YouTube aims to improve user searching

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You Tube
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YouTube's vast array of content is difficult to navigate through

YouTube is aiming to change the way it helps people search and discover content, in a bid to increase users and get them to stay on the site longer.

Traditionally, search engines train people to type a fairly specific query and expect tailored results in return.

But when users come to YouTube they are looking for entertainment - and often find it hard to define what they want.

The company said its new Topics feature aims to turn search requests like "funny videos" into meaningful results.

"People don't know what to search for because they don't know what's there," said Palash Nandy, a search and discovery engineer at YouTube.

The world's largest video-sharing site also believes the experimental tool will deliver the unexpected from the vast video library in the firm's digital vault.

Twenty-four hours worth of content is uploaded to the site every minute of every day.

"There are all these great gems inside YouTube that are not getting broader exposure," Mr Nandy told BBC News.

"Take the sport of parkour [the physical art of moving past obstacles in an urban environment], this is a very particular sport that if exposed could become much more popular. There are all these random sports out there like cheese rolling or extreme ironing that no-one sees."

'Inspire curiosity'

One of the difficulties YouTube faces is working out what best describes a video when a number of people uploading content spell words incorrectly or do not define their requests well.

Users also make the task harder when they type in vague terms like "LOL" and "fail".

With Topics, YouTube will try to deliver results by honing in on comments from users on videos they have viewed, sites that have linked to the video and even what users have watched in the past.

"If we are doing our job right, you will come to the site without having to know up front what you wanted," Mr Nandy told BBC News.

"People think if they type the word "interesting" in a search box they will get something with the word "interesting" instead of something worth watching.

"We want to inspire curiosity."

YouTube also said it believed its new Topics tool - available as an experimental product in the US only - would increase the amount of time users spend on the site.

At the moment typical users spend 15 minutes a day watching YouTube content compared to roughly five hours spent watching TV.

"YouTube is a really interesting part of Google, which is all about giving you information quickly and then getting you to leave. YouTube wants to give you information that will make you want to stay," said Quentin Hardy, executive editor of Forbes.

"What Google is doing is answering a specific question. YouTube is trying to encode taste that will draw off social cues, personal habits or comments people made that they think are like you.

"This one of the toughest problems of artificial intelligence that you can name."

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