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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Google Video Now a Video Search Engine

Google Video went through many reincarnations in the past. It allegedly started out as one of those 20% side projects within Google, and Larry Page admitted, “We’re not quite sure what we’re going to get, but we decided we’d try this experiment.” In its first version, you weren’t even able to watch videos at the site (you’d only see stills & captions from TV shows).

This lack of direction in the past felt weird, because a video search engine makes most sense in terms of what people go to Google for, and in terms of what Google is good at. Well, as the Google Operating System blog reports, it looks like Google realized their strengths and finally turned Google Video into an actual web-wide video search engine: the latest update will not only incorporate results from different sources, like YouTube,, CollegeHumor, eBaumsWorld, MetaCafe, Google Video itself, Yahoo Video or MySpace... it will also present those in a new frame wrapper, similar to what you’ll be used to at Google Images.

On top of the new wrapper, which you’ll land on whenever you click on one of the search results (meaning you spend more time on Google property), you can see the title of the video and a list of related videos. You can also rate the video from 1-5 stars via Google Video, or email the page (this feature was broken when I tried it, as the link Google sent out to me returned a file not found). And naturally, you can remove the top frame and go straight to the page. (If the page has a framebuster script, it will actually get rid of the top frame immediately; this happened with results from MySpace, and it’s a bit of a problem for Google Video.) Below the top frame is the video in its original context, like the Yahoo Video page, so that you can play it or use any of the additional features the video page offers. (This strangely results in you having two places to add ratings now, among other features that are now appearing twice.)

What Google does not seem to do at this time is to include video source files, like WMV, MOV or MPG, which are directly linked from smaller sites. A Google Video search for for example returns around 83,000 hits, whereas a search for doesn’t find any of the videos hosted here (including embedded YouTube content). To turn this meta video searcher into an even more useful tool, Google might have to look into ways to index all the video out there, and not just those (Flash-wrapped) files hosted on popular video sharing sites.

With the latest Google Video redesign, the strategic difference to the acquired YouTube is getting more clear. While you can still upload videos to Google Video or comment at Google Video, these community features are not at the core of the site anymore (neither does the Google Video store – where you can buy licensed content if you’re in the US – seem to be). I wonder if this change of plans was part of the reason why recently, Google Video director Jennifer Feikin called it quits. As a straight video search engine, Google Video is now doing a nice job – for instance, you can expand a list of thumbnails straight from the result page, giving you a quick overview what the video is about (and perhaps we’ll see more of these features become integrated into Google’s “universal” web search over time):

It’s small search features like these which make information useful, and perhaps Google can now finally concentrate on improving the site in this clear search direction over time.

In other recent video news, YouTube is currently testing a new interface... and now also allows you to log-in with your Google Account (you’ll be asked to provide details like gender, location or date of birth, which can then be theoretically connected to your Google Account).

[Thanks TomHTML and David Hetfield!]


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