Open Source Reporting::The Search for a Fighter Jet and a Groundhog

    by Mark Glaser
    February 2, 2006

    i-099db08669ad5f0804eeb30438ce1759-Punxsutawney Phil.JPG
    A little over a week ago, I told you about my frustration in trying to find video of the 2004 Summer Olympics using all the hot video search engines. In the spirit of “open source reporting,” I asked some of you to share your own experiences of trying to find video using popular video search engines such as Google Video, Blinkx, AOL Search and others.

    Some of you admonished me that searching for something owned by NBC like the Olympics video would be difficult on the open web. You also mentioned that TiVo with a large hard drive might become the search venue of choice in the future, that somehow TiVo would include ways to search online and locally through a major stockpile of video programming.

    Points taken. But only one of you took up my challenge to actually test the video search engines. Jim Jones of La Grande, Oregon, wrote to tell me that he searched for “Avro Vulcan,” the name of a British fighter jet from the 1950s. OK, this isn’t something owned by a TV network, it’s a bit esoteric, but of course there must be video of this aircraft somewhere online.


    Here’s what Jim reported to me on his findings:

    1. AllTheWeb — 4 valid hits (all playable)
    2. AltaVista — 3 valid hits
    3. Lycos Pictures and Sounds — 0
    4. Singingfish — 0
    5. Blinkx – 0 (it asked if I meant Avril Lavigne!)

    Jim said that he was unable to query Yahoo or Google so I did it myself. Google had one result, which looked like a valid video of an Avro Vulcan bomber. Yahoo had three results, but in all cases, it asked me to download the video; that is, I couldn’t watch it streaming online.


    Underdog search engines AllTheWeb and AltaVista seemed to shine in Jim’s test case. So I wondered whether that might play out in a different example. I decided rather than choosing something from the past, I would choose something from the present day — Groundhog Day. And what better to watch on Groundhog Day than that rascally groundhog looking for his shadow?

    I ran a search for “Punxsutawney Phil” (the name of the groundhog in question) on the major video search engines, but had mixed results. AllTheWeb indeed pointed me to many CNN video results, but I had to hunt around for video on the resulting pages, which asked me to upload a video plug-in player. Ugh. AltaVista also had what looked like valid results, but I couldn’t bring up a video to watch. Google Video brought up zero results, and the one AOL result I had linking to CBSNews video brought up an error message. Double ugh.

    In this case, Yahoo Video really came through. While the search results looked similar to that of AllTheWeb and AltaVista, Yahoo has a special Video Preview section at the top of the page you select. For example, this same CNN video page includes a section at the top with a “Play Video” link that actually works! Imagine that. Using that preview section, I was able to watch the CNN and CBS videos without a problem. Blinkx also had numerous results that worked with just a click.

    So what have we learned through our video search tests of the 2004 Summer Olympics, a British fighter jet, and the groundhog who did see his shadow today? A mixed bag. Yahoo seems to be improving, Blinkx has a nice interface (and likes Avril Lavigne more than bomber jets), and Google is so-so — but don’t count out lesser known sites such as AllTheWeb and AltaVista.

    This case is not closed by a longshot, so please continue to send along your experiences doing video search either in the comments below or via the Feedback page, and I’ll continue to report on the findings with credit to you.

    • I was working on a story on “morphing” political ads over the weekend. These were a big deal in the 1994 Congressional elections — practically every Republican challenger ran them against Democratic incumbents. (The incumbents’ pictures would morph into Bill Clinton — then suffering from low poll numbers).

      They were historically significant since they played a major role in the GOP capturing control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

      But I was unable to find a single one of the ads on the major search engines.

    • Using plain old Google and the following search string [“punxsutawney phil” video] I found plenty of links to video clips of the groundhog.

      The same strategy worked well for the 2004 Summer Olympics, as I found this treasure trove of multimedia highlights and interviews:


      A creative method in a tried and true search engine usually yields the best results; a year of digging with ePluribus Media has proved this statement true.

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