YouTube’s Slow Drift Toward Enlightenment

Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education has a good article on an emerging trend — universities bringing their lectures to YouTube. As you’ll see, we get a mention in the article.

We first began discussing this trend about a year ago. In this public radio interview aired last March, we talked about the sheer dearth of intelligent video on YouTube and suggested several steps for raising the bar. Close to a year later, things don’t look much better. Yes, we’ve recently found 10 Signs of Intelligent Life at YouTube. And we’ve even managed to assemble a “playlist” of intelligent videos. But, regardless, intelligent video remains in very short supply at the Google-owned video service. And the smart video that does exist is remarkably hard to find, even though, rather ironically, Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

This all stands in stark contrast to what we’ve seen at Apple. On its own path to dominance, Apple has somehow carved out a space for high-quality cultural content. Even though ITunes is already a breeding ground for smart media, Apple launched iTunesU over the past year, providing a platform for universities to deliver free lectures and courses to the larger world. (See our University Podcast Collection and our collection of Free University Courses.) We probably need to keep in mind that YouTube doesn’t have the same financial motivations as Apple to accommodate the intellectual community. (Remember, Apple made it through the dark years by selling Macs to universities and colleges.) But, even so, GooTube could smarten its offering by taking just a few small steps. How about making the so-called “Education Section” include actual educational content? How about letting serious providers of cultural content go beyond the 10 minute video limit? (Sound bites are inherently limiting.) And how about figuring out ways to give quality scores to videos and help separate the wheat from the chaff? Google figured out how to make quality drive the way it organizes the web. Surely, it wouldn’t be hard for Google’s big aqcuisition to use similar algorithms to organize the video world.

In the end, it’s perhaps a matter of time. Perhaps we need to sit back and wait for Google to put its stamp on YouTube. The merger is still fairly recent. And, historically, Google hasn’t been afraid to work with information that has niche appeal. Nor has it run away from organizing information that can be difficult to monetize. Perhaps better things will unfold in ’08, but, based on what I’m seeing, I’m not entirely optimistic.

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  • Hi Dan
    I’ve been tinkering with various ways of making OpenLearn content from the Open University available in a portable way ( ) and I’ve also had a go at the UC Berkeley youtube video lectures.

    In particular, here’s a way of browsing the UCB youtube playlisted coursers, as a well as searching and viewing all their youtube video lectures:


  • Gator says:

    Cullen’s Abc’s over the past year has created over 300 early childhood education videos, and educational idea videos for adults that work with children. Just until recently there was no education category even on YouTube, so we are so happy that there is one now. Currently, we have over 780,000 total video views and get from 5k to 6k+ views a day. Comments come daily from all over the global. Online video is so powerful and accessible. We feel like we are among the pioneers of educators using online video productively and supporting child development.
    Here is our website:
    All of the videos are posted our YouTube channel:

    Thanks for you blog!

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