Millions of streaming media files are sitting out on the Internet and corporate networks, waiting to be played. How are you supposed to find the stuff you want?
Portals like AltaVista, Lycos and Yahoo! already have extensive areas devoted to finding multimedia content. Now, several specialized multimedia search providers are promising to greatly improve the process.
The crux of the problem is that multimedia files often dont include much "metadata" about themselves: information such as title, length, artist and so on. "Traditional search engines are searching for text documents, which have the raw material that describes what those documents are about," says Mike Behlke, president and founder of Singingfish.com. "Multimedia content doesnt have that, so we have to find ways of creating or enhancing the metadata."
Seattle-based Singingfish, whose customers include InfoSpace, says its database contains links to more than 7 million active streaming media files. Singingfish uses a rule-based system — maintained by a staff of seven — that automates some of the grunt work of associating metadata with streaming media. With its system, Singingfish is able to identify and cross-reference media with other sources, such as Muzes music database. For example, if a song is just labeled Beautiful Day, Singingfish could figure out that the artist is U2 and also pull in other information, like the album title.
StreamSearch.com, a multimedia search company in St. Louis that says its database has 2.7 million links to content, addresses the metadata puzzle with a Yahoo!-style staff of editors who classify content and add other information to provide the missing context.
"You do as much as you can in an automated way, but its in the description and the category keywords where human hands really add value," says Robert Shambro, StreamSearchs CEO and founder. But StreamSearch, which launched in February 1999 as a consumer-oriented destination site, ran into financial difficulties and last fall was forced to cut its staff from 150 to 26. It has since switched its business model to licensing its index; customers include About.com and Ask Jeeves.
Inktomi has also joined in the chase for streaming media. It uses technology licensed from Virage to index media content, and provides 2.5 million multimedia links to such sites as Excite@Home and iWon as an add-on to its regular search product.
Casting a Wider Net
Unlike its competitors, Singingfish is already looking beyond Internet content. The company last year was acquired by Thomson Multimedia, maker of GE, RCA and Thomson brands of consumer electronics, which plans to embed Singingfishs multimedia search features into its television sets and set-top boxes.
In the second half of the year, Singingfish plans to offer a product for enterprise networks that will let businesses categorize and index their own "walled gardens" of audio and video. In that market, it will face a different set of competitors, including vendors of media management systems like Convera, Virage and Voquette, which this month bought multimedia search technology company Taalee.
Behlke sees huge opportunity in outfitting corporate networks with streaming media search technology. An advertising agency, for example, could convert its TV commercials into streaming files and make them searchable on its intranet. "The storage and retrieval of video on tape is very expensive," he says. "Theres an opportunity to index media files and put them in a database."