Blinkx Reinvents Itself Again, Adapting to the Future of Video

9/18/12Follow @wroush

I’ve rarely run into a company as adaptable, even Protean, as Blinkx. I’ve been following it since it spun off from Autonomy in 2004 with the mission of finding applications for Autonomy’s search and indexing technology. The first area that founder and CEO Suranga Chandratillake explored was desktop search for Macs and PCs, but within a year the company pivoted into video search. Since then it’s reinvented its approach to the video market every couple of years.

In its early incarnations Blinkx was a video search portal—it indexed video across the Web and helped visitors to Blinkx.com find what they were looking for, monetizing the operation by showing its own pre-roll or post-roll ads. Later it de-emphasized its own site and became a provider of video search services to bigger content aggregators such as Ask.com, Real Networks, and AOL.

But the company wasn’t entirely content to operate in the shadow of its big customers. In 2011 the company acquired its own network of publishing sites by buying Massachusetts-based Burst Media. And today, in response to the rise of what might be called “social content discovery,” it unveiled the beta version of its redesigned website, Blinkx.com, with the aim of turning it into the company’s flagship product.

Blinkx's website, before its redesign (above) and after (below)

Chandratillake stepped aside as CEO earlier this year to focus on product development—his new title is chief strategy officer, with former chief operating officer Brian Mukherjee now holding the CEO reins. He says his team has redesigned the site “from the ground up” to encourage browsing as an alternative to traditional search. “Yes, there are times when you know exactly what you want, and we still offer that of course,” he says. But now the bulk of the site consists mainly of an endlessly scrolling wall of popular videos. “You can keep scrolling until you find something interesting. The whole concept of this never-ending stream is that if you are the typical ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder] user, you can flick around until you find what you are interested in.”

Another key change is social integration: if you connect Blinkx to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, the site will show you videos being shared by your Facebook friends and the people you follow on Twitter, or by people whose interests match yours. “You might find that Twitter is the most accurate view onto what you are interested in, while Facebook is more funny videos that your friends like. Either way, we have a pretty good chance of finding stuff you actually want to watch.”

Finally, the site has been redesigned to work equally well in desktop, tablet, or smartphone browsers. “When we last redesigned the site, 99.9 percent of people came in through desktops and laptops,” Chandratillake says. “But increasingly they’re using iPads and Android phones and even connected TV boxes. So we wanted to make sure that what we build was going to work on all these different screens, and do so seamlessly, without feeling like it was designed for one and rehashed for the others.”

In many ways, Blinkx’s redesign reflects the big, ongoing shift away from purely algorithmic search toward socially filtered or curated discovery experiences; call it the Pinterestization of everything. That’s why elements of Blinkx’s new setup resemble video discovery offerings from youngers startups like Remixation (maker of Showyou), Dijit Media (NextGuide), Matcha, BuddyTV, and Clicker.

But Chandratillake says Blinkx’s core expertise in understanding unstructured data—including the actual content of videos, not just metadata like titles and tags—still gives it a leg up over … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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