Instructor Pioneers Video-Content Search Engine - Higher Education
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Instructor Pioneers Video-Content Search Engine

by Black Issues


Instructor Pioneers Video-Content Search Engine

By Ronald Roach

Anthony Fairfax is no stranger to innovation. Back in the early 1990s, Fairfax and Norfolk State University political scientist Dr. Rudolph Wilson helped dozens of localities and community groups develop political redistricting plans using sophisticated geographic information system (GIS) software programs.
“Perseverance and creativity in the area of GIS mapping are attributes that made [Fairfax] one of the leading experts in the country,” says Wilson, who co-directed the Norfolk State redistricting project.
As an adjunct computer science instructor at Norfolk State these days, Fairfax is still traveling the fast lanes of computer applications development. This time, however, he is going at it alone as the creator and owner of the MediaChannel, an Internet site devoted to cataloging and directing users to World Wide Web sites that have significant video content. MediaChannel is based in Hampton, Va., Fairfax’ hometown.
The MediaChannel is a forward-looking Web site that anticipates the day when video programming and live video feeds will flow with ease between host sites and users. Currently, the use of the Internet as a distributor of live video feeds and video programming is a growing, yet formative application on the global network. 
Fuji-Keizai USA, a high technology market research firm, estimates that between 1996 and 2000, the number of computer users downloading video player software will have grown from five million to 80 million. Web sites supporting video clips are expected to grow from 4,000 in 1996 to 324,000 in 2000.
Fairfax is betting that as video distribution via the Internet increases, his Web site will be among the most popular ones guiding Internet users to sites with video content. He adds that the MediaChannel has very few competitors.
“A lot of [companies] are holding back because of the bandwidth restrictions,” Fairfax says.
The instructor predicts that when users get more access to high-bandwidth, high-speed networks they will turn to the Internet in the way they turn to their television sets — to watch scheduled video programming. That means that the Internet will become more of a broadcast medium than it is now, according to Fairfax.  
Last January marked the unofficial launch of the MediaChannel.
Fairfax says 1998 was the “beta” — or test — year for the site because it debuted with virtually no marketing or fanfare behind it. Visits to the Web site, which have averaged around 50,000 a month, have resulted largely because other search sites, such as Yahoo and Excite, have voluntarily listed MediaChannel on their sites.
“I know the major search sites are watching me. They’re keeping tabs on [MediaChannel],” Fairfax says.
Fairfax expects to officially launch the site and aggressively market it in 1999. Developing and maintaining MediaChannel is largely a one- chairman operation. Fairfax estimates that he has catalogued between 2,000 and 3,000 Web sites over the past two years, and established direct links with more than 6,000 video feeds.
Although MediaChannel seemingly does for video Web sites what search engine sites such as Excite, Lycos, or Netscape do for routine Web sites, Fairfax says there’s a difference with his site because the search feature at MediaChannel can only select pre-catalogued sites. The established search engines have the capacity to find material on the Internet that is not pre- catalogued.
Fairfax says current Web search software tools have severe limitations when deployed to look for video content. Finding such sites requires Fairfax to look for them with painstakingly conventional searching techniques. Categories for MediaChannel searches include business, conferences, education, entertainment, health, interviews with major personalities, and 12 other topics.
Currently, a number of advertisers place ads on the MediaChannel Web site on a regular basis. Although advertiser support is its chief source of income, MediaChannel is not yet generating the revenue to fully cover the costs of running the Web site, according to Fairfax. He has plans to add an electronic commerce component to MediaChannel to allow users to purchase products from the Web site. And he expects to attract more advertising.
A graduate of Virginia Tech, Fairfax earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering in 1982. He credits the Norfolk State GIS experience for helping him polish programming skills. That programming proficiency has eased the task of creating and maintaining the MediaChannel Web site, making it possible to manage the site on his own.
The association with Norfolk State University began in 1990 when Fairfax began teaching faculty members in the school of education computer skills. Fairfax was running the education school’s computer laboratory at the time.
Wilson recruited Fairfax to the redistricting project which, at the time, was funded by the Ford, Rockefeller, and other foundations. Wilson says the project greatly benefited from Fairfax’s participation because the Virginia Tech graduate brought a broad range of technical and intellectual skills to the job.
And according to Wilson, the redistricting project conducted during the infancy stages of GIS software made Fairfax an authority on GIS applications development, particularly in the realm of political redistricting and socioeconomic data analysis.
 Fairfax says he keeps a strict separation between his work at Norfolk State and his activities involving MediaChannel. He has it arranged that way so there will be no questions regarding any use of university resources. Fairfax, however, hopes that when his business gets on stronger footing he will be able to bring Norfolk State students on board as interns and cooperative education employees, and graduating students as full-time employees.
The address for the MediaChannel is <www.mediachannel.com>.                    

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