Analysis: Jeers and cheers greet Google's video search

After months of rumors and speculation, Google finally made its entry into video search on Tuesday and its offering has received mixed reviews, an atypical reaction, considering the company's new services are normally greeted with enthusiasm.

Consensus among industry observers is that Google's offering (http://www.google.com/video) is quite limited in scope and functionality, compared with similar competing free consumer services from players such as Yahoo, America Online (AOL) and Blinkx. However, pundits also point out that the Google offering is, within its narrow scope, useful and that the company is likely to improve and expand it quickly.

"This is interesting but not earth-shattering compared to what else is already out there," said Gary Price, news editor of SearchEngineWatch.com and editor of ResourceShelf.com. "However, it's important to say that Google works fast and that what's available on Monday could be different by Tuesday."

Google's video search for now doesn't actually deliver video content, and it's limited to some television shows. Google delivers transcript excerpts from the TV shows it tracks, along with still photos from the video broadcasts, as well other complementary information about the programs. Google obtains the transcripts from the broadcasts' close-captioning tracks.

"We are working with content owners to improve this service by providing additional enhancements such as playback," said Larry Page, Google's co-founder and president of products, in the press release announcing the service.

AOL's Singingfish multimedia search engine has been indexing video and audio content from the Web at large for several years, and it serves up video and audio clips. Late last year, Yahoo came out with its video search service, which is still in test mode and which also offers actual video clips found on the Web. Meanwhile, Blinkx last year rolled out its Blinkx TV service, which indexes content from a number of television and radio stations and makes clips available for playback as well. There are other companies that, for a fee, will offer even more robust and timely TV content search services. These include Critical Mention and ShadowTV.

Price was surprised Google didn't deliver a video search service along the lines of what smaller competitor Blinkx is offering. "Google is known for throwing things out there (in test mode), but usually when they do, it's something no one else is doing or it's something that takes to another level" a service others are already offering, Price said. "In my opinion, this does neither."

Allen Weiner, a Gartner Inc. analyst, wasn't too impressed either with the service, but said Google's video search debut is a clear sign that this emerging and important area of Internet search is gathering steam.

"The Google service is somewhat of a placeholder because I can't believe this will be the method and technology they will use down the road to do this. It's just not powerful enough," Weiner said. "But Google's entry is the big sign that video is coming to the Web, and that it's no longer off in the distance. It's this year. More than anything else, this announcement is interesting because it shows where the market is headed."

Meanwhile, Joe Wilcox, a Jupiter Research analyst, said the Google service as it is today could be very useful for researchers by letting them track down what has been said about specific topics in different TV programs. Moreover, while Google will probably serve up video clips eventually, the transcript data it provides today could be ideal for searches conducted from mobile devices, Wilcox said.

Plus, it shouldn't be surprising to see Google enter into video search via text search, Wilcox said. "Google's mainstay, what it does very well, is text search. It makes a lot of sense to me that Google would leverage its core strength in text search to go into this new area, before moving into providing video clips," Wilcox said.

Users have been leaving an assortment of cheers and jeers for the Google video search in the Google Labs Google Video discussion forum (http://groups-beta.google.com/group/Google-Labs-Google-Video). "A great idea, and a great way to catch things that you missed. Good work," reads a recent entry. At the other end of the spectrum, a user complains about not having access to video clips:"Why launch it though if it doesn't do what it's supposed to do? Like saying I have this great website, go look, and then you have a blank page."

Increasingly, consumers are becoming more and more comfortable and familiar with video on the Web, and a logical consequence is that they start using search engines to actively seek video content, said Su Li Walker, a Yankee Group analyst. "It's a natural step for consumer search," she said.

In 26 percent of U.S. households with Internet access, the PC was used to watch videos either on the Web or offline from a DVD, a Yankee Group survey conducted in last year's third quarter found, Walker said. That is up from 18 percent in 2003. A separate Yankee Group study from last year's second quarter found that in 12.1 percent of U.S. households with Internet access, video was viewed online and that in 6.40 percent of households video was downloaded to a PC, Walker said.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service

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