The list of Web sites serving up an array of video services is getting longer all the time. Most are a clearinghouse for countless short clips, ranging from the humorous to informative to downright odd. Some provide tools for uploading and sharing. Others are online video stores. Some, including Google Video, are a combination of all three.
This site from search giant Google (GOOG) is still in the testing phase, so the features and content are likely to change in coming months. But Google is putting enough emphasis on the site—nudging aside Froogle on its main page to make room for the video search tool—that it seemed worthy of inclusion in our series on Web video sites. My early take: Google Video is a decidedly mixed bag. The site is chock full of those funny and often bizarre videos you find zipping around the Net. It also has material for sale from CBS (CBS) and the National Basketball Assn. But overall it's limited and less than spectacular.
There are a few things Google Video does quite well. As you would expect from a company whose stated mission is to organize the world's information, Google's video site has a wealth of clips. Also, casual visitors to the site don't need to sign in to enjoy Google Video's fruits. If you plan to upload or buy videos, you need to register. But that process is brief, free, and leaves you with a nifty Gmail account.
STUCK WITH HASSELHOFF. Google makes it easy to upload video as well, offering two methods. One is Google Video Desktop Uploader software. But for those who can't or don't want to download the software, the site has its own "browse and search" function that lets you physically choose video to upload from your computer. I was able to use both without a problem, and both methods take about the same amount of time.
It was when I started to search for videos that I encountered problems. The site shares Google's stark, user-friendly interface and feel. But finding what you want isn't as easy as using Google to find Web sites. For instance, I looked for clips featuring comedian Chris Rock. The first few results included the artist. But once I got past that handful, the relevance dropped off markedly. The sixth result: "[Rock Climbing] Chris Sharma-Boulder."
I was also disappointed by the range of choices under Google's categories, which include "Music Videos," "Movies," and "Sports." My search for clips of Chris Rock was stuck in the mud, but my desire to laugh was nowhere near satiated. So I checked out the "Comedy" section. Aside from a laughable music video from David Hasselhoff, I didn't find much that tickled my funny bone.
DEARTH OF FAVORITES. If it's viral videos you want, then head over to the "Top 100" section. But be warned, the content may not always be safe for kids or the workplace. Another problem with the site: Google Video doesn't include the personalized functions that have made competing Web sites so popular. Aside from a page that manages any purchased or uploaded videos you may have, there aren't any features to give Google Video users a homey feel. YouTube users are able to personalize a MySpace-style homepage, complete with adjustable backgrounds and fonts (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/3/06, "YouTube: Entertainment for Everyone").
Finally, a word on the videos available for purchase. Users can buy content, including CBS programs and NBA games, from a number of media outlets. Unfortunately, the content available for purchase isn't the most entertaining. Instead of featuring popular television shows like Lost, American Idol, Jailbreak, and 24, the best you'll do on Google Video for now is MacGyver, Charlie Rose, and NCIS. Even the NBA content isn't the best. At nearly $2 a download, why not spend the money at Apple's (AAPL) iTunes store, where you can buy content that you'll actually watch?
Other video-content Web sites let users create channels that act like filters, always searching for the content they desire the most. Aside from the constant flow of home recordings, there seems to be little that begs the user to come back to Google Video for more. As competing Web sites grow and mature, Google Video will have to take the necessary steps to improve its video content and offer more attractive programming. Unfortunately, David Hasselhoff isn't enough to keep the viewers coming back for more.