Google of Video Search?
By Kim Tong-hyung
It would be hard to argue that online videos rank among the greatest Internet developments ever, along with e-mail, blogs and downloadable music files (pirated or not).
However, despite the immense popularity of YouTube (www.youtube.com) and other video-streaming destinations, searching for video on the Internet remains just as a confusing and frustrating experience it was three or four years ago.
For example, type in any variation of ``Euro 2008'' on YouTube's search box and the top results are just as likely to include Fernando Torres highlights from the actual tournament as the animated images from EA Sports' new video game.
Search for Korean figure-skating prodigy Kim Yu-na on Naver (www.naver.com), the country's most popular Web site, and the result is a chaotic mixture of 34,000-plus video clips, arranged by a logic of relevancy no one would understand, many of them being redundant.
``Each Web page has 10 video clips, so you have to go through more than 3,000 pages to check them all,'' said Jack Kim, the chief executive of Seoul-based Web technology firm, Enswers, moving his fingers frantically on his laptop computer in mock disgust.
``The problem with conventional video search services is that they rely on text data, such as the title of the files, rather than the actual content of the videos.
``The first 10 results of the Kim Yu-na videos give you no clue whether they are images from competitions this year or last year, or whether they are actually from competitions and not television commercials. Some of them might not even be about Kim Yu-na, despite their titles, and you will have to click on every single one of them to know for sure,'' he said.
Kim claims he has a solution to these problems in Enswers' Web video search engine, EnswerMe (www.enswer.me), which he hopes to develop as the ``Google of video search.''
So far, video search has been essentially an extension of text search, as the services relied on text data with the video clips, such as titles and category information.
According to Kim, EnswerMe is the first video search program to successfully track and locate video content based on image fingerprinting technology, or as company officials put it, ``video DNA.''
Answer Was in Clustering
EnswerMe's search algorithm breaks down video signals by five frames per second and clusters video clips together when their images overlap by more than 10 seconds.
By combining the image recognition technologies with audio analysis, Kim says EnswerMe achieves an accuracy of above 99 percent in matching videos containing the same content.
The clustering feature could make a world of difference for users who are demanding a quicker and better way to search for online videos.
Try finding the goals of Park Ji-sung on EnswerMe and the search engine provides different batches of the Korean footballer's videos, each from a separate match.
It's easy to locate any particular play, whether it be Park's recent goal for Manchester Untied against Fulham or his equalizer against France in the 2006 World Cup. In edited highlight reels, EnswerMe can even tell users the exact time mark when the Fulham goal is coming up.
And since the search is based on images, not text, language differences don't present much of a problem. Whether you type ``Boys Over Flowers'' in Korean, Japanese, Chinese or English, EnswerMe will round up the latest episodes of the popular teen-romance drama that has fans all silly and the rest feeling sick.
``We first attempted to use face recognition technologies, but that didn't work for many videos, including clips of sporting events where the players and spectators appear tiny,'' Kim said.
``Clustering videos was a much more efficient solution, and we believe this is better than Google's content fingerprinting database, used for reviewing YouTube videos, which rely solely on the copyrighted original files for matching images.''
Clustering also allows EnswerMe to display search results with better relevancy. Similar to the way Google ranks search results by the number of links to the Web pages, EnswerMe ranks the clusters of videos by the number of clips in each batch, a reliable indicator of public interest.
And since the clusters are listed by the date of when the first files appeared, not when the latest video was uploaded, it becomes easier for users to pick and play recent content. The search engine could also identify subtitles and logos in the videos.
EnswerMe has so far indexed more than 90 million videos and adds around 500,000 new videos per day. Kim said the company is planning to expand coverage from the current 100 sites to 250 sites during the first-half of the year, roughly half of the 500 sites worldwide streaming videos, and also improve search speed to add about one million new videos per day.
EnswerMe is currently in a closed-beta phase, and the company plans to release the final version sometime during the second quarter. An English version of the search engine is also under construction.
It remains to be seen whether Enswers' innovative search engine will prove a license for the company to print money.
Kim believes the commercial future of his product lies in online advertising, and is now attempting to combine the technology for EnswerMe with a content management platform, called AdView, which enables copyright holders to track video clips uploaded in sites around the world and review the generated traffic.
AdView is already garnering the interest of Internet companies and content developers who want to know whether copyrighted material or user-generated content is more popular.
Enswers is already providing AdView to Cyworld (www.cyworld.com), the country's biggest social networking service, and Daum (www.daum.net), the No. 2 Web portal and one of the biggest distributors of online videos, who are using the program to review copyright violations.
Cyworld and Daum are also considering using AdView to generate advertisement revenue for their video streaming sites, Kim said. Enswers is already administering the pre-roll advertisements for the ``Boys Over Flowers'' videos on Cyworld.
The company is close to reaching a similar deal with NHN, the operator of Naver, and also in talks with content developers such as MBC, a national television network, and Warner Brothers.
``Cyworld has more than 100 employees in its data center to monitor copyright violations on video files, but we can provide a cheaper and more effective solution,'' Kim said.
AdView could mark an important start in developing successful business models for user-generated videos, Kim said, as the Web sites and advertisers will be finally getting the ``ratings data'' that would allow them to price and target advertisements.
Advertisers have been reluctant to touch user-generated videos, with their inconsistent quality, and the growing amount of illegal and pirated content limiting the prospects of revenue.
With AdView providing a better way to manage such content, non-professional Web videos could finally get their chance to become a business
The room for growth is evident. User-generated video accounts for more than 40 percent of streams on the Internet, but only 4 percent of total online video revenue, according to a recent study by The Diffusion Group.
``There is a concern that copyright holders would use AdView just to track down pirated content, instead of using the video streaming sites to expand the pie of the advertisement market, and we are trying to work on that,'' Kim said, also adding that copyright laws in some countries could also limit AdView's commercial potential in some markets.
Aside of generating revenue from AdView, Kim also hopes to build an inventory of advertisers for EnswerMe, so garnering popularity from Internet users would be key.
``Our concern is whether we can convert Internet users from just relying on Naver and YouTube to search videos, but I also think we have a good enough product,'' Kim said.
``Internet users had to probe through different sites to find the videos they want, but our coverage and relevancy in search results provide a one-stop solution.''
Kim, a graduate of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), has nearly a decade of experience in developing audio analysis technology, which was the focus of his first firm that went defunct in 2005.
He is now using that experience in the field to advance video search technologies for Enswers, which is clearly off to a brighter start than his first company.