It seemed everyone had copies of the Starr Report posted online last month, which was great in terms of accessibility. But what really impressed me was the ability to search through portions of President Clinton's video testimony at AltaVista.
For example, I wanted to review Clinton's reaction when the infamous "cigar" question was raised. I went to the video search service, entered "cigar" into the search box, and up came the appropriate video clip. Within seconds, I was viewing exactly the segment I had wanted to see. It was very cool indeed.
The service was made possible through software from a company called Virage, and how it was produced in this case was pretty straightforward. The company captured the video testimony and its closed-captions when it was broadcast on CSPAN, the cable network that covers US politics.
The closed-caption text was converted into HTML files, which in turn were associated with 158 video clips. AltaVista then used its search engine technology to index the HTML files, allowing users to find specific text and then view the associated video clip.
"What you saw was very easy for us, because it was closed captioned video," said Dave Girouard, director of product marketing at Virage.
Closed caption makes things easy because someone has already transcribed the video tape. Things aren't so easy when closed-captioning isn't available, but Virage has ways around this. It can turn to TelePrompTer text or scripts. It has also announced a partnership with IBM for speech recognition, for times when no written record is readily available.
The Holy Grail of video search is the ability to truly search for images irrespective of having associated text. For example, at a conference I was at earlier this year, a spokesperson from Excalibur, another video search company, talked about the challenge of finding that clip where President Clinton hugs Monica Lewinsky in a crowd.
At the moment, search companies can do some basic face recognition, pattern recognition and recognition of when scenes change. But a video search engine to find a scene as described above is many years off.
In the meantime, the Clinton video search at AltaVista shows how useful indexing can be when coupled with written material of some form. And Girouard says to expect to see more of it on the web, given the popular reception the Clinton video search has received. Over half a million people have used the service, he said.
Off the web, Girouard says that video search is extremely popular for Intranets and companies with video libraries that need indexing.
Clinton Video Search
Another company that's involved with Audio/Video indexing, with prominent clients.
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