Thursday, December 31, 2009

YouTube needs to entertain

Miguel Helft at the New York Times has a good article this morning, "YouTube's Quest to Suggest More", on how YouTube is trying "to give its users what they want, even even when the users aren't quite sure what that is."

The article focuses on YouTube's "plans to rely more heavily on personalization and ties between users to refine recommendations" and "suggesting videos that users may want to watch based on what they have watched before, or on what others with similar tastes have enjoyed."

What is striking about this is how little this has to do with search. As described in the article, what YouTube needs to do is entertain people who are bored but do not entirely know what they want. YouTube wants to get from users spending "15 minutes a day on the site" closer to the "five hours in front of the television." This is entertainment, not search. Passive discovery, playlists of content, deep classification hierarchies, well maintained catalogs, and recommendations of what to watch next will play a part; keyword search likely will play a lesser role.

And it gets back to the question of how different of a problem Google is taking on with YouTube. Google is about search, keyword advertising, and finding content other people own. YouTube is about entertainment, discovery, content advertising, and cataloging and managing content they control. While Google certainly has the talent to succeed in new areas, it seems they are only now realizing how different YouTube is.

If you are interested in more on this, please see my Oct 2006 post, "YouTube is not Googly". Also, for a little on the technical challenges behind YouTube recommendations and managing a video catalog, please see my earlier posts "Video recommendations on YouTube" and "YouTube cries out for item authority".


Anonymous said...

On the other hand this suggestions and personalization business does tie in with Google's effort to personalize search. Doesn't it?

Greg Linden said...

I think what they have in common is more that they both use the label "personalization" than that they underlying techniques are similar.

Personalized search usually is more about ferreting out intent of a keyword search -- dealing with ambiguity in a keyword search -- than about implicit search or discovery. To entertain like TV, YouTube requires implicit search and discovery, not search disambiguation.

Where there may be more in common is in personalization of contextual advertising (like AdSense) and personalization of video advertising (like the ads in YouTube).

jeremy said...

This is entertainment, not search.

Actually, it sounds like it lies in the middle of entertainment (passive discovery) and search (at least as the web engines have narrowly defined search). It sounds like "exploratory search":

In exploratory search, the goal is discovery. But you also don't just implicitly or passively make all the decisions for the user. You give the user the ability to give feedback, apply constraints (some of which may be keyword constraints and some not), and generally increase his or her interactivity with the process.

My feeling has long been that there needs to be more of this interactive middle ground, between active navigation (search) and passive discovery (entertainment).

There needs to be active discovery. That's exploratory search.

Unknown said...

Hi Greg -

Thanks for the thoughts. I agree that YouTube's challenges are informed and accelerated by, but different than, Google's success in search.

If you're every in the Bay Area and want to swing by YouTube to discuss, just let me know.

hunter [from the NYTimes article]