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Finding a Compass for Online Video

  • The last time you searched for a video, did you happen upon it by accident or did you have an idea of what you were looking for at the outset of your quest?  If you’re anything like me, your general searches are very different from your video searches.  In fact, when I look for a video clip, I tend to know exactly what segment I’m looking for – I know who’s in it, I have a general idea of what it is about, and I have a good idea where it is published online.  I may have even seen it before on television.  On the other hand, if I’m conducting a Google search for who knows what, I certainly don’t have a particular source in mind.

    For example, if I’m looking for the hours of the Cask N’ Flagon near Boston’s Fenway Park, all I have to enter in Google is “cask n flagon boston” and I’m confident that I’ll get the link to the Cask website where their hours are posted.  On the other hand, I recently searched for an SNL Jeopardy clip on Hulu, specifically one with Burt Reynolds.  When I typed in “burt reynolds” into the SNL “search this show” bar I got two clips back, neither of which was the one I was looking for.  I had seen the clip before so I knew what I wanted.  And you SNL Jeopardy enthusiasts out there know full well that there are more than two segments with Burt Reynolds!

    This presented a disappointing user experience; pretty surprising for a site devoted to video.  “Burt Reynolds” is clearly spoken during the clip I was looking for, yet he wasn’t one of the main subjects of the video so “Burt Reynolds” wasn’t tagged.  It showed just how lacking titles and tags often are for video.

    I started writing this post about a week ago then put it aside.  Since then, Hulu launched some new features for their search experience, largely focused on filters.  Now, when “jeopardy” is entered as a search term within the SNL page, zero results are displayed.  As in, no clips are found; go figure.  My point here is not to bash Hulu at all.  Hulu is one of the best video sites on the web.  The problem I highlight here is apparent all over the internet; Hulu certainly is not alone.  ESPN doesn’t offer video-only search.  Their search combines all content into one interface, forcing a user to apply the video filter after starting the search process.

    Video search is an interesting beast because a user often knows how to find the source pretty quickly.  The true search comes in navigating through a library.  That experience can be painful at times.  Yet it seems as though there is far more hype around video SEO than video library search and navigation.  Video SEO is the process of optimizing a video to be found by search engines – here are a bunch of tips and tools.  Search and navigation within a library is all about finding the video, the segment, the true video content that you’re looking for within a finite set of media content.  The experience is meant to be both efficient and exhaustive.  In many case, we are constrained by a web administrator’s tagging diligence.  In other words, a library is searchable when someone spends the time to manually tag each file.  This essentially involves guessing what people might search for.  It’s an inexact science that offers no other use beyond keyword search.

    The power of time-synchronized transcription goes far beyond closed captioning.  We’ve started developing tools for a user friendly experience that includes keyword search and tagging, the ability to visualize the occurrences of your desired search term across an entire library, and finally the ability to jump from one segment to another in the media library.   The beta version of our search interface is in development now, but you can get a sense for what I’m talking about by viewing our alpha search browser here.

    Content producers should consider a process optimized for the navigation of their specific library for the benefit of their own users.  With all the video being produced both in the corporate environment and in mainstream media, offering a user-friendly search is absolutely critical.  It will save time, reduce frustration, increase user retention, and increase viewership.

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