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Finally, Caption Playback

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 9/19/2006 03:09:00 PM

By now, you may have noticed that we've just introduced a small but significant new feature that many of us have long awaited: playback of captions and subtitles! If you haven't tried it yet, you can go to this page, select a captioned video, and while playing it you can click on the [CC] symbol to turn captions on and off.

Although many of us are responsible for making this possible, it's particularly meaningful to me because I'm not only an engineer fortunate enough to work on Google Video -- I'm also deaf. In some ways this reminds me of when closed-captioning (CC) was first introduced; before that, little on TV made sense and the only movies worth paying for were foreign films, because those were the only ones with subtitles! I now have the same sense of hope that I did then, when you could finally see visible progress and knew for sure that however long it took to perfect things, we really were on the way.

But I won't kid you -- there are still light-years to go, and I'm painfully aware of how limited our first implementation is. For example, you'll notice that it only works for videos using our Flash player (in a browser); US viewers may be bothered that our captions look more like subtitles than TV captions, and non-US viewers may be baffled by the [CC] symbol; and so on and on, not even counting the bugs that infect all new features. But most importantly by far, only a very small fraction of videos are currently captioned. Nor is the quality always good.

However, this is exactly the same problem faced by the early proponents of CC, and it is this very issue which has compelled us to start with baby mis-steps sooner, rather than a giant leap of perfection later. Now that viewers can see the results, we hope that more people will be inspired to caption more videos, and that other services will be encouraged to support similar capabilities. The potential applications here for search quality, automatic translation, and speech recognition should also become more obvious.

Every time I watch TV I'm thankful to all of the many people who first developed and brought closed-captioning to fruition, and wish I could have helped them. So it's enormously gratifying that Google Video has given me an opportunity to help carry on their work into new domains.

And you, too, can help! Please do send us your comments, bug reports, or suggestions; whether or not you think they're new, your collective feedback will be invaluable in helping us promote these capabilities and guide our decisions on which features need to be done next.

-- Ken Harrenstien