YouTube, the leading destination for video sharing online, has announced today that they are rolling out their Auto-Captioning service on all videos.  In a press conference at their San Bruno campus, their Director of Product Management, Hunter Walk, gave a walkthrough of the technology for members of the media.

You may remember that YouTube began rolling out auto-captions in November of last year, but only on a limited basis.  Now, however, they’re adding the feature to all videos  (good one Mark – prediction #3).

The Auto-Captioning service works via voice-analysis—not unlike the technology that allows you to speak the name of a person into your smart phone and have it dial them without pushing any buttons.  But it’s far from perfect.  Speech-to-text, as a technology, has been around for years.  But it’s yet to have been perfected to the point where I can dictate a Word document’s contents by voice only to my PC and have them come out error-free.  So there will be some hiccups in the system’s ability to accurately caption some videos.

But YouTube must be pretty darn confident that it will work properly most of the time, or they wouldn’t be rolling it out to everyone.  YouTube, like their parent company Google, has shown a willingness in the past to test features and services on a limited basis for a long time before rolling them out—if they even roll them out.  Maybe I’m naïve, but I would suggest that the fact that YouTube is going “all-in” on this technology betrays a bit of their confidence in its ability to accurately capture audio and turn it into text.

There may be another reason for launching the feature site-wide, and doing it so soon.  Much of the press surrounding this announcement—in fact, even the initial comments by Walk himself—frame the move in terms of how it will make videos more accessible to those who speak other languages and the hearing impaired.  And those are fantastic reasons to make this move.

But I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground to suggest that maybe there are some added bonuses for YouTube and Google… namely, search.  If YouTube’s Auto-Captioning service can consistently work correctly, is there not a way for that to help Google in indexing the content of those videos?  Will that not instantly make it way easier for videos to be properly listed in search results—based on their actual content as opposed to just their titles and tags?

Regardless of the reasons—and I’m sure there are many—Auto-Captioning rolling out to all videos is a good thing for all.  It’s going to make it easier to find the content you want, and easier to get your content found by those who want it.

Here are some important things to keep in mind, according to the YouTube blog:

  • While we plan to broaden the feature to include more languages in the months to come, currently, auto-captioning is only for videos where English is spoken.
  • Just like any speech recognition application, auto-captions require a clearly spoken audio track. Videos with background noise or a muffled voice can’t be auto-captioned. President Obama’s speech on the recent Chilean Earthquake is a good example of the kind of audio that works for auto-captions.
  • Auto-captions aren’t perfect and just like any other transcription, the owner of the video needs to check to make sure they’re accurate. In other cases, the audio file may not be good enough to generate auto-captions. But please be patient — our speech recognition technology gets better every day.
  • Auto-captions should be available to everyone who’s interested in using them. We’re also working to provide auto-captions for all past user uploads that fit the above mentioned requirements. If you’re having trouble enabling them for your video, please visit our Help Center: this article is for uploaders and this article is for viewers.

Here’s the President Obama video they mentioned, with auto-captions in action:

There’s another great video you should see… a thank you from students of the California School for the Deaf High School, who are understandably excited about the move to turn Auto-Captioning on for all videos.  Check it out: