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YouTube to test smart 'topics' on videos

Searching for videos and finding related concepts on YouTube isn't as easy as it should be, according to the company. Enter "topics."

YouTube plans to start testing user reaction to what they are calling "topics," shown here to the right of the "Explore" link.
YouTube plans to start testing user reaction to what they are calling "topics," shown here to the right of the "Explore" link.

SAN BRUNO, Calif.--YouTube thinks it has found a better way to help its users find exactly which videos they're looking for on its site: smart tags.

At some point tomorrow evening, YouTube will turn on an experiment in TestTube, its lab, in which users will be able to see what the company is calling "topics" above videos they find through search results or that are shared among friends. These topics are sort of like tags, but are the product of sophisticated analysis of comments, viewing patterns, and other signals that will automatically appear above videos, said Palash Nandy, a staff engineer at YouTube, in a briefing for the media here at the company's headquarters.

"People don't know what to search for because they don't know what's there," Nandy said, referring to how Internet search and video search are two different problems. When you search on Google, you're generally looking for a defined result, you just don't know where it's located. But when you're looking to be entertained, and you search for something like "funny videos," how is YouTube supposed to know what is actually funny, and what is merely stupid yet was labeled "funny lol!" by some user? Or whether you find slapstick humor in the video you were sent funny but pranks and practical jokes in related videos also entitled "funny" actually boring?

To try and solve that problem, YouTube has decided to put these "topics" front and center on videos--at least for its experimental users--as to evaluate how they are used. For example, a video about fighter jets might have more specific topics automatically generated that relate to that video, such as "air force fighter jets," "blue angel bay area," or "air show footage," which a user could click on to see more videos of that type.

"We're really creating a language of discovery," Nandy said. It's not clear when YouTube might be ready to bring this into wider distribution, but those interested in checking it out should be able to opt into the program tomorrow night at TestTube.

Likewise, it's not clear when YouTube might be ready to speak the language of advertising just yet when it comes to these topics, as certain advertisers could find them valuable in the same manner that AdWords continues to rake in advertising dollars at YouTube parent Google.

YouTube also demonstrated a mobile application called YouTube Remote that allows Android users to control the YouTube application on their Google TV systems with their phones, as well as pause a video on their phones and start watching it on their Google TV. That application should be available in the Android Market this afternoon.