Facebook and Twitter already feature videos that play automatically when you visit their pages, and now Google seems to have joined the party, with confirmed reports that the search engine giant has been testing the feature.
The video autoplay feature is a controversial one – many users dislike the feature, which allows videos and movies to start playing as soon as you view the page. Jennifer Slegg, a reporter for the SEM Post, which looks at search engine news, seems to have been the first person to notice that Google was experimenting with the new autoplay feature. She observed that online searches for television programmes and movies led to a results page which featured an autoplay clip of the relevant programme appearing in the knowledge panel.
The knowledge panel is situated to the right of Google’s search results. The panel provides more in-depth information about entities referred to in the search results, so a search based on Game of Thrones, for example, would result in a video excerpt from the show now being featured in the knowledge panel. In the past, Google might have presented that same clip in the same place, but with a ‘Play’ button which would have needed to be pressed in order to activate the video streaming. The new testing phase uncovered by Ms Slegg foregoes the ‘Play’ button and causes the video to start playing immediately, whether the searcher wants it to or not.
According to Ms Slegg, it’s possible to prevent the videos playing if you have appropriate ad blockers in place, and some browsers can be configured to prevent the autoplay feature, but other browsers, such as Internet Explorer, for example, will automatically play Google’s knowledge panels videos regardless of the user’s personal preferences. Each video plays one single time, and Ms Slegg observed that the sound is automatically muted, so users must physically click on the volume button in order to hear the soundtrack of the video.
Since going public with her findings, Ms Slegg reports that Google has confirmed that it has been conducting tests into the new autoplay feature. The company declined to confirm rumours that it plans to roll out the new feature across all of its searches in the future, releasing a statement saying that it is always on the lookout for ways to improve the search experience, but suggesting that it has no further announcements to make at the present time.
Autoplay is a contentious issue, with many internet users complaining bitterly about the feature. In fact, Apple is currently engaged in focusing on ways to prevent autoplay videos from marring the user experience, leaving industry insiders speculating whether Google might be wide of the mark if it plans to roll out the feature across its search engine results.
There is at least a blessing for mobile users who are concerned about bandwidth issues – the autoplay feature seems to have been confined to desktop computers, with mobile users being offered a ‘Play’ button, giving them the choice of viewing the video or not, according to their own preferences.