Early AI Product Design – Virage

My career in AI product design started with a company called Virage – which I started with college friends after dropping out of grad school. Back then, AI was in its early stages and our focus was on visual information retrieval. In other words, we applied an algorithm to a specific image and a series of related results would appear in a search.

This early algorithm was capable of finding visual similarity based on simple features like shared colors/shapes/textures. However, there were limitations to the precision of finding similar images. For example, you would get images of a white puppy dog in green grass that was “similar” to a golf ball on a putting green.

After creating our photo product, we developed the Virage video logger. This product was way ahead of its time – a precursor to YouTube which launched about five years later. We recognized that video files were massive files that couldn’t be indexed. As a result, we applied high-tech AI to index video for the first time. Fast-forward to the present; video content is searchable and is easy to categorize.

In addition, we introduced speech recognition and optical character recognition to drive closed captioning. With this, you could search for an exact moment in a video without having to watch the entire clip. As you can imagine, this product became popular with organizations like CNN and ABC News. Simply put, we completely enhanced the accessibility of video content.

As I mentioned, the Virage video logger was ahead of its time when it came out in 2000. In addition, we missed one essential feature that YouTube nailed when it launched in 2005. That feature is the “play button.” We had this amazing product with incredible features, but ultimately we had missed the mark on what most people wanted in a video product.

In the end, the lesson learned is never to lose sight of what your customers need. Said differently, you don’t need to give people rocket science when all they want to do is fly a kite.

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Speaker: Bradley Horowitz

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