Are you sick of looking for information on a topic, but only finding the standard “Four Secrets Of….”, or “The Ten Best Ways To….” articles? You know what I mean, they usually have about 3 sentences for each point, no depth, no meaningful commentary, just a few of the author’s unsubstantiated opinions puked onto a web page? If you’re like me, you don’t just feel disappointed or let down, you feel…what’s the word?
“OK pal, great, you fooled me. You got your God-damned page view. Happy now? Hmm?!”
I throw my keyboard across the room every time it happens. Thrown that damn keyboard about 500 times now.
Don’t get me wrong. Snippet articles can be good: they can be used as refreshers, the can have references and links to related good stuff. They can even make good points by themselves. But let’s be honest, maybe 75% of them are crap.
“Good information can be hard to find…”
This kind of comes with the internet. Boundaries to publishing are lower, anyone can do it. This gives us a huge knowledge base literally at our fingertips. For example, my shower is quite weak, I wanted to know how to increase the pressure. Ten years ago I’d have to ask around, maybe visit a DIY shop for answers. Yesterday, I found out in about 11 seconds.
But this has downsides. Lowering entry requirements generally lowers quality. Well, it lowers average quality; the good stuff is still there, it’s just harder to find. For example, my shower is still weak.
As boundaries are lower only in cyberspace, some of the highest quality sources of information are outside of the web. Books, journals, magazines. College courses, university degrees. Experts’ brains.
If only there were some way to get this type of information onto the web, in an easily digestible format! Of course, that’s the primary purpose of the site you’re reading now; but luckily I’m not the only one with this goal.
In fact, there are sites which get information, often cutting-edge, up onto the web in the YouTube generation’s favourite format: video.
People have been recording university lectures and posting them up for a while now, although I’ve only just become aware of this. The sound quality of these videos range from absolutely crisp to barely coherent, but the content is usually going to be good stuff. Plus, there are other clever sites with good information.
Here are the ones I’ve looked at so far:
TED is made of talks – up to 20 minutes long – given by experts in all kinds of fields, focused on Technology, Entertainment and Design. See their about page for more details on why they do this.
Really, really good site: short and digestible talks, good video and sound quality, and big name speakers. If you haven’t seen it already, you’re in for a treat.
Some of my favourites:
Vilayanur Ramachandran on Your Mind
Barry Schwartz on The Paradox of Choice
Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology
Richard Dawkins on Our Queer Universe
Academic Earth‘s mission is to make a world-class education available to everyone with internet access, by getting courses and lectures from leading scholars up on their site and available for free. You can browse by topic or by university, with the big names like Harvard, Princeton and MIT up there.
There are 1500 videos up at the time I write this, although some subjects covered more comprehensively than others (psychology only has a few up, but they’re good introduction ones). Many of the lectures are grouped into courses, and they are all downloadable. Also, by registering, you can save your favourites for easy access next time.
In Big Think you’ll find various experts giving their big thoughts on specific questions. It’s not quite as in-depth as the sites above, from what I’ve seen so far, but still very interesting.
Experts range through many fields, from academics, to celebrities, to journalists and so on. Maybe you’d like to see Dan Dennett explain the mechanics of studying consciousness, or maybe you’d prefer Ricky Gervais’s take on animal rights instead. Of course you can search by category or by expert, to find what you like.
I haven’t tried this, but you’re able to suggest questions for the experts, and new experts to ask the questions to by email. There also appears to be a big community section to the site, which again I’m not really interested in, but you might be.
Good for getting some basic ideas or perspectives on different topics, and probably a better way to spend time than strange YouTube videos!
iTunes U is a section of iTunes, where you can get over 100,000 educational audio and video files, coming from universities, museums, and other institutions.
Of course, you’ll need iTunes to access this, but even if you prefer to use some other media playing program, it’s worth getting iTunes just for this. The information is all in the iTunes store – but don’t worry, it’s downloadable for free. You can search by category or institution. This is easily the largest resource of the four. There really is a staggering amount of information on here.
That’s it! If you’re like me you’ll like these sites. You don’t get to ask questions or speak to the lecturer after the class, but you do get to rewind and fast-forward as you like. I don’t watch TV (something I highly recommend), because I prefer to watch more constrictive things; these sites are one way to do this.
All four are a great way to look for expert opinions on subjects for which there is little information on the web, or where the information is of lower quality than you might like.
Plus they’ve saved me a fortune on keyboards. 🙂