AOL Takes 'SingingFish' Search Off Ice

Nearly one year after America Online netted itself a SingingFish, the company is ready to go public as a destination site. Come Wednesday, the SingingFish audio and video search engine -- which one existed solely as a demonstration for its licensees -- will go live with a brand new face and renewed purpose: To provide users with rapid access to streaming media that they cannot find with traditional search engines.

Until recently, AOL relegated SingingFish to the back end, using the service to power the AOL client software's AV search tab until it noticed an emerging trend; Due to word of mouth marketing, the search engine began receiving approximately 700,000 queries per day on its Web front-end out of a grand total of nearly 7 million queries per day between the search page and back-end.

"That does not exactly mean that Google is shaking in its boots," said an AOL spokesperson. But, the spokesperson pointed out that 7 million queries a day is nearly the same daily traffic served by Ask Jeeves and Lycos last year, according to a March 2003 Piper Jaffe report commissioned on second tier search engines.

Aside from being used within the AOL client, SingingFish is also licensed to Microsoft, RealNetworks and Infospace.

According to AOL, the main difference between SingingFish and other search engines is that it was designed to provide results for customers who are just looking for streaming media and nothing else. Results are not limited to music, movies and music videos; AOL claims that a even customer looking for a video demonstration on how to bait a fishing hook can find what they are looking for.

"Singingfish solves the unique problem of searching for streaming audio and video content, a process for which most traditional, Web search engines are not well equipped. Timing is right, too. Rapidly increasing consumer broadband usage widens interest in streaming content. For example, more than half of consumers watching videos online have broadband," Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews.

Wilcox himself provides the example of a Google search for "We Like to Party" by the Vengaboys not returning any results; whereas, SingingFish provided a clickable sound bite.

BetaNews was told that in order to produce relevant results, SingingFish cannot rely on information embedded in files themselves. The engine cross references metadata encoded in streams with its own rules and annotates from third party databases. Some metadata will be accepted in queries, but metadata is always superseded by trusted data sources.

When users do find what they are looking for, but are unable to playback streaming media, the updated SingingFish will prompt them to install the media player associated with the file. A spokesperson was not certain how the site would interact with alternative media players.

Some other capabilities that will be taken off the ice with SingingFish on Wednesday are: filters that are applied toward each search minus the 'advanced' nomenclature; the ability to e-mail searches to friends and colleagues; listings of popular queries; staff favorites; and a "I am bored" section that will play random media clips on request. Additional features will be added in within the coming weeks.

"I expect the Singingfish portal to more immediately appeal to younger consumers searching for entertainment content. According to JupiterResearch surveys, in the last 12 months, among 18-24 year olds, 30 percent listened to streamed music and 22 percent watched a music video at least monthly or more frequently," said Jupiter's Wilcox.

AOL expects to reach the one million query mark by the end of the calendar year.

To test SingingFish, visit the official Web site. A link to the beta page will be available until the production site is launched.

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