January 18, 2009
Yesterday, I did some research on a new phone I’m thinking about buying. So I googled it and went to the manufacturer’s page, read some online reviews, and compared prices and plans. But my eyes were drawn to the video hits: consumers and reviewers who could SHOW me how the phone worked, THAT the screen resolution really was pretty good, or WHY the keyboard felt too cramped.
I’m not alone — Miguel Helft at the NYT/IHT writes that YouTube is increasingly being used as a reference tool:
With inexpensive cameras flooding the market and a proliferation of Web sites hosting seemingly unlimited numbers of clips, it’s never been easier to create and upload video. You can now find an online video on virtually any topic. Web videos teach how to grout a tub, offer reviews of the latest touch-screen phones and give you a feel for walking across the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy…
And now YouTube, conceived as a video hosting and sharing site, has become a bona fide search tool. Searches on it in the United States recently edged out those on Yahoo, which had long been the No. 2 search engine, behind Google. (Google, incidentally, owns YouTube.) In November, Americans conducted nearly 2.8 billion searches on YouTube, about 200 million more than on Yahoo, according to comScore.
Another good how-to genre, this time from digital to digital, are the video walkthroughs of video games. Compare those with the old text-file walkthroughs for your favorite Super Nintendo game.
Video and text searches also create (ahem) different narratives:
[YouTube’s Hunter] Walk said a good example is provided by an ad for Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Democratic presidential primaries the one in which a voice asks “Who do you want answering the phone?” at the White House at 3 a.m. during a crisis. A search for “Hillary Clinton 3 a.m.” on Google would bring up news stories about the ad and the controversy surrounding it. On YouTube, the same search brought up the original commercial, as well a response by the Barack Obama campaign, pundits’ commentaries and an assortment of spoofs, giving users a much different understanding of how the story unfolded, Walk said.
So, here are two ways I see this going.
First, we need to leverage the power of YouTube and the power of Wikipedia together by creating a YouTubeiPedia — a comprehensive video reference database on the web. Maybe it wouldn’t need to be the Wikipedia model — there might be room for a traditional content company like Microsoft or Brittanica or whomever to step in here. Or maybe there will be multiple, competing models with different strengths — frank and quirky user-created content jostling with great production values. At any rate, part of the triumph of the text-search optimized Wikipedia is that we’ve largely missed out on some of the promise of a genuine multimedia encyclopedia. But there’s clearly demand for it.
Second, we need to get on this whole visual literacy thing — especially the ability to make visual objects themselves searchable, so that videos can give bot-crawlers the same richness of information a textual entry can. Maybe some kind of video autotagging.
My last idea is a shade more utopian, but it can work! I want a “video search” that isn’t a textual search of a video database, but a VIDEO search of any kind of database. Imagine the power of being able to hold a random object in front of your webcam and being able to ask the next-gen version of Google, “what the heck is this?”