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Sep 11, 2008

ITunes 8: The Genius in the Box, Picassa and VideoSurf

Ed: Genius = Social Graph of Songs; Picassa and VideoSurf = search based on image recognition. Emerging theme is simplify search for multi-media like photos, videos, and songs.

ITunes 8: The Genius in the Box

itunes_genius_logo.jpgMusic discovery services are definitely a hot topic right now, with PandoraLast.fmimeem, and others vying for users. Yesterday, Apple joined the fray when it released iTunes 8 and its 'Genius' recommendation engine. After examining your iTunes library, iTunes uploads data about your library to Apple's servers and returns back a set of information about how the songs in your library correlate to each other. Based on this, iTunes can now build playlists of similar songs and display shopping recommendations.

How Does it Work?

itunes_genius_sidebar.pngAs is typical for Apple, the company is not exactly transparent when it comes to describing how the 'Genius' feature actually works. It looks as if Apple compares your music selection to that of other users and then builds its recommendations based on this. We assume that iTunes looks at data about play and skip counts, beats per minute (which is available for all songs in the iTunes store), ratings, and playlists...

What about Last.fm and Pandora?

As Last.fm co-founder Marting Stiksel pointed out in an interview with Wired's Eliot Van Buskirk, the 'Genius' feature basically validates what other music recommendation services have been doing for a long time.

It's also important to point out that a lot of other music recommendation services have strong, built-in social networking functions. Apple, even though it now has information about the listening habits of a large chunk of its users, does nothing to connect these users. One neat function, for example, would be for iTunes to show playlists from other users that have a certain songs in it. For now, though, it doesn't seem as if Apple is interested in adding these social aspects to iTunes anytime soon...

TC50: Scoble Declares That VideoSurf “Doesn’t Suck”

Video search is an unsolved problem. VideoSurf applies hardcore computer vision technology to this problem and finds relevant results beyond what may already be available to text-based search methods. In the demo at TechCrunch50, the startup showed how you might want to search for a scene in the show Entourage. You can drill down to the show, and then are presented with thumbnails of all of the characters, left to right at the top of the screen by level of importance. By clicking on a character, you get all the scenes in which that character appears, as well as related scenes.

A search starts with a keyword or normal guided navigation, but quickly becomes driven visually. Every time you click on a thumbnail, based on the visual cues, you are taken to exactly the right moment in the scene. Other thumbnails of related video snippets also appear. VideoSurf automatically adds tags and metadata to each and every frame of video. That is what is driving the search results. Once you click on the scene you want, you can watch it. Or, if you want to share a specific moment, you can set some time sliders and send exactly the scene you want off to your friends and family.

Robert Scoble, one of the TC50 judges, summed up his reaction (and that of much of the audience): “Finally, a Website that doesn’t suck.”

Panel Q&A:

Bradley Horowitz: I have some experience in the space. I studied computer vision at MIT. If you are looking for a Mentos video, you don’t need a Mentos detector. People capture that. I didn’t see that social [element]. Are you taking a hypertechnical approach to solving video search?

CEO Lior Delgo: “People are not going to go and tag every frame in the video. That is what we are doing, going frame by frame and creating metadata that does not exist. You can ask everyone in the audience to tag each frame, you won’t be able to do that? This technology has never been done before. This is the first time it is working.”

Joi Ito: “When you say look into the video, how are you doing it, how accurate is it?”

CTO Dr. Eitan Sharon: “We go everywhere from detecting scenes, get the unique and important moments, also extract the people. So the same person is grouped together, and all the appearances will be presented together. It has face recognition.”

Ito: “Obviously, it could also be used for surveillance. Can I look for “Scoble sex,”? What will I find?”

Michael Arrington: “Zero results.”

Scoble: “How long does it take to process and index each video?”

Sharon: “Much faster than real time.”

Scoble: “Can this be done for streaming video?”

Sharon: “We can process it in real-time as well.”

Sheryl Sandberg. “It is based on being able to understand the data in the first place. The reason AdSense worked is because there is a deep understanding of the content. What exists for text-based content does not exist for anything else. If you think about actually being able to metatag video, this is exciting. I also think that starting with a consumer Website is the right start

Horowitz: “If you look at PageRank, we look at link flux. The context is important, where does this exist in the Web. You want to go beyond just drilling down into the data. I don’t see that here.”

Arrington: “It would be nice if a computer could tell you what’s inside a picture.”

Horowitz: “Did you see Picassa? We launched face recognition last week.”

Delgo: “The information we are able to collect is way more relevant.”

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