Blinkx, Google, and the limits of video search
Somewhat lost in the media storm surrounding Google's acquisition of YouTube was Tuesday's announcement by Microsoft that it would use technology from Blinkx to power video search on parts of MSN Internet sites and Live.Com. "We will be the single biggest video search engine on the Web," boasted Suranga Chandratilake, the founder of Blinkx, to Reuters. Beet.TV picked up the Blinkx story, pointing out that the company has figured out a way to actually index the audio tracks of web video, which at least sounds very impressive.
This got The Browser thinking: why would Google pay $1.65 billion for YouTube given that there's increasingly good Internet-wide video search? Why would users look for videos on YouTube when they can search the universe of video web sites using Google, Yahoo, or Blinx?
Then we had a thought: YouTube does do something that the search engines don't. It establishes relative values for uploaded videos - i.e., via popularity rankings. Most people browse YouTube using the "Most Watched" tab (sorted by day, by week, by month, all time.) When The Browser met with YouTube's Hurley and Chen in August, they talked about the site as a video "marketplace." Their word choice suggests how critical they think YouTube's filtering function is
They're right. Google, Yahoo, and Blinkx could tweak their algorithms to provide some approximation of videos' popularity over time. But they don't do that now, and they might never achieve the quality that comes from actually hosting the videos. Consider this analogy: you don't use Google when you want to find something on eBay. YouTube isn't quite as pure a marketplace as eBay, but the Google guys may well have suspected that, no matter how much tweaking they did to their algorithms, they would always come up short of YouTube.
That said, video search is hardly a bad business to be in - and Chandratilake's Blinkx will probably do just fine.
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