Searching for Multimedia Tools


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Note: In print, this appeared as part of our Special Search Focus in which we took an extensive look at the trends in search today, including the sudden flurry of desktop search tool announcements and their viability in the marketplace, the state of multilingual and local search, and a round-up and discussion of a variety of multimedia search tools. Links to other articles are below.


Recently there's been an explosion of new developments related to finding and using visual and audio resources on the Web. Multimedia is definitely hot. While there have been some fee-based services that monitor and provide clips of television programming for corporations, such as ShadowTV and Critical TV, we're seeing considerable activity in providing free access to multimedia content on the Web.

blinkx TV is a fairly new beta service that offers free searching of TV and radio content. blinkx creates its indexes from both Web-based video content and direct video feeds, using its proprietary technology to create a searchable transcript. Users actually access a pop-up window with the video playing.

In late January, Google Video made its debut. Interestingly, at this point in the beta product's development, it doesn't index videos on the Web in general, just television, and it doesn't even show the videos. It searches the closed captioning text and provides an excerpt from the text and a still image from the program. Currently, it seems geared towards searching for local TV listings. But don't count Google out—this is clearly just the first step in a larger strategy, and adding playback is already a promised enhancement.

Not to be outdone (visually or otherwise) by its rival, Yahoo! has released Yahoo! Video, which searches the Web for playable video clips. The search feature had been in beta since December, and Yahoo! has added Video as a link on its main search page—probably not a coincidence that it was timed to the Google announcement. And according to the Yahoo! Search blog, it has added TVEyes as a feed partner: this "will allow us to index closed captioned broadcast video content not previously available online, enabling you to ‘search inside the video.' Their sources include broadcast video from Bloomberg, BBC, and BSkyB—that's just for starters."

While Google and Yahoo! tend to grab headlines with any announcement they make, search engines have actually been offering multimedia search capabilities for some time. Lycos has had some form of multimedia search for years; however, it was buried in the Lycos Network. With the recent revitalization of Lycos.com as search-centric, multimedia search is now easily accessible from the Lycos homepage. Lycos uses the Yahoo! multimedia catalog as its source.

Singingfish locates freely available audio and video files across the Web through its crawling and through partnerships with sites providing feeds. Singingfish indexes Windows Media, Real, QuickTime, and MP3 file formats. AOL acquired Singingfish Inc. in late 2003. By late 2004, the index included "more than 14 million searchable streams and MP3s with thousands added daily."

Amazon's search subsidiary, A9.com, has added 20 million street-level photos that will be displayed alongside local business directory search results. The photos initially cover most addresses in ten major cities, with plans to add photographs of businesses in other major cities later this year. It's not multimedia, but it is sort of interactive. I found a business address with photos of the company's building in Dallas, and was able to navigate around for a 360-degree view and see nearby businesses. Pretty cool stuff. I'm not sure how practical it is, but at least I could see how far the visitor parking spots were from the building entrance.

And if you'd like a glimpse into the future, there's a tool you can try now that comes from work being done in Australia. According to the press release from CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), the free Annodex plug-in for the Mozilla Firefox browser gives users the ability to use text queries to search for video clips, watch a selection, then seamlessly hyperlink to further content. When used with a Web search engine, video search works just like users expect and delivers actual video content. A search provides the user with a detailed summary of the video content, an interactive list of video clips, and hyperlinks to additional material. Annodex is a collaborative project of the CSIRO ICT Centre and the government-supported Centre for Networking Technologies for the Information Economy (CeNTIE). The technology behind Annodex is known as Continuous Media Markup Language (CMML). CSIRO says that "CMML does for time-continuous media what HTML does for text."

Commenting on these recent developments, an industry analyst at Outsell stated, "These new rollouts will have widespread implications. Users will now expect video to be accessible by a simple search—period. Web sites and aggregators that have search capabilities but cover only text-based material will soon be left behind. The savvy ones will already be looking for ways to add value to the content with more advanced search or integration capabilities."

The bottom line is that users will now expect to find any format online including books, journals, reference material, and audio and visual content of all kinds. The challenge will be to educate average searchers as to what is and what is not (yet) included and to show them the best tools and resources for finding what they need.


Related articles, which ran as part of the May 2005 Special Search Focus

Search Tools Converge on the Desktop, Ron Miller
Search in Any Language, Heidi Gautschi
Local Search Brings Results Home, Ron Miller