THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

New YouTube Auto Captioning Aids Search, Usability, and the Hearing Impaired (video)

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA -- YouTube recently added automatic captioning to its videos, in a move that has far-reaching implications for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, international users, and publishers who seek increase search optimization.

I traveled down to Google's headquarters yesterday to meet with Ken Harrenstien, a software engineer at Google who helped develop the system.

While YouTube has offered captioning capabilities since 2006, the new features make the process of adding them easier on some videos and also lets creators time up the captions to the spoken words in a video, Harrenstien explained through an interpreter. (His wife Lori served as his interpreter during our visit.)

In addition, the captions can be translated into 51 languages making many English-language videos accessible around the world now.

But there's also a strong business case to be made for captions because they improve the searchability of videos. "Because captions are text -- guess what? You can search them. And at Google we can use that to find out where exactly in a video there is a short snippet," he explained.

Adding captions can help grow views for publishers, he said. "Hopefully it will make it easier to add captions and I think very soon we will start to notice that it really makes a difference in how many people watch their videos."

The technology works by linking Google's automatic speech recognition technology with the YouTube caption system, Harrenstien explained. The automatic captioning is only available on a few channels, including PBS, National Geographic, and Duke University. In time, the goal is to expand that capability to all videos, we are told.

But any YouTube creator can use the automatic timing tool, which lets a user upload text when they post a video. YouTube then matches the spoken words to the written ones creating captions, Harrenstien explained.

From a personal standpoint, Harrenstien said he has dreamed about this technology for a long time. Because he has three young children, he doesn't have much time to watch videos, but now he said he can understand the ones they are watching.

Here's a story on the new captioning program by Miguel Helft of The New York Times.

This video was originally published on Beet.TV.