<videovortex> A Search Engine With a Real Eye for Videos
sabine at networkcultures.org
Wed Nov 19 15:54:18 CET 2008
A Search Engine With a Real Eye for Videos
By KATHERINE BOEHRET
Web video has transformed the way the Internet is used, but finding
the exact clip you want can be incredibly hard. And it's no wonder,
considering that sites like YouTube conduct their hunts by looking at
a clip's "contextual metadata" -- tags, video title and description --
and thus can often be misled by false information. For example, a
homemade video about cooking might be inaccurately tagged with a
popular search word like "Obama" so as to get more traction.
This week I tested VideoSurf.com, a site that claims to be the first
to search videos by "seeing" images that appear in these videos. The
company says its technology can analyze a clip's visual content, as
well as its metadata -- especially when searching for people.
VideoSurf has analyzed and categorized more than 12 billion visual
moments on the Web to understand who the most important characters and
scenes are in a video, and it uses this knowledge to sort clips
according to relevancy.
Search results on VideoSurf spread out videos in a filmstrip-like
format, distinguishing one scene from the next. Users can choose an
option to show only faces, which helps if you're looking for a
specific person in a long video or movie. And when looking at videos
from certain sources, you can select a scene from the filmstrip and
jump ahead to that scene rather than sit through the entire clip.
When it works, VideoSurf is one of those technologies that make you
wonder why someone didn't think of it sooner. The site aggregates
content from about 60 sources, including YouTube, CNN Video, Hulu,
ESPN and Comedy Central, and a sorting tool weeds out unwanted results
like the irksome slideshows that are labeled as videos. VideoSurf can
find videos on all kinds of subjects, but it really shines when it
finds well-known people.
But VideoSurf has some rough edges and doesn't always work as it
should. In its defense, the site is still in its public beta, or
trial, stage, and plans to be full-blown by early next year. Right
now, one of its best features, the ability to jump ahead to specific
scenes, works with video from only a handful of sources including
YouTube, MetaCafe, DailyMotion and Google Video. Videos from Hulu.com
confusingly allow jumping ahead only from certain screens.
Additionally, I came across a couple of videos that were no longer
available, though they were listed in search results. And a
customizable VideoSurf home page for users with accounts on the site
saves searches but not specific clips; VideoSurf plans to fix this
next week by adding a favorites page where users can store and share
favorite videos with others.
Still, I really grew to like VideoSurf's clear way of displaying
content that would be otherwise buried within videos. Rather than
trying to guess a video's contents by looking at a single
representative image, VideoSurf's filmstrip views showed me exactly
what I'd be watching. In many cases, I viewed a video I might not have
otherwise watched because its filmstrip showed shots of scenes that
On the left-hand side of the search-results page, VideoSurf users can
narrow results according to Content Type, Categories and Video Sources
to see just what they're looking for -- or, often more important, what
they're not looking for. Content Type, for example, includes
slideshows, Web series, full television episodes and full movies; a
search can include only videos in a particular category (say,
slideshows) or exclude that category altogether by unmarking the box
Most search-results pages include tiled still images at the top
representing the characters in the videos. By selecting one of these
characters, users can refine search results to show only videos with
that character. For example, I typed the title of a favorite
television show, "Brothers and Sisters," into the search box and saw
the names and images of seven actors on the show at the top of the
screen. I selected Sally Field and was redirected to results of videos
featuring only the mother she plays on the show.
I used VideoSurf to search for Beyonce's "Single Ladies" music video,
and then changed the date parameters to find only videos posted this
week. This retrieved a Saturday Night Live skit in which the pop
singer spoofs her own video with help from three men in tights --
including Justin Timberlake. While the SNL skit ran, a list of related
videos appeared in a column on the right, including clips of J.T.'s
past SNL skits.
Occasionally, annotations appear on videos, but these come from the
source -- not VideoSurf. If overlaid text appears on YouTube videos,
it can be turned off using an icon in the bottom right of the YouTube
screen. Video-sharing sites that use introductory pages such as pre-
rolls before each video will still show those pages.
VideoSurf makes it easy to send specific clips of videos to friends. I
did so by selecting a Share option and adjusting slide bars to trim
the clip to start and end at scenes I preferred. Clips shared with
friends via email are sent with the VideoSurf filmstrip, giving others
the ability to also know what the video will include so that they,
too, can discern whether or not they want to watch it.
Clips can be shared on social-networking sites like del.icio.us,
MySpace and Facebook, though VideoSurf's helpful filmstrip didn't show
up on these sites like it did in emails.
I also tested an add-on for the Mozilla Firefox browser called
Greasemonkey that works with VideoSurf. When installed, this displays
VideoSurf's helpful filmstrip beneath search results from Google
Video, YouTube, Yahoo or CBS.com. Once installed, filmstrips
illustrating important scenes appear along with the normal text
results for videos, and some of the filmstrips enable jumping ahead to
specific scenes. This somewhat techie Greasemonkey extension can save
people the extra step of making a separate visit to VideoSurf.com to
watch a specific clip.
VideoSurf uses smart technology that can save people the aggravation
of watching videos that aren't what they appear to be. Since so much
Web content now includes videos, a visual search tool that can better
assess videos like VideoSurf is a good idea. When this site improves
its now-flaky ability to jump ahead to specific scenes in videos, it
will be even more valuable.
—Edited by Walter S. Mossberg
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