There are plenty of places to watch online video, but still no easy way to find a particular clip without suffering through a lot of trial and error.
Now a startup led by a former Yahoo Inc. engineer is promising to simplify Internet video search with a complex technology that enables computers to recognize images, such as actors' faces, and index them scene-by-scene.
"We absolutely think that it's a leap forward in finding and discovering video on the Web," said Lior Delgo, who left Yahoo in 2006 to start VideoSurf. His previous startup was the travel search engine FareChase, which he sold to Yahoo in 2004 for an undisclosed amount.
VideoSurf showcased its search engine for the first time Wednesday at a conference hosted by the blog TechCrunch. A test version is up and running, but visitors still must submit an e-mail address and obtain a password to use it.
VideoSurf's "computer vision" is much different than other video search engines such as YouTube, Blinkx and EveryZing that read written tags assigned to video or scan transcripts of their spoken words in order to catalog clips.
"We have taught computers to see inside the videos," Delgo said.
The approach enables VideoSurf, which has indexed millions of clips from YouTube, Hulu and other popular video sites, to detect specific people appearing in a video, even if their names haven't been tagged to every scene. For instance, a search for Alec Baldwin might produce thumbnails from his work on the TV show "30 Rock" as well as his famous sales talk in the movie "Glengarry Glen Ross."
The clips can be seen on VideoSurf's own site, giving the San Mateo, Calif.-based startup a chance to make money from ads. For now, Delgo and VideoSurf's 21 other employees are getting by on $5.5 million provided by investors who include Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, who co-founded Current TV with the former vice president.