ACCORDING TO AN ARTICLE BY Paul Tharp in the New York Post, the New York State Consumer Protection Board has its knickers in a knot over video.google.com. “It’s fairly easy to find [explicit] videos throughout the Internet, but it’s certainly another case for Google to organize these videos and present them so freely on a single Web page,” said Teresa Santiago, chairwoman and executive director of the state agency. She continued, “Parents have a hard enough time policing the Internet without Google’s video service making it easier for children to see and save these types of videos.”
These “types” of videos? Organized? Easier? Is this some kind of code for truly low-quality, low-production-value videos that are “made with loving hands at home,” thrown up loosely by keyword and served in the lowest acceptable resolution? If it isn’t, Ms. Santiago must be visiting a different video.google.com than the rest of us.
As for adult content, I guess the NYSCPB was absent from class the day that they taught Search Engine 101, because that is exactly what every search engine has been doing since they were invented. Type “butt” into any search engine (Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask, etc.) and be prepared to find several Web pages with very well-organized links to extremely explicit Web sites. Click the “images” button and you’ll not only see XXX images, you’ll be linked to literally thousands of sites that use free streaming video previews to promote and encourage subscriptions. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, this cannot possibly be considered newsworthy. Now, try that same trick on video.google.com. Aside from being bored out of your mind by worthless homemade crap, you’ll find there’s nothing sexually explicit or even slightly risqué on the site.
The few videos that might be considered untoward on video.google.com are banal by comparison to anything you might find on the public Internet. Which begs the questions–politics and sensationalism aside, why isn’t every single adult video on earth available on video.google.com? Why aren’t they organized? Why aren’t they easy to find?
The answer is simple. How would you categorize http://www.websitename.com/subcatalog/subcatalog/subcatalog/data/top_02.wmv? Even if it had a name like http://www.buttvideos.com/girls/butts/janedoe_8332.wmv, it would still be unbelievably hard to sort out. We now live in a world where metadata (data that describes other data) is actually more important than the data itself.
What good is having 500 videos on your iPod if you can’t find the one you want? Certain video formats like mpeg4 allow for metadata to be included in the file. But most videos on the Web have random file names — only the file extension (.wmv, .avi, .mov, etc.) communicates that it is a video file. It’s really hard to know what the file “1452343_234.avi” is until you play it. Without metadata, Google can’t use the text-based techniques it is famous for–the technology just isn’t there yet.
What makes Google Video different from the rest of the video on the Internet is that, aside from allowing anyone to upload almost anything for free, they ask for a title and description of the work. Then, they offer you a pulldown menu to select genre and language. If you agree to their terms, by clicking a check box, your video is made available wherever Google can be found.
Even with metadata provided by the users, the search and display experience on Google Video is sub-optimal. Why? Because this is not how we’ve been trained to find or watch video content. And, more to the point, you really can’t acquire video or decide if it is what you are looking for without investing several seconds (10-20) watching the linear video. You can scan a paragraph of text in under a second. Unless the content is branded or someone is gatekeeping for you, it is very unlikely that you will invest the time to root around a non-genre-specific video site. This in not a Google Video issue, it applies to everyone.
If the state of New York is really worried about easily accessible adult video content on the Web, they should start by understanding the medium,including: distribution methodologies and organization of the public Internet. They may have good intentions, but the nature of their complaint is unimaginably out-of-touch with technological and sociological reality.
In the meantime, they should leave Google and the other video search pioneers alone and let them figure out how to scan, sort, categorize, file and allow us to search for, acquire and discover video on the public Internet. The technology is a key component to the future of distributing news, weather, sports and entertainment content worldwide. And, truth be told, the sooner they get a handle on this core technology, the sooner parents (and even New York State) will be able to set meaningful viewership guidelines for video on the Net.