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Strategic insights
Google Video, what a waste

Written by on January 31, 2006

You would think that with all that money, Google should be able to launch a killer video store. But, in reality the only thing it kills are its users. Google Video is one huge lump of wasted efforts.

For starters, any person in marketing would tell you that you cannot launch something as big as this, and not deliver the content. One of the huge offerings was CSI, but so far only a single show has been published.

Also, you cannot keep it in beta. This is a public product now, not some playground for Google geeks.

User experience is non existent at Google Video

As far as usability goes, Google Video breaks almost any "best practice" in existence.

Search horror

The worst offender is search. Try to search for "Star Trek", and you find 15 free movies on the first page. Some are about star trek, some are not - but none of them are the real Star Trek shows. These you will find on page 3.

Then somebody told me that you can use the phrase "tv show". I tried that; writing "tv show star trek", or "star trek tv show". In both cases it returned even worse results - without a single TV show on the list (huh?).

Upon closer inspection I found that you have to explicitly write "tvshow:" but that did not help much either: Searching for "tvshow:star trek", the result was "Your search - tvshow:star trek did not return any results".

Note: The trick is to write: "tvshow:Star_Trek_Deep_Space_Nine" - including the underscores. My guess is that nobody will ever do that...

You can also sort your search result by date or title which is nice idea. If you want to see every episode of your favorite show, beginning with the first one, you could simply sort your videos by date - or so you would think.

The problem is that most of the videos on Google is not dated when they was recorded, but when they was published. As an example, every "Ed Sullivan" show is dated December 13, 2005. Other shows, like Star Trek, seem to be dated correctly, but on closer expectation they are not.

Sort by title?

Sorting by title seems to work, but only seems. A quick test reveals that Google video cannot even do that right.

  • The Very Best of The Ed Sullivan Show - Vol. 2
  • The Very Best Of The Ed Sullivan Show: Volume 1 - Unforgettable Performance

Searching is generally a disaster, and that is from a company who are supposed to have the best search engine around.

Watching videos

When you are finally are able to find a video, your video experience of horror continues.

The search result is not related to what you have access to. I live outside the US; I can search for Star Trek (and see the results), but I get "We're sorry, but this video is not available in your country" when I click on it. This is usability kindergarten - Never show people something they cannot get.

Other shows do not indicate that it is not available in my country but prominently displays the "Buy High Quality" button. I got to the point where it asked me to sign-in but no matter have many times I tried, I was returned to same screen. No error messages, no explanation, nothing - just wasted efforts and frustration on my part.

The "scenes" links does not have any relation to the video. On a DVD, Scenes are carefully made to divide the video into meaningful sections. With Google Video there is nothing meaningful about how the "scenes" are divided.

The description section is in desperate need of information design, instead of the wast majority of porly formatted and non-descriptive text.

The player?

It looks nice, but there several problems with that too.

The forward and backward buttons have their own life. They are designed as "playing buttons" meaning that by clicking on them they should scan forward or backwards - but they skip instead.

You might think that since it skips it will then skip in some kind of expected way. It could skip to the beginning of the scenes, which it doesn't. It could skip by a certain amount - like 1% or 10 sec., which it doesn't either. As far as I can tell, you cannot really tell where it will skip too - making the control rather hopeless to use. What is the point having these buttons if you cannot use them to get where you want?

Zoom options

Overall the zoom options actually work fine - except the full screen option. Google has adapted a rather user-hostile approach commonly seen in Real's media player. When selecting full screen mode, the screen will usually switch immediately and retain any streamed content.

When going into "Full Screen" mode in Google Video, it opens up a new window, causing it to load the new page and re-stream the video all over again. This effectively prevents anyone without the highest broadband connection to get a seamless viewing experience. I got a 4Mbps DSL connection and switching to full-screen mode took anything between a few seconds to almost half minute.

It gets worse; Google Video does not stream from the beginning, but from the point where you switched screen mode. The result is an uneven video interaction when trying to skip forward or backwards.

Google Napster

The first time I tried Google Video, I was amazed by the amount of illegal pirated content that can be found in it. Everything from several episode/clips from TopGear, to commercial videos from varies sources, to semi-sexual films by what seems to be kids below the legal age.

In fact, if you search for C.S.I., not only will you get the one show Google has officially posted, but you will also get a lot of ripped content from the show.

This is an outrage. How can a professional video store have this much illegal content? How can anyone selling legal content ever trust Google for protecting it (all it takes, is for somebody else to rip it, and publish it as a free version). I am surprised that none have filled a class-action law-suit yet.

Google have responded that "it will remove illegal content as it is made aware of it". But, clearly being made aware of it doesn't mean actually looking for it. My guess is that 80% of the free videos are illegal. Either because it is a ripped version of commercial content, copies of copyright protected material, videos that is not licensed to be displayed on Google, or content that is a criminal offense.

Google, this is a wake-up call

Microsoft and Apple are probably still laughing about Google Video. It is not, in any way, a serious competitor. Without the free-illegal content its offerings are not that exciting. After all, watching 10 year old TV-shows might be fun for a few weeks, but not as a long-term strategy. We want quality not quantity.

Overall Google Video is a joke, a failure, a project in serious need of testing and a usability nightmare. It is a marketing deception - more buzz than real.

What Google needs to do is:

  • Get it out of Beta
  • Fix the usability issues
  • Get the system and interface up to a 2006 standard (both coding and interaction design)
  • Hire editors, and do not allow anything on until it has been approved and edited by these people.
  • Remove illegal content
  • Setup a content rating system (not user rating, but something like the Movie Rating System or the TV Rating system)
  • Publish the content that Google claim to offer (C.S.I. for starters)
  • Get it right

Update: The hideous nature of Google Video continues. While watching a video clip I experienced a rather annoying "feature". It still goes into power save mode.

I got my laptop set on "If I am not doing anything, turn my screen off after 20 minutes" - and so it did. Apparently watching a Google Video qualifies as doing nothing.

That is awfully annoying because when watching a video you are usually in a very passive state. You are probably sitting very comfortably in a chair or resting in places suitable for resting. So when my screen suddenly turned black, I first had to try to think about what had happen - mind you the sound was still playing. Then I had to get up, move my lazy body over to the computer, hit the keyboard, and move my still lazy body back to where it was.

If that does not sound annoying, it gets worse. I was watching this particular video in full-screen mode - meaning that the original player window was paused in the background. But, for reasons I simply cannot comprehend it decided to restart that window. Now I was watching two videos at the same time - from different points in time (one from the beginning, the other about 20 minutes in).

Maybe this is Google's way to add a bit of AJAX. It sure is asynchronous video... or AVAX (Asynchronous Video And X - where X is the stunning amount of things that should have been tested but wasn't).

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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