpeg or .avi), or captions or subtitles).None of these methods are very satisfactory as many Internet videos have little or obscure text, and often have no or misleading metadata. Modern video players do not reveal video-file suffixes, and captions and subtitles imperfectly capture the spoken words in a video.
Enter Suranga Chandratillake, a co-founder of, a San Francisco start-up Blinkx. Blinkx supplements existing video search methods, by transcribing and indexing the words uttered in a video. Their complex speech-recognition technology creates unique added value context.
How good is blinkx search? When you visit blinkx.com, the first thing you see is the “video wall,” 25 small, shimmering tiles, each displaying a popular video clip, indexed that hour. (The wall provides a powerful sense of the collective mind of our popular culture.)
To experiment, I typed in the phrase “Chronic — WHAT — cles of Narnia,” the shout-out in the “Saturday Night Live” digital short called “Lazy Sunday,” a rap parody of two New York slackers. I wanted a phrase that a Web surfer would know more readily than the real title of a video. I also knew that “Lazy Sunday,” for all its cultish fame, would be hard to find: NBC Universal had freely released the rap parody on the Internet after broadcasting it in December 2005, but last month the company insisted that YouTube pull it.

In an experiment the NYT journalist created a phrase search for a rap parody “Lazy Sunday”. Blinkx found eight instances and Google Video found none. On the other hand they found that typing “Lazy Sunday” into Google’s produced hundreds of results –lots of commentary noise but not the substance sought.

Blinkx, now has more than 80 partners, including the likes of Microsoft, MTV, Playboy, Reuters and ITN.

The field is not clear and what is certain, is that those who find themselves disadvantaged today, have deep pockets and can develop effective video search capabilities. Others such as IBM’s ‘Marvel’ project are working on the next frontier, that of image searching. What is clear is that video is here and search and discovery is where the real value is, it just got a whole lot smarter.