Sunday, January 18, 2009

YouTube: The Reference Tool

New York Times / January 18, 2009 / Ping

At First, Funny Videos. Now, a Reference Tool / By MIGUEL HELFT

FACED with writing a school report on an Australian animal, Tyler Kennedy began where many students begin these days: by searching the Internet. But Tyler didn’t use Google or Yahoo. He searched for information about the platypus on YouTube.

“I found some videos that gave me pretty good information about how it mates, how it survives, what it eats,” Tyler said. Similarly, when Tyler gets stuck on one of his favorite games on the Wii, he searches YouTube for tips on how to move forward. [snip]

While he favors YouTube for searches, he said he also turns to Google from time to time.

Tyler’s way of experiencing the Web — primarily through video — may not be mainstream, at least not yet. But his use of YouTube as his favorite search engine underscores a shift that is much broader than the quirky habits of children.

The explosion of all types of video content on YouTube and other sites is quickly transforming online video from a medium strictly for entertainment and news into one that is also a reference tool. As a result, video search, on YouTube and across other sites, is rapidly morphing into a new entry point into the Web, one that could rival mainstream search for many types of queries.


And now YouTube, conceived as a video hosting and sharing site, has become a bona fide search tool. Searches on it in the United States recently edged out those on Yahoo, which had long been the No. 2 search engine, behind Google. (Google, incidentally, owns YouTube.) In November, Americans conducted nearly 2.8 billion searches on YouTube, about 200 million more than on Yahoo, according to comScore.


As more video is added to the Web, the proportion of video searches that deliver satisfactory answers will grow, too. The question is, how far will video go as an alternative to text?


Tyler’s father, Mr. Kennedy, who is a product manager at Nokia, said he has watched Tyler and his friends going from the Wii to the computer and back to the Wii enough times to understand how much the use of online video is changing. “All of us who are a certain age think of video as a medium associated with television, and not as a reference,” Mr. Kennedy said. “It’s another method of search that we don’t fully appreciate."



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