YouTube Launching Automatic Video Captions

    November 19, 2009
    Chris Crum

YouTube is readying the launch of an automatic captions feature for the site’s videos. This and a new automatic caption timing feature will make it easier for anyone to add captions to their videos, and will enable anyone to read captions on more videos.

"Since the original launch of captions in our products, we’ve been happy to see growth in the number of captioned videos on our services, which now number in the hundreds of thousands," says software engineer Ken Harrenstien, who helped design YouTube’s caption features. "This suggests that more and more people are becoming aware of how useful captions can be. As we’ve explained in the past, captions not only help the deaf and hearing impaired, but with machine translation, they also enable people around the world to access video content in any of 51 languages. Captions can also improve search and even enable users to jump to the exact parts of the videos they’re looking for." (emphasis added)

"However, like everything YouTube does, captions face a tremendous challenge of scale," adds Harrenstein. "Every minute, 20 hours of video are uploaded. How can we expect every video owner to spend the time and effort necessary to add captions to their videos? Even with all of the captioning support already available on YouTube, the majority of user-generated video content online is still inaccessible to people like me."

To help with this problem, Google has utilized its automatic speech recognition technology, and integrated it with YouTube’s caption system to offer automatic captions. The captions generated by this will not always be perfect, as you can imagine, but as Harrenstein notes, even when they are flawed, they can still be quite helpful. He also says the technology will continue to improve over time.

YouTube is also launching automatic caption timing to make it easier to create captions manually. With this feature, users can just create a simple text file with all the words in the video, and Google will use the automatic speech recognition technology to figure out where the words are spoken and create the captions for the video. That’s pretty useful stuff.

Google says both new features will be available in English by the end of the week. At first, auto-caps will only be visible on a few partner channels, so they can get feedback. Eventually, they will roll out more broadly.

Related Articles:

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YouTube Translation Should Help Globalize Videos