VideoSurf Launches Way Cool Visual Video Search

Every once in a while it’s fun to get something right! I wrote about VideoSurf here a month ago based on what I could drag up about the company after hearing about it at a party. The startup, I found out, is led by computer vision experts from academia and folks from FareChase (bought by Yahoo). It was funded by Al Gore and Joel Hyatt. And it’s trying to help people find relevant videos on the web.

Well, even though we wrote about them before they wanted us to, the folks at VideoSurf were nice enough to talk to us in advance of the company launching at the TechCrunch50 conference today, and didn’t dispute anything in our initial report. The San Mateo, Calif.-based company has raised $5.5 million from angels including Hyatt, its chairman of the board, VideoSurf told us Tuesday. It’s using methods pioneered by its chief scientist Achi Brandt for hierarchical processing of large data set problems called multiscale/multigrid. And it’s launching a destination video search site.

I’ve written here plenty about how tools for video search and discovery lag behind the quick-moving world of online video, especially in terms of user/viewer numbers. Many people don’t seem to want a special tool to find videos beyond what they can already get by visiting YouTube. So companies in the category have turned to white-labeling and video-fingerprinting as more promising business models than being a video search brand.

But VideoSurf is pushing itself as a destination site, a risky strategy that may very well leave its very cool technology unseen by many people unless it reverses this trend of video search obscurity. Still, the technology does indeed look super cool. I was really impressed by the interface I saw demoed, which gives most of the search result real estate to a chain of thumbnails within a video, so users can see at a glance where what they’re looking for happens and navigate through a video visually.

Shots of characters within a video are isolated and matched up to a single face, who for popular shows like Entourage (see the screenshot below; click to make it bigger) are labeled by VideoSurf employees as the character/actor they represent (labeling is not yet available to the public). Then you can refine your search to show only results with that person. Super neat stuff if you’re trying to find a particular scene or moment!

Then when you find a particular spot in a video, you can send it to friends directly from the site, and when they click through they will arrive at that specific moment (see below).

VideoSurf doesn’t search paid video, but it does handle video sites that don’t offer embeds by showing their videos within its page in an IFrame with its thumbnails juxtaposed (see below). The site has extremely minimal personalization and social features for the moment — all you can do is track a favorite search term.

The company said it won’t launch a monetization platform for the site till later this year, but I’d imagine when it does come out it will involve recognizing topics and products in a video.

Another video search company at the TechCrunch50 conference this week, there as an alum since it demoed last year, is CastTV, which is finally now in public beta. It also uses some computer vision, and has a very different (and also cool) interface from VideoSurf that’s based around grouping and organizing all the clips, paid video, full-length episodes, and user-generated content on the web for popular shows and topics like the NFL and The Hills. CastTV is also trying to be a destination site but it’s hedging its bets with white-labeling.