Video Search Catches Up With Video Tagging

Let’s dig deeper into something I touched on in my last column. I wrote about ubiquitous interactivity and highlighted a bunch of different companies and technologies that are enabling powerful ways to create a dialogue around media and advertising. This time, let’s focus on video tagging.

Video tagging begins to solve some key challenges around maximizing video distribution and consumption. As Mike Lanza, founder and CEO of Click.TV wrote in a recent whitepaper, video tends to be thought of purely as a one-way broadcast medium. It’s linear, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Controls are generally limited to play, pause, rewind, and fast-forward. Interaction beyond that is limited to shouting at the screen.

More recently, the ability to assemble video clips into a playlist has been supported by some publishers, such as MSN. Still, you’re limited to a linear consumption model for each video segment added to your playlist.

In some respects, many sites’ video consumption experience recreates the offline DVR experience online. This provides a limited amount of control that’s still miles ahead of what people are used to on non-time-shifted TV, but the Web begs for a different experience. People want complete control, instant gratification, and a sense of community, dialogue, and participation. We’ve trained them to expect that from the Web. Hard-target searches are one example. Even my parents now head to Google rather than open the phone book to find a number, and to Fandango or Moviefone rather than the newspaper to find movie show times. We’re good at providing a reasonably satisfying search experience around data and text-based content.

But as online video content absolutely explodes, video search is way behind. I’m so overwhelmed by the amount of video content that exists just on my cable TV system that browsing the electronic program guide is an unsatisfactory experience (never mind the excruciatingly bad user experience of the video-on-demand menu). The search functionality isn’t much more rewarding. Considering the content I’m trying to sort through on TV is only a fraction of what’s available online, and that online video search is pretty hit or miss, we’ve clearly got a long way to go.

Enter video tagging. It allows a content producer, the community at large, or both to write tags and comments corresponding to certain points along the video’s timeline. In so doing, it creates a set of meta data that can ultimately be exposed to search engines for more relevant search results for that particular video asset as a whole, and for deep-linking into certain points within the video.

Better video search is only part of the value. A smartly tagged and indexed video is easier and more satisfying to watch in short bursts, which is how most of us consume online video today. It’s also easier to share bits and pieces of video, particularly longer formats, such as sporting events.

Click.TV has built a really interesting demo that, while not yet fully functional, showcases the power of this stuff.

You’ll see blogging/tagging content under the video, and if you mouse-over the video window, a timeline with multiple sources comes up. You can hover over any of the little squares to see the first few words from the associated tag, then click to immediately jump to that point in the video.

That’s just the beginning. To see how cool this can be, search for “Zidane” and watch what happens. It should add a playlist to the source listing and automatically start playing only the portions of the video that contain his name in the associated tag. You can e-mail that playlist to friends so that when they get your link, it’ll pop open the video and default to that playlist. This has effectively created an instant highlight reel based entirely on what’s relevant and interesting to a particular user or set of users.

That’s what new media is about: what you want, when you want it, even if the content owner hasn’t gone to the trouble of manually editing a custom mix for your interests.

Video tagging has the potential to take what was once a linear experience and make it very free-flowing and nonlinear. That’s exciting in its own right, but the ability to create a new kind of dialogue around certain points within a video is also a powerful new tool. Commentary was previously limited to the entire video asset (unless you wanted to describe your comment through time codes or very distinct actions in the video). Now, your comment can apply to a certain point (or time span) within the timeline.

Other companies are also developing systems to power video tagging, although each has a slightly different approach:

As video-tagging technology continues to emerge and evolve (and some of the interface quirks get worked out), it will have far-reaching marketing implications. Any kind of long-form video content can be quickly indexed and tagged to enable consumers to home in on the maximum personalized, relevant value quickly and efficiently. Consumer expectations for control are reaching a fever pitch, and show no signs of leveling off. We must support new and different ways to empower consumers with the control they seek. Video tagging is a step in the right direction.

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