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Google announced Thursday that it’s testing a new feature: One that allows celebrities and influencers to record video answers to the most popular questions about themselves. The original videos will appear in search results alongside Google’s typical algorithmically generated array of links.
So if for instance, you’re dying to know how many languages Priyanka Chopra speaks—or whether Will Ferrell can play the drums—and it happens to be a question the celebrity has answered, now you can get the info straight from the horse’s mouth. The new feature is rolling out in the U.S. and is mobile-only for the time being. But according to Google product manager Rami Banna, the goal is to eventually expand to “desktop searches as well as more countries.”
A Google spokesperson told the Daily Dot that Google created a dedicated app for the celebs to use for the new feature. According to Google, it surfaces “a mix of the most-searched questions on Google” specifically about the person, plus a smattering of “more general questions that are trending on Google” at the time.
The questions get presented to the user inbox-style, and they get to choose which ones they respond to. So Tracee Ellis Ross’ inbox might have a question about whether she can sing like her mom Diana alongside a prompt about the New York Knicks winning a big game—whether or not she wants to record a video for either is up to her. Fans of the now-defunct microvlogging platform VYou may remember a similar user experience.
From there, the video upload process seems surprisingly hands-off—not too dissimilar to uploading a YouTube video for us civilians. Google explained that once a celeb submits their video response through the app, it goes live “virtually right away.” It does pass through some filters first.
“We have automated classifiers that check the video before it goes live,” Google added.
The Dot has asked what specifically those classifiers check for and will update this post with a response if we get one. Once the video is live, Google said: “users have the ability to flag anything that’s inappropriate or incorrect, which our team then reviews against our content policy.” So if Ferrell says he’s 8-feet tall in a video for “How tall are you?” it could end up being Google users’ responsibility to flag the clip as untrue. Or, more likely, a joke. If he weighs in on that day’s big headlines and gets some facts wrong? Same deal.
But first, a video selfie—on Google! You can now find video-recorded answers in mobile Search results from your favorite personalities like @priyankachopra, @nickjonas and more → https://t.co/J901bfeV0n pic.twitter.com/Au3kqzRpD8— Google (@Google) December 7, 2017
For now, Google is working with a small test group of a dozen people, including Kenan Thompson, Allison Williams, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Gina Rodriguez, and Nick Jonas. But the plan is reportedly to expand and encompass “more than just traditional celebrities.”
Google said the videos will only appear in search results “when their content best matches a user’s query”—so this doesn’t sound like a sponsored content opportunity yet. Google likewise says it won’t show preferential treatment to questions that have video answers attached to them. For instance, if you start typing “Will Ferrell” into the search bar, it’s not about to float “Will Ferrell drums” as a suggestion if that isn’t already a trending question for him.
“The videos don’t have an impact on SEO [search engine optimization],” Google said.
What’s yet to be seen is whether there’s a back door effect to the SEO. For example, if people hear that Ferrell recorded a video about playing the drums and want to see it for themselves, they’ll search “Will Ferrell drums” anyway, organically impacting the search terms associated with his name—even without the boost of Google algorithmically promoting the answer. Basically, if you’re a PR person hoping to bury an annoying story about your client, tools like this could be a new way to do that.
For now, though, it’s off to the races.
Christine Friar is a writer and editor in New York who focuses on streaming entertainment and internet culture. Her work has appeared in the Awl, the Fader, New York Magazine, Paper Magazine, Vogue, Elle, and more.