Online search company Google has launched international versions of its Google Video site, combining user-contributed content with commercial clips. Microsoft is preparing its own video portal.

Still officially in beta test, the release of versions of Google Video for the UK, France, German, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Canada follows the launch of the US site in January.

Google aims to use its considerable scale in an attempt to occupy a similar position in video that it has achieved for text search.

“What Google did for the web, Google Video aims to do for television,” said Google co-founder Larry Page said when the service launched.

Since then, other video sites, such as YouTube have captured considerable attention, and the Google offering has been underwhelming by comparison. While no-one should underestimate Google, it may take more than technology to create a compelling entertainment proposition.

As with other user-contributed content sites, Google will face the challenge of dealing with issues of taste and decency, as well as legal matters, not to mention copyright issues.

The search company claims that is has the human and technical resources to deal with such complications, but the problems associated with becoming a publisher rather than an indexer of other people’s publications should not be undervalued.

Google also has deals with a number of rights holders and production companies to distribute their video online. Contributors can choose whether or not to charge for their content.

The initial commercial video offering is patchy and the presentation is somewhat spartan, but the combination of often quirky or inane clips can be strangely compelling.

Google has already been experimenting with video advertising, hoping to emulate its successful targeted advertising model in the video arena.

It remains to be seen whether Google will emerge as a significant gateway for video services, as other media properties and distributors, with experience in packaging and presenting their programming, prepare their own online offerings.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is reportedly preparing its own video portal, apparently drawing on a $2 billion fund allocated to next-generation Windows Live services.