Video search engines rev up

Feb. 1, 2006
I had heard that video search engines were becoming more popular on the Internet-after all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Gail Overton

I had heard that video search engines were becoming more popular on the Internet-after all, a picture is worth a thousand words. But I was totally surprised when I typed in the search term “nanotechnology” on the Web site, clicked on the first video in the series, and was treated to a mini-movie with explanatory text showing how nanotechnology was being used in the detection of cancer cells.

While there are several video search-engine sites that have been around for years, some sites are going so far as to explore the incorporation of face-recognition software ( and even correlating the text to images within a video to allow users to pick out certain frames of information based on input search terms. As just one more way for engineers and scientists to gather information, the power behind well known and some of the lesser-known video search engines may surprise you.

In an attempt to rate the different online video search engines in terms of their sophistication with regard to optoelectronic content, I entered the words “photonic crystal,” “carbon nanotube,” and “optoelectronic” on seven sites (,,,,,, and and counted the relevant videos for each. The top four sites-described here in order based on my primitive, quantitative method-offer a number of additional features that can further accelerate your video experience if you know how to drive them. and

Launched only in December 2005, Yahoo’s video search service consistently displays (at least for me) the largest quantity of videos related to a scientific search term. New modules featuring the best video content from across the Web and on Yahoo have recently been added. My experience with AltaVista (now a Yahoo company) is that it displays roughly two-thirds of the video found on Yahoo. AltaVista is a close second to Yahoo and it was the first search engine to launch image, audio, and video search capabilities in early 2000.

“Yahoo! Video Search aligns with the Yahoo! Search FUSE vision-enabling people to find, use, share, and expand all human knowledge,” adds Aaron Ferstman, public relations manager for Yahoo! Search. would be offended by my crude quantitative method of comparing Internet video search engines, especially since it is designed to return only “relevant” videos based on input search terms-usually only one or two pages of material. According to Suranga Chandratillake, cofounder of, market research shows that users typically view only the first page of material returned from a video search. And, unlike other video search engines that just look for web pages that have video on them and then read the descriptive text on those pages-which is often poor or nonexistent-Chandratillake says that is the “only video search engine that actually looks at the video content.” That is, incorporates speech-recognition techniques to read the text from the video itself to improve the correlation between the video content and the search term entered by the user.

An important feature of, especially for the scientific community, is the ability to save video searches for future reference and referral. This “really simple syndication (RSS) support” feature is described in the help section of the Web site; it basically allows you to be automatically alerted every time content relevant to your search appears on the video Web. And, because is constantly looking for video content from different sources such as universities and industry organizations, you can submit video content to the site for free, as well as report fraudulent video submissions.

The claim to fame of the Web site is that unlike other search engines, it only indexes multimedia formats such as Windows Media, mp3, Real Media (RM) format, and QuickTime. In addition, Flash has been added to the index. However, results will not be searchable until the first quarter of next year. And, like, its executives emphasize that while other search engines may bring up more content, that content is not always the most relevant. With six years of experience in video search, is the search engine behind AOL video search, Windows Media, and Real Networks. With more than 2.5 million searchable video assets, currently handles more than 200 million video and audio searches each month and has experienced 100% growth in 2005.

“Singingfish is one of the few video search engines that diligently tests, validates, and categorizes the video links on their site,” says vice president and general manager Karen Howe. “A good video search engine is made better through years of experience and by building a user-friendly interface that allows the user to customize their search and input their own video links.” Make sure to explore the most popular videos of the day listed to the right of the search box. And if you’re bored, press the “I’m bored” button for a staff-selected video (on the day I tried it, Weird Al Yankovic was interviewing Eminem).

In the course of researching these video sites, I learned that Singingfish powers the Lycos and America Online (AOL) video search sites. However, if you use Lycos or AOL, you do not necessarily return the same search results as you would at the Singingfish site. The reason is complicated, but is basically a function of how the different Web sites “implement” the search-engine function. For the broadest possible database of relevant videos related to your desired search term, it may be necessary to visit one or more video search-engine sites.

It is important to remember that video search is in its infancy. “Current video search services do a pretty good job for news and entertainment, but not a very good job for research,” cautions Stavros Macrakis, director of Search Innovation at Lycos. “Good metadata-searchable information about the video clip-is only available for a limited number of video sources,” he adds. “There’s a lot of interesting research on creating your own metadata from hints on the Web, but we have a long way to go.”

Every other month, associate editor Gail Overton presents her view of what the World Wide Web offers optics and photonics engineers, researchers, and technical professionals. Topics will help readers identify Internet sites that provide links to databases, tutorials, collaboration and technology licensing opportunities, scientific blogs and chat rooms, and other online resources of interest. To share your best Web-site finds with our readers, please contact Gail Overton at [email protected].

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