Where to find good information online

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?

Used!

“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

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

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.

 

Big Think

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

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. 🙂

12 thoughts on “Where to find good information online”

  • Thanks for the information! I’ll try these sites the next time I’m doing research for a new blog article.

    Video and audio make it harder for me though to scan the information quickly. You can easily scan a large page of text, but you normally have to watch the entire video or listen to the entire audio file to know if they contain anything worthwhile.

    Great blog by the way! I’ll be back for more.

    • Warren Davies says:

      Cheers Gerber!

      That is a good point actually, you don’t get to scan with a video. But, you can multi-task more easily; watch while eating, or get the audio and stick it on your ipod to listen to while travelling.

  • Thanks for the reply. That’s absolutely right. I easily get bored watching video or listening to audio. I have already installed a plugin for WinAMP so that I can speed up the audio (without altering the pitch).

    • Warren Davies says:

      Excellent, A WinAMP user! I was one of those once. I used to like the Now Playing window, so easy to use and a feature that’s missing from iTunes (I know you can use a playlist but it’s not the same for some reason).

      That’s an interesting idea about speeding up the audio, but do you find you remember it as well at higher speed? I imagine I’d recall less, but it might be worth trying, if only as an excuse to use Winamp again…

  • Your blog has become one of my favourite things on the web! Thanks for posting the links. I love Ted, so will check out the others (apart from itunes as I won’t have itunes on this laptop)

    • Warren Davies says:

      Diana, you just made my day! And my yesterday too, actually, because that’s when I first read your comment but somehow I forgot to approve it.

      Cheers,
      Warren

  • As a former librarian, I must admit to a real fondness for books, and recently I spent some time playing around with Google books (at books.google.com) — I am quite amazed at how much you can find. It’s been quite controversial as many authors and publishers have felt ripped off, and I can understand why at the same time that I benefit from it. You can search any word or phrase and books discussing the topic will come up, even if the word/phrase isn’t in the book title.
    .-= Rosana Hart´s last blog ..Use Google Books for Research =-.

  • Emmm… I also really like to visit the iTunes U, because I can get more from the educational video and audio coming from universities, museums and other institutions. And I think it is the best way to seek expert opinion about the subjects that there is little information on the web.

  • STRIPTHISURLBABY says:

    These are good sites. You write well and your explanation is free of errors but you aren’t funny and your form is elementary. If you wanted to expound upon the discovery of good information you should have approached it from a more experienced point of view. You point at good information but don’t possess any. If you spend so much time watching constructive things why don’t you construct a better way of thinking?

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