Obviously, the big news from Google
The back story
Google's YouTube video sharing service added a closed-captions feature last year in an effort to make videos more valuable. A video with captions makes a lot more sense to a hearing-impaired user, of course, but there are many other reasons to support text in videos as well. And this week, YouTube became better in many ways -- all thanks to obscure Google projects that seem to have nothing to do with videos.
I've heard that some people might watch YouTube videos at work (but of course I wouldn't have any firsthand experience of that). The Apple
Other times, text just helps you understand better what people are saying. I'll fully admit to watching TV on a daily basis with the captions turned on, especially when faced with odd accents or the kind of dialogue where every word counts. And here's the kicker: When you convert spoken-word material into text, suddenly you can make it searchable, quotable, and translatable. And that makes better citizens in Google-land.
So Google is making it faster and easier to add captions to a video by incorporating automatic transcription into the process. It's the same speech-to-text algorithm that's used by Google Voice to create transcripts of voice mails. In turn, the whole shebang was originally trained with data from the 1-800-GOOG-411 directory assistance service.
The auto-captioning service will start small, with a handful of partners who specialize in lectures and instruction videos, including Yale, UCLA, PBS, and official channels of content produced by Google or YouTube staff. I expect to see a wide rollout in coming months when a few bugs and quirks have been worked out of the system. The idea is to eventually have captions on every video that needs them, and these auto-captioning tools simplify the process. As a corollary, the act of processing and then error-checking this first batch of videos should improve the quality of the transcription algorithms, which will make GOOG-411 and the voice mail features more useful as well.
The reasons why
And that is why Google keeps rolling out small, specialized services that seem to make no sense: They add up to a framework of tools that can be tied together into a greater lattice of goodness. If you're a tech geek like me, you might recognize this philosophy as a basic tenet of Unix operating systems, where a handful of super-specialized tools can be chained together in a script or command line to do amazing things. Google is a master of algorithm magic like this in a way that Microsoft and Yahoo!
So Google hands out 411 information for free, which must be a huge thorn in the sides of AT&T