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Video search engines haven’t found their place in the world quite yet, but after what happened with web search it’d be stupid to count them out. Now AT&T, after securing the exclusive license to use technology from the stealthy startup Divvio for the consumer market, is launching one of its own.
AT&T is calling its video search site VideoCrawler, and expects to open it up to the public in a week or so. For now, if you’d like to try out the site for yourself, AT&T provided a user name and password that NewTeeVee readers are free to use. Username: mediorite; password: beta0529.
Today we spoke with the executive director of business development at AT&T, Jim Stapleton, whose division is also developing the 3D web browser Pogo. He gave us an extensive demo of the site, focusing on the interface, which is what AT&T built.
First, the positives: I like the interface. AT&T built the equivalent of an AJAX start page for video, with modules for a search box, a player, search results list, playlists, etc., that can be moved around and minimized. That way users can organize the product to best fit whatever they want to do with it. The player itself is nice because it’s consistent, launching any type of embeddable media from within. I’m a little unclear on what’s included in the index, so as you guys play around with Videocrawler, please be sure to report back with what you turn up. For instance, I couldn’t find premium ABC content (the kind that launches in the Move player), but I could find Lost podcasts direct from the ABC site, which as far as I can tell aren’t usually embeddable off-site.
So far it isn’t evident to me that VideoCrawler’s results are markedly better than other video search engines. According to Divvio’s site, the company’s differentiating technology includes: the meta media player, continuous verification of broken links, ability to search for specific rich-media attributes, and easy addition of new sites to Divvio’s index. We don’t see any mention of speech recognition or other alternative search methods, but we’ll follow up with Divvio (whose CEO, Hossein Eslambolchi, used to be CTO and CIO of AT&T) to find out more about their approach.
Stapleton says VideoCrawler accesses more than 300 million pieces of content from 3,300 different sites, but in addition to video that also includes other rich media like slide shows, Internet radio and ringtones. For context, competitor Truveo says it has more than 100 million videos in its index.
VideoCrawler is making what I feel are some mistakes: It ranks videos by how many views they’ve had on its own site, not the larger web — a big blow to relevancy. When I brought this up to Stapleton, he responded by saying that, “We’re assuming that the user community of VideoCrawler will be representative of the broader Internet.” And instead of giving users direct URLs to share, it gives users a link to a VideoCrawler page with the video embedded. I worry that this speaks to a focus on building a destination rather than a tool for users. Stapleton’s defense: “This is a banner advertising-driven revenue model.”
I don’t see that VideoCrawler is different enough from the competition to really stand out. Apparently even Divvio felt the same way, because if it saw such a big opportunity for consumer video search why wouldn’t it have addressed that market itself? But I do like that we’re starting to come closer to a universal online video player. One way or another, let me know what you think.