When will video dominate text on the Web?

January 18th, 2009

Information on the Web comes in many forms, including text, images, services, data, games, and video. I’ve always considered text to be the essential type, possibly because it was the first, but also because so much of our Web experience has been shaped by search engines, which still operate mostly on text. But just as television and film dominate books and other forms of text in popular culture, maybe video-oriented modalities will become the preferred form of Web content.

Today’s New York Times has an article, At First, Funny Videos. Now, a Reference Tool, about how many search for information on YouTube first and turn to text search engines only when their YouTube results are inadequate.

“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 television series, he goes to YouTube again.

While he favors YouTube for searches, he said he also turns to Google from time to time. “When they don’t have really good results on YouTube, then I use Google,” said Tyler, who is 9 and lives in Alameda. Calif.

The article reports that the number of YouTube searches now recently exceeded those on Yahoo, which had been number two.

“In November, Americans conducted nearly 2.8 billion searches on YouTube, about 200 million more than on Yahoo, according to comScore.”

You can see this trend in comScore’s December 2008 Search Engine Rankings report.

It’s hard to say where this is going. Video is great for some kinds of information (e.g, demonstrations, events) and less good for others (e.g., recipes, careful arguments). We can easily link information in text to related information, but can’t (yet) for videos. We can more easily write programs to process text and even extract semantic information from it.

But I have a feeling that nine year old Tyler Kennedy is a sign of things to come.