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blinkx Shows Web Video News for Couch Potatoes

Until now, the Internet has been a medium that demanded activity. You searched and clicked and flitted from one page to another. Even for videos, people searched and clicked and flitted.

The Web is also increasingly being used for more passive experiences, especially watching TV shows and movies on sites like Hulu and Netflix. So it was inevitable that people would start to develop ways to use the flexibility and customization of the Internet to create new sorts of passive experiences.

A new design by blinkx, a video search engine, is a step in that direction. There is still the opportunity to search for videos matching certain text, or to browse videos in various categories. But there are two new prominent buttons: “Inform me” and “Entertain me.”

Click the Inform me button and you see what in effect is a TV news show. It’s created with technology akin to Google News by showing clips of various stories from around the Web, one after another. The Entertain me button shows a stream of goofy short videos that are drawn from YouTube and such sites.

If you do nothing, it looks like television. But if you want, there are more controls. The easiest is simply to move your mouse over the screen and you will see forward and back buttons so you can simply skip a boring bit and move on to the next clip. Push a button in the corner marked More Information and you get a very complex screen with many options. It shows the play list of the clips that have been chosen so you can move right to what interests you.

Also there are options to find other videos similar to the ones on the list. blinkx uses text recognition so it can categorize videos based on the words spoken in them as well as text that Web sites associate with them. The site uses this technology to create a similar passive channel related to any search query you enter.

So far, I find these less than fully satisfactory. The related video search function feels a bit random and hard to control. The Entertain me button is full of clips of people crashing into the side of ping pong tables and dogs dancing to the James Bond theme. This simply isn’t my genre, so I’m not the best one to say whether the blinkx algorithm is picking the best ones. (blinkx says it looks at what other Web sites say are the most popular clips.)

As for news, the site does a decent job of picking clips that are related to the top stories of the day. And it can filter out duplicates, so it doesn’t repeat different reports on the same topic. The problem now is that blinkx uses reports only from sources that it has licensed, mainly The Associated Press, Reuters and ITN of Britain. As a news junkie, I’d love to see a video version of this with more of the major video news channels.

But I still believe this format — passive experiences that users can control if they choose — is going to be very important, especially in a world where people are watching Internet TV on their big screens. And blinkx is showing a slick interface that it can develop and others will copy.