In Depth

Column: YouTube Is a Search Engine

As video has become ubiquitous online, the path we take to the billions of Web videos has started to mirror our online routes to other content.

By that I mean search.

Search has become one of the most popular ways to find video online. But I also believe that not only is search the tour guide to Web video, YouTube itself is becoming something of a search engine for video.

For starters, let’s look at the broader consumer behavior online.

In August search engines were responsible for sending 29.5% of all traffic to video sites, up from about 22% a year ago, according to data from online audience measurement firm Hitwise.

The trend is similar for YouTube specifically. Over the last year, traffic from Google to YouTube has grown by more than 70%. Currently Google is responsible for 23% of all traffic to YouTube.

“YouTube is a repository of videos and where you go to search for videos,” said Bill Tancer, global head of research at Hitwise and author of the recently released book “Click.”

And because it’s a repository, it’s becoming a search engine. Can’t remember who kissed whom first in last season’s finale of “Grey’s Anatomy?” Go to YouTube and search. Want to see Sarah Palin spoof videos? Take a look on YouTube. Your kid hankering for a “Pokemon” fix? Find it on YouTube.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. This idea of YouTube as a search engine came from Joy Marcus, general manager, North America, for the video site Dailymotion, during a recent interview. I asked her how she differentiates her site, which she deemed a “programmed environment,” from the competition. “The YouTube differentiation is simple. YouTube is an amazing search engine,” she stated.

And you know what? It kind of is.

Sure, I know there’s a lot more to the site. In fact, YouTube spokeswoman Kathleen Fitzgerald pointed out that YouTube has many other features, such as annotations, sharing, video responses, contests, personalized recommendations, channels, voting and ratings, as well as search, she said.

“YouTube has some features of a search engine, but it’s more of an entertainment destination with search capabilities,” she said.

YouTube, then, is in the eye of the beholder. So how do you use YouTube? Is it becoming a search engine for you? Post a comment on TVWeek.com and let me know.