Boxfish – See What They’re Saying

Terrifying concept?

How do you search TV? Titles and prepackaged programme information are available, sure, but it’s the content that’s of real interest. In particular, the vast amount of fresh content that TV generates every minute, around the clock. It’s relevant, immediate, important – and unobtainable.

Or it was, until Eoin Dowling and Kevin Burkitt, two Irish guys working in Silicon Valley, had one of those ideas. The data is there. Most TV channels have captioning, streaming dialogue and often description in text form right alongside the images. It’s intended to help hearing-impaired viewers of course, but its potential is greater even than that. All you need to do is strip that text out and you can index it just like any search engine indexes the Web. Using technology they devised themselves, and by arrangement with major broadcasters in the US, UK, and Ireland, Dowling and Burkitt created Boxfish, a search engine for the captioning data stream.

It’s still in beta and a little unrefined. I see no way yet, for example, to limit the results to just one of those countries. But it works and it’s fast, returning results for your search terms often within seconds of the word being uttered in a broadcast.

Some have complained that it fetches just the text itself and not the video clip it transcribes, but as desirable as that would be for entertainment purposes, to focus on it is to overlook the real usefulness of Boxfish. Visual medium or no, the vast majority of the actual information on television, particularly the content that itself becomes news – interviews, discussions, briefings – is delivered verbally. Boxfish will make that information far more accessible. If that seems a small thing, consider how instant reporting of what’s said on television will break down a major barrier between broadcasting and the Internet, allowing far deeper integration between old and new media. Picture for example setting up alerts to switch you to a channel as soon as a hot term is mentioned. That could change how people use television.

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