Singingfish Grows As Multimedia Search Provider

Looking for audio or video files from across the web? Singingfish has offered its multimedia search engine to help you in this since mid-2000, but the company recently signed a deal to power audio-visual searching in Microsoft's Windows Media Player client.

The January deal with Microsoft means that Singingfish now provides the multimedia searching capabilities for two of the web's largest digital media players, since Singingfish is already tied into the RealOne Player, through an agreement signed with Microsoft-rival Real, back in Fall 2001. The distribution deals helped Singingfish pass handling 1 million queries per day at the end of January.

In short, Singingfish has managed to gain a Google-like dominance in providing multimedia search to audio-visual players. But what exactly is the multimedia content that Singingfish provides access to through searches at its own site and through client players? And what are the issues that site owners with this content should be aware of?

Types of Multimedia Content Singingfish Can Find

Singingfish describes itself in various ways: "audio video search," "streaming media search" and "multimedia search" are all terms it uses. The first is most precise. Singingfish lets you locate audio or video files from across the web. It discovers these in the same way that Google locates HTML files, by employing a spider to crawl the web. The company also accepts "feeds," where content providers tell it directly about the files they have.

Singingfish cannot actually watch or listen to the files it indexes to know what they are about. Instead, it relies mainly on meta data that's embedded into the files, to understand their content. Just like meta tags for HTML files, multimedia files have meta tags that let their authors indicate titles, descriptions and other information about the files. This information provides important clues to help a multimedia search engine know what's in the files.

Probably the best known multimedia file format is MP3, a popular way of storing music electronically. Yes, Singingfish does provide the ability to hunt for MP3 music files from across the web. However, the service can also locate QuickTime, RealMedia and Windows Media files, as well. These formats are used to record content such as movie trailers, sporting events highlights, live music events, video news clips and more.

For example, a search for "colin powell" at the Singingfish search engine brings back in the first page of results several video clips of the US Secretary of State speaking, as provided by US Department of State, the BBC and MSNBC.

Unfortunately, there's no ability to sort results by date, though Singingfish does give a boost to more recent content, to help it rise to the top. Still, to increase the odds of getting content for a particular speech, you'd need to choose your words carefully.

The same is true if you are looking for sporting event information, such as "six nations rugby," which brought back files relating to the 2002 championships. Instead, "2003 six nations rugby" might bring back more current files, though this didn't work when I tried -- probably because the 2003 series only started this past weekend.

I put Singingfish to work on New Year's Day, which is always a depressing time for me. That's because watching the Pasadena Rose Parade every year is a tradition I've had to live without since I moved to the UK back in 1997. My new tradition every year is to see I can instead find a live webcast of the event (and so far, no luck).

Singingfish came through for me, sort of. It easily located several Rose Parade webcams backed by Home and Garden Television. Unfortunately, these were cams that showed how floats were constructed in real time. During the parade, all they showed were empty warehouses!

Searching Via Singingfish & Partners It Powers

As mentioned, searching can be done not only at the Singingfish web site but within the Windows Media Player or RealOne Player, if you have either. Any differences between these three?

At the Singingfish site, you'll have the most control over your search. The advanced search page lets you select the exact file types you want, bitrates, narrow to live feeds, group content by category and to engage a family filter.

What you won't get is any content promoted on the home page. That can be great, if you want a "pure" multimedia search experience. However, it was nice to see how the RealOne Player's home screen alerted users to clips of the Daytona 500 or the trailer for Matrix Reloaded. The Windows Media Player also offered similar suggestions and organization of content.

Within the RealOne Player, a search box should be found in the top right-hand screen of the RealOne Guide page -- the home screen that should appear in the player, when it loads (You can also go to the RealOne Guide page via your web browser). Using the RealOne Guide's search brings back results that are nearly identical those you'd receive by doing the same search at Singingfish itself. There are slight differences in ordering, in part because Real content is boosted over other types.

After you search, there's a "more options" link that appears on the results screen. This gives you access to some advanced features similar to that found on the Singingfish site, but not all of them.

As for Windows Media Player, the deal with Microsoft means Singingfish powers search within version 9 of the player. However, searching is supposed to be backwards compatible to other versions, such as WMP 8, which I use. You should find the ability to search via a box near the top left-hand side of the screen that appears when selecting the Media Guide tab (and you can also go to the site directly via your web browser).

By default, searching Singingfish this way will show you category links above the actual search results. By clicking on these links, you can narrow the results to those that match a particular category, such as being deemed related to "movies," "entertainment" or "news." At Singingfish, you can do this also, but only if you first visit the advanced search page.

Aside from offering category links, the results at via the Windows Media Player are also likely to be much different than those at the Singingfish web site. This is because Real and QuickTime content is not included in the results, and family-filtering is enabled, by default (family filtering also happens with Real, as well).

Getting Listed In Singingfish

Enough of finding multimedia content via Singingfish. Here are tips on getting included:

Singingfish will accept regular XML feeds of all your multimedia content currently for free, which is an easy way to get listed. To be involved in the XML program, visit its submit page and fill out the "Singingfish Gold and Silver Candidate Programs Sign-up section" for now. In the near future, more detailed information about free and paid inclusion will also be posted to that page. NOTE: THIS ARTICLE NOW HAS UPDATED INFORMATION.

If you can't provide an XML feed, you can submit a spreadsheet with basic meta data for the content you want to include. A sample spreadsheet would look like this:

Stream URL
Landing Page Title Description
Performer or Company Copyright
2003 Wooden Wagon Race Highlights of the 2002 Wooden Wagon Race Super Races 2003 Super Races
2003 Potato Sack Race Highlights of the 2002 Potato Sack Race Super Races 2003 Super Races
2003 Three Legged Race Highlights of the 2002 Three Legged Race Super Races 2003 Super Races

As you can see, there's a row for each content item you wish to list. You show where the content is located, plus a "landing page" that a user will see in their browser, if they click on it (while the content loads in their player), plus a title and description for the content, as well as the publishing artist or company, plus any copyright disclosure.

If you don't use either the XML or spreadsheet feeding option, ensure Singingfish knows about your site by using its submit page page. Simply provide your home page, and Singingfish will then spider from that to other pages on your site, seeking out multimedia files. Once your content is listed, there's no need to keep resubmitting.

On the submit page, you'll see a "Your Directory" URL option. Singingfish says that most content providers organize their multimedia content within one particular area of their web sites. This is where you list the location of that area. And, if you don't organize your content this way, considering doing so. It will make things easier to be included in Singingfish.

As with an ordinary spider, use of frames, JavaScript and Flash navigation can make it difficult for Singingfish to get into your site and locate pages that refer to multimedia content. Consider adding an ordinary HTML link from your home page to a sitemap that in turn links to your inside pages, if this is the situation with your site.

Regularly check to ensure that your multimedia links really do bring up content so that once you are listed, you don't get dropped.

As mentioned, Singingfish will accept content for free via XML, spreadsheet submission or by crawling your web site. However, the company is also experimenting with paid inclusion options. It expects to formalize pricing and benefits by early next month, so I'll bring more details, as these become available.

Finally, should you NOT want your content included in Singingfish, it does obey robots.txt files, and full instructions can be found on the site's page about the Singingfish Spider.

Ranking Well In Singingfish

As with a regular web-wide search engine, just getting listed is only half the battle. You also want to rank well, for particular queries. Optimization tips on ranking better from Singingfish include:

Make use of the ability to insert meta data into the content itself. Most media creation tools will provide the ability to at least specify the title of your work, a description, a date and copyright information.

Ensure that the title and description are content-rich. Don't just use the file name as your title and description. Instead, write a title and description that easily let the viewer know what your content is about, to encourage them to view it.

Ensure that the web page that links to your content has good title and meta tags.

Make your meta data specific. For example, if you're a radio station with multimedia content, don't include every artist you play in the meta data for each file. Only list the specific artist that the file is related to.

Singingfish Alternatives

One major media player that Singingfish doesn't power is the Kazaa Media Desktop. Kazaa is widely acknowledged as the leading MP3 search and download service. Rather than crawling the web to gather music listings, Kazaa lets you search against a collection of music files that other Kazaa users contribute. That's a great system for all those MP3 searchers who are after free music downloads and who aren't concerned about copyright restrictions.

For instance, if someone illegally rips a music track from a CD and distributes it via the web or an FTP site, they create a known location in cyberspace that the authorities can go after, to shut down. In contrast, Kazaa's system lets users share files directly between their computers. That makes it harder for those sharing files illegally to get caught. In real world terms, rather than moving into a house (a known location) and giving out illegally copied CDs, the Kazaa system lets people essentially send out those CDs via the mail, with no attempt to verify the location of the sender.

I'm not trying to pass judgment on the Kazaa system, which is as controversial as it is popular. For the legal issues involved, see the November 2002 article from Wired, The Race to Kill Kazaa. Instead, I'm trying to highlight why Singingfish -- and other systems that scan the web for MP3 files -- generally don't do as good as job as peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa.

In short, though I haven't done a head-to-head test, you probably won't find the hottest songs for free on Singingfish but instead on Kazaa. In contrast, while Kazaa bills itself as an audio/video search tool that sounds similar to Singingfish, you'll probably find that Kazaa fails to do well for content outside of music and movie trailers. Searches for "colin powell," "six nations rugby" and "rose parade" brought up nothing relevant at Kazaa, unlike the tests when I tried these at Singingfish.

Also be aware that while Kazaa does offer a "web search" ability, which presumably means searching the web for multimedia content, it instead simply brings back what appear to be undisclosed paid listings from Overture.

I also took a quick look at the abilities of AltaVista Video Search and's video search option, just to see how they compared to at least the video results presented by Singingfish.

For "colin powell," AltaVista brought up plenty of links, mostly from MSNBC. For "six nations rugby," over 100 matches were found. The main problem was that there was little information associated with the clips to help you understand what they related to specifically.

As for AllTheWeb, only seven video clips came up for "colin powell," none of which featured Colin Powell actually speaking, it appeared. Nothing was found for "six nations rugby."