I had a chance to chat with Obadiah Greenberg, a key Googler behind the launch. And he gave me some insight into the genesis of the project. As you can imagine, YouTube EDU wasn't built overnight. It took about a year to move from concept to launch. The work was driven along by a team of five, and they did it using Google's famous 20% time policy. That is, they each committed essentially one day per week to bringing this project to fruition.
What you're seeing now is essentially version 1.0. Obadiah expects YouTube EDU to evolve over time, especially as his team gathers data and feedback that will inform future iterations. But, make no mistake, this initial product has accomplished quite a bit. It centralizes the video collections from over 100 universities/colleges. This amounts to over 20,000 individual videos and 200 complete courses. It also makes these collections much easier for new users to discover and sift through. Back in early 2007, before YouTube really started working with universities, I kvetched in a public radio interview that GooTube could do more to organize the world of intellectual video, and now I certainly have a lot less to complain about (although I do still see some important tweaks that could be made here and there).
The universities participating in YouTube EDU have also had an upbeat response. Both Scott Stocker (Director of Web Communications at Stanford) and Genevieve Haines (Director of Integrated Communications at UCLA) welcomed the idea that many new visitors will encounter their video collections. As Genevieve put it, it's never a bad thing when the world's top video sharing site makes a big commitment to university content. This move opens up many long range possibilities for educators and students, she says. But, over the short term, it guarantees that schools will learn more about how the wider public engages with their videos. By looking at traffic patterns and user comments left on YouTube, the university teams will find out whether there's a real market for serious lectures and courses, or whether users prefer lighter fare, or some combination of the two. With this knowledge in hand, media strategies will be revised.
For Ben Hubbard, who manages the webcasting initiative at UC Berkeley, YouTube EDU offers another perk. He told me: "There are a lot of universities and other centers for learning engaged with their local communities on YouTube, but it hasn't always been very easy to find them. YouTube EDU makes it much easier for us to locate our peer institutions, connect around common interests, and perhaps even engage with one another in a more meaningful and productive way to create (or make more rich) a community of best practices."
But perhaps the biggest plus is reserved for you and me. The Google team anticipates that the visibility of this project will open the floodgates, bringing many more universities to YouTube EDU in the coming months. This means that many more free lectures and courses will be coming online. A big plus for any reader of this blog. We'll monitor all of this, and keep you posted as things move along ...