Imagine if librarians organized book collections based on a 14-word description of each title. The results, no doubt, would leave much room for improvement.
Thats loosely the case for the growing number of features for finding Podcasts, which are very much in the vein of radio shows but are downloaded any time from the Internet.
On Monday, search giant Yahoo Inc. was the latest to recognize Podcastings increasing popularity and numbers by introducing Yahoo Podcasts, a service for locating them.
Rather than drawing on whats actually said during each Podcast, Yahoo Podcasts and its competitors take as their best source of information a very brief written description of the show provided by the creators.
Yahoo is able to sharpen its Podcast search results by better cataloging show notes and augmenting them with use-generated descriptions of each show, said Joe Hayashi, a Yahoo product management director.
"Show notes havent really been indexed all that well nowadays, and thats something were really focusing on," he said during an interview Monday. "It helps with the needle-in-the-haystack quality."
But the average show note is little more than 13 words long, according to a recent study by San Francisco-based Blinkx, a Yahoo competitor that specializes in audio and video search. So few words cant possibly do justice in describing all aspects of a Podcast, which on average is about 20 minutes long, critics say.
A more effective way of searching and cataloging Podcasts relies on voice recognition to create a transcript of whats said, which a search engine could retrieve from the Internet and add to its database.
But search recognition can be expensive, time-consuming and relatively ineffective, which helps explain why search giants have so far shied away from doing just that.
Because very few Podcasters actually provide a transcript, for now, consumers shouldnt expect the same kind of precise results when searching for a Podcast as they would when using general Web search features, regardless of what big name is behind it. America Online is expected to be the next major search provider to launch a Podcast search feature.
"These are early days for finding a Podcast," said Tara Calshain, editor of Researchbuzz.com, a search engine news Weblog.