Mon, Jan 19, 2009 - Page 9 News List

YouTube goes from funny videos to reference tool

Web surfers are using the video site as a reference tool, helping YouTube surpass Yahoo as the second-biggest search engine in the US after its larger parent-company Google Inc

By Miguel helft  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

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. And when he wants to explore the ins and outs of collecting Bakugan Battle Brawlers cards, which are linked to a Japanese anime TV series, he goes to YouTube again.

“When they don’t have really good results on YouTube, then I use Google,” said Tyler, who is 9 and lives in Alameda, California.

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.

“There are an increasing number of people who are doing video searches to supplement and improve what they do in their offline lives,” said Suranga Chandratillake, the chief executive of Blinkx, a video search engine.

With inexpensive cameras flooding the market and a proliferation of Web sites hosting seemingly unlimited numbers of clips, it’s never been easier to create and upload video. You can now find an online video on virtually any topic. Web videos teach how to grout a tub, offer reviews of the latest touch-screen phones and give you a feel for walking across the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

The consumption of video has followed a similar trajectory. In November, 146 million Americans watched videos online, streaming a total of 12.6 billion clips, or nearly double the number they streamed just 20 months ago, comScore said.

YouTube itself has grown even faster. Its share of videos streamed soared to 40 percent in November from 17 percent in March 2007.

And now YouTube, conceived as a video hosting and sharing site, has become a bona fide search tool. Searches on it in the US 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, comScore said.

This startling statistic prompted Alex Iskold, the founder and chief executive of, a Web startup, to ask in a blog post, “Is YouTube the next Google?”

In other words, is YouTube effective as a mainstream search engine, and might it supplant or rival Google some day?

To test the idea, Iskold, whose inquiry was inspired partly by a conversation with Ian Kennedy, Tyler’s father, about his son’s search habits, performed a series of queries on YouTube and rated the results. Not surprisingly, some searches (vacuuming carpets, Donkey from Shrek) produced better results than others (George Washington, astrophysics).

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