America Online Lends Podcasting an Ear

Searching for a Podcast online is a hit or miss proposition. But in the near future, AOL plans to start listening into Podcasts, using voice recognition software, for better search results.

CHICAGO—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.

But now comes some hope for those looking for a better way to sort through the growing number of Podcasts on the Internet.

America Online is at work on a search engine that, in theory, would let someone seek out and listen to snippets of Podcasts that contain a particular word or phrase they are searching for.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about the business case for Podcasting search.

What AOLs attempting to do represents a quantum leap from how search engines now categorize Podcasts, of which there are an estimated 50,000 and growing.

Nearly all of the major search engines Podcasting services rely on "show notes," which is a written description of the program by its producers. Its an extremely rare service that lets you search the Podcasts actual contents.

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 said.

Just how improved the service is remains to be seen when AOLs service is launched. The technology from Fairfield, Conn.-based TVEyes thats behind the pending service is able to accurately capture about 80 percent of whats said, according to David Ives, CEO of TVEyes.

"Its early days yet," he said here Monday at the Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo.

Yahoo Inc., which launched a Podcast search service a few months ago, is now at work with TVEyes on a video search project, again using its technology. That relationship makes Yahoo a prime candidate to also introduce a similar kind of Podcasting search service as AOL.

Many people in the Podcasting ecosystem would benefit from sharpening up Podcast search engines, said those speaking Monday at a panel on just such a topic.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Yahoos work with TVeyes.

Consumers would get better, more relevant results. Podcasters would be able to find more of an audience for their work. With more accurate listings, search engines would have better ammunition to attract advertisers to buy ads on these search results.

Because very few Podcasters actually provide a transcript, for now, consumers should not 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.

AOLs Podcast search feature service is likely to launch sometime in 2006.

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