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Net giants look for next 'Star Wars' kid

Net media outlets, start-ups envision social network that lets the masses find and determine what's hot on the Web.

SAN FRANCISCO--Will the next "Star Wars" kid please stand up?

Internet media outlets are striving to discover the next quirky or gripping low-budget online video so they can drive consumer demand for multimedia, bring in advertising or licensing dollars, and put their own video search engines and archives on the map.

But talent--like the 15-year-old "Star Wars" fan who inadvertently became an Internet star when a video of him staging a mock light saber battle found its way online--can be hard to find. And studios and broadcasters have yet to make much content available online due to piracy fears.

That's why portals like Yahoo and Google, as well as start-ups such as Grouper and Veoh Networks, are attempting to create a new kind of social network. They want everyone--from upcoming filmmakers to artistic nobodies--to film videos, upload them to the Web, and let the masses decide what's worth watching and what's not.

Still, Net media outlets face challenges in the form of copyright theft, format compatibility, advanced search and distribution tools, and finding the right revenue models. And until those are hammered out, the next generation of video consumption online will stay backstage.

Executives from Yahoo, Grouper and Veoh gathered Wednesday at the second annual Web 2.0 Conference here to discuss some of those issues and promote upcoming innovations in Net video during a panel called "Video 2.0: When and How Will it Come."

"The technology barriers (like processing speed and storage) have been eliminated, so the question is, how do you create compelling content other than porn that people want to pay for?" said Dmitry Shapiro, CEO of Veoh Networks, whose video network launched last week.

"The barriers to distribution and monetization, once you remove those, there will be a flood of computer user-generated content," Shapiro said.

Veoh Networks makes client software and a peer-to-peer network for consumers to distribute and watch broadcast-quality video on a PC. It includes a TiVo-like interface that lets people watch video on demand. Grouper is doing a similar thing with a downloadable client that lets people share personally created media.

Yahoo introduced its video search engine in the last year. The company regularly licenses video clips from content producers, but it is also gearing up to create original programming of its own.

During the panel, Yahoo executive Bradley Horowitz hinted at using some technologies from Flickr, the online photo community it purchased earlier this year, to stoke demand for video. Flickr relies on users' practice of tagging pictures with words to describe the images. Then people can search and organize photos based on those captions. A new Flickr feature called "interestingness," shows the photos that are most viewed or commented on; such a feature could be adapted for online videos, said Horowitz, director of technology development at Yahoo Search and Marketplace.

"We look at use patterns and, based on activity and comments, rank the order of photos, so you can say, 'Show me the most interesting stuff,'" Horowitz said.

"It's social search as opposed to pure search," he added. That way, Yahoo could organize a collection of videos most watched by hipsters in New York City, for example.

Through its research arm in Berkeley, Calif., and with the help of director Marc Davis, Yahoo is also developing ways to parse video by segments through inventive tagging methods. People could designate the "most romantic kiss" or "best car chase" in a movie or video, Horowitz said. That way, they could jump to the part they're interested in and remix film clips in novel ways. Davis researches "social uses of personal media" at the research unit, according to the Web site.

The subject of incompatible video compression technology, or codecs, came up as a stumbling block to cuing up video anytime, anywhere. Veoh's Shapiro said that his network is working on ensuring that it can translate any codec to another and make it easy for users to upload and watch video. Horowitz said Yahoo will do the same.

"We already do that with Flickr," he said. "But it's incumbent on us as an industry to make it as easy as drag and drop, or drag and forget," he said, referring to uploading video to the Internet so it can be watched by the masses.