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The Web Embraces Multimedia
Posted On February 1, 2005
In general, I consider myself to be a graphically challenged, text-oriented person. However, I've been more than pleased to benefit from the increasing availability of maps, pictures, and streaming video when using news sites and Web search engines. Yes, even I can appreciate the fact that a picture or video can help tell a story and that a map can help me get to an appointment without losing my way. Recently, there's been an explosion of new developments related to finding and using visual and audio resources on the Web. Multimedia is hot.

Last month, I wrote about the launch of blinkx TV, which offers free searching of TV and radio content ( blinkx creates its indexes from both Web-based video content and from direct video feeds, using its proprietary technology to create a searchable transcript. Users actually access a pop-up window with the video playing. 

Rich Wiggins just reported on the latest announcement from the Googleplex called Google Video ( Interestingly, at this point in the beta product, it doesn't index videos on the Web in general, just television, and it doesn't even show the videos. Currently, it seems mostly geared to searching for local TV listings. But, don't count Google out—this is clearly just the first step in a larger strategy and adding playback is already a promised enhancement.

In another foray into handling visual resources, Google recently released Picasa 2, its improved free photo management software that makes it easy to organize, edit, and share digital pictures. And, its Google Images searches for images available on the Web. 

Not to be outdone (visually or otherwise) by its rival, Yahoo!'s recently released Yahoo! Video searches the Web for playable video clips. The search feature has been in beta since December, and Yahoo! has just added Video as a link on its main search page—probably not a coincidence that it was timed to the Google announcement. And, according to the Yahoo! Search blog, it has added TVEyes as a feed partner: "[This] will allow us to index closed captioned broadcast video content not previously available online, enabling you to ‘search inside the video.' Their sources include broadcast video from Bloomberg, BBC, and BSkyB—that's just for starters." 

Amazon's search subsidiary has added 20 million street-level photos that will be displayed alongside local business directory search results. The photos initially cover most addresses in these 10 cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Seattle, and Portland, Ore. A9 plans to add photographs of businesses in other major cities later this year. It's not multimedia, but it is sort of interactive. I found a business address with photos of the company's building in Dallas and was able to navigate around for a 360-degree view and see nearby businesses. Pretty cool stuff. I'm not sure how practical it is, but at least I could see how far the visitor parking spots were from the building entrance.

And, with all this activity from the search engines, what are the traditional online services doing to provide access to multimedia content? Except in the K-12 market, it hasn't been very publicized, but the services do seem to be tiptoeing in. Multimedia content is still the exception and seems to be focused mostly on historical events.

EBSCO Publishing just announced that its History Reference Center (HRC) now includes more than 80 hours of streaming video content, covering the social, political, and cultural history of the 20th Century from 1893 to 1985. It is fully indexed and searchable. This is the first and, currently, only EBSCO database with video, though the company plans "to expand its video collections as applicable in not only the HRC, but also in other appropriate databases."

Thomson Gale's History Resource Center: World (formerly Modern World) has expanded its content and is now beginning to feature audio and video from American Journey Online. Science Resource Center has more than 10,000 multimedia images and audio and video clips. Student Resource Center also has some video and audio files.

ProQuest's History Study Center includes a small library of video clips—currently about 12-hours worth and growing. Its Poets on Screen, part of Literature Online, has about 630 filmed poetry readings (about 20-hours worth) of contemporary poets reading their own works and classic poems. ProQuest offers fairly substantial multimedia content in its eLibrary products for K-12 and public libraries. These include approximately 27,000 individual files (streaming audio/video clips), ranging in time from around 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Collections are both historical and current and include a searchable, printable transcript. 

Commenting on the recent developments, an industry analyst at Outsell stated: "[T]hese new rollouts will have widespread implications. Users will now expect video to be accessible by a simple search, period. Web sites and aggregators that have search capabilities but only cover text-based material will soon be left behind. The savvy ones will already be looking for ways to add value to the content with more advanced search or integration capabilities."

The bottom line is that users will now expect any format to be accessible online—including books, journals, reference material, and audio and visual content of all kinds. The challenge will be to educate average searchers as to what is and what is not (yet) included and to show them the best tools and resources for finding what they need. It won't always be Google—unless, of course, the traditional services see Google as their enabling partner.

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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