Search Spotlight Pans to Video

Signs point to multimedia's growing importance in Web indexes as Yahoo tests a video search engine and startup Blinkx begins to make the contents of video searchable.

After years of taking a back seat to easier-to-crawl HTML pages, multimedia files are beginning to gain respect among search engines.

The spotlight this week turned to video, whether streaming or downloadable, as Yahoo Inc. late Wednesday posted an early test version of video search to its Yahoo Next site for public prototypes. Meanwhile, a much-smaller rival, Blinkx Inc., on Thursday unveiled a service that can transcribe video to make its contents searchable.

Both efforts demonstrate the growing importance of video and multimedia content on the Web as broadband has become more commonplace. Yahoos new service in particular is likely to propel its main search competitors, Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp.s MSN division, to more aggressively tackle multimedia search, said Gary Stein, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research.

"An increasing amount of the stuff on the Web is video, and if these [companies] are looking to index the Web, then why should they just be settling for text?" Stein said.

About half of the U.S. population, or 64.1 million Web users, connects to the Internet using broadband, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Broadband growth also has led advertisers and media companies to increase their use of online video to reach consumers, Stein said.

America Online Inc. entered multimedia search late last year with its purchase of Singingfish Inc., one of the earliest startups focused on the segment. Under AOLs stead, Singingfish earlier this month began retooling its site as a search destination for audio and video clips.

Crawling multimedia content on the Web to make it searchable has posed tougher challenges for search engines than typical Web pages, said Bradley Horowitz, Yahoos director of media search. Compared with text-heavy Web pages, video files provide little context about their contents.

"Web pages are self-describing," Horowitz said. "With video, where you bump into a video link its opaque, and you dont know whats inside the video."

To discern context, Yahoo so far is analyzing the Web page text around a video link and the metadata included in a video file, such as its title and file type. Yahoo is not indexing the full contents of video with transcriptions, but Horowitz said the company is considering such an approach.

"We will be aggressive and use all means at our disposal to move video from opaque buckets of bits to make it something usable and that connects users to the content of video," he said.

One part of that approach is the use of RSS (Really Simple Syndication), an XML syndication format. Yahoo supports RSS 2.0 for letting Web publishers to submit their video to Yahoos engine.

Yahoo has expanded on the idea of RSS enclosures, which let publishers include links to multimedia content and are commonly used for so-called podcasting, or Internet audio downloads.

Instead, Yahoo announced Media RSS, an extension to RSS 2.0 that lets publishers include links to streaming video and video files within a feed along with more descriptive information and even full transcripts, Horowitz said.

Along with using Media RSS to find new sources of video, Yahoo also plans in the future to crawl for Media RSS to include the feeds in its index.

Next Page: Yahoos path to multimedia search expertise.