VideoSurf takes search inside video


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Google executive Marissa Mayer’s comment that the Web-search problem was 90% to 95% solved, made in a recent interview with us, stirred quite a bit of controversy. One of the key areas that TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington and others contend is a very long way from being solved: video search.

The major search engines -- even Google with its blockbuster purchase of online video sharing site YouTube -- have made relatively little progress on this front, analysts say. But there are some promising younger companies bringing fresh ideas to the nagging problem of how to find and discover online videos.


One of those companies, VideoSurf, will launch a test version of its search engine today at the San Francisco conference TechCrunch50. It claims it has found a better way. (We can’t tell you what we think: The company did not make its site available to reporters before launch.)

VideoSurf argues that relying on text tags to determine the content of videos is flawed. Instead, it offers a visual search engine that can peek inside the video frame by frame so it can return more relevant results, said Lior Delgo, chief executive and co-founder of the San Mateo, Calif., company. Then users can visually navigate videos to find just the person or moment they want.

‘This is the first time to my knowledge that a company has offered the ability to recognize specific people and organize video according to the presence of people in the video,’ Forrester analyst James McQuivey said. ‘There are so many possible applications for this. It has the potential to be very influential.’

If it works as advertised, people will be able to quickly find their favorite celebrities or politicians. Eventually, McQuivey predicts the industry will ...

... produce a more personal application: The ability to upload and organize hours of family video so that key people and moments are easy to find.

As people collect more and more video from phones and digital cameras, ‘it has the potential to change the way people think about their shelves full of home video,’ McQuivey said. ‘People are going to want to remember, ‘When did Uncle Gus tell us the story of grandma’s warts?’ They want to be able to search for specific content as well as specific faces.’


VideoSurf says it already has already indexed an impressive collection of videos, giving users access to content across the Web including YouTube, Hulu and major television networks such as Comedy Central and ESPN. One of the key challenges facing VideoSurf will be to strike partnership deals to make available as much premium content as possible, analysts say.

VideoSurf was co-founded by Delgo, who sold his travel search engine, FareChase, to Yahoo in 2004. VideoSurf has attracted big-name investors including former Vice President Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, CEO and co-founder of Current Media, who is VideoSurf’s chairman.

‘Television networks and advertisers are eagerly awaiting new search and discovery techniques that will more effectively connect consumers to online video content,’ Hyatt said in a statement. ‘I believe VideoSurf has cracked the code on video search, and they will capture a significant new revenue opportunity for content and advertisers.’

So far, analysts say video search has fallen into two categories: the efforts of large companies such as Adobe to help professionals search video, and the efforts of the large search engines to help consumers search video. Both, they say, have fallen short. That’s why they have been intrigued by the efforts of younger players like Truveo (bought by AOL), Blinkx and EveryZing to develop different ways of looking inside videos to get as much relevant information as possible.

Gartner analyst Allen Weiner, who got a demo, says the VideoSurf technology looks ‘extremely promising.’ ‘If applied properly, it could yield extremely thorough and accurate information,’ he said. ‘I think it has the promise to be among the upper echelons in this space.’

In fact, VideoSurf is so promising that analysts are predicting it could become an acquisition target for one of the large Internet players (think Google, Yahoo or Microsoft, among others) in coming years. But it just one of the technologies that will finally crack video search, analysts say.

‘They have one important piece of the puzzle,’ McQuivey said.

-- Jessica Guynn

Image of VideoSurf results for ‘Entourage’ from VideoSurf