A YouTube for (big) ideas?
Is that ever going to fly? A YouTube for ideas is the pitch for a new website dubbed Big Think a sort of ideas are free if you will. Instead of a drunk falling over or an animal jumping out of a window, you get a New York Times editor or business leader talking about the 'big questions'.
Set up by a former Harvard student Peter Hokins and Victoria Brown (they met at PBS), Big Think mixes interviews with intellectuals from a variety of fields, from politics to law to business, and then allows its users to join in the debate like any community website.
It's a video blog, but with the bloggers answering predefined questions from across the political, cultural and spiritual field. Ultimately, topics are sorted into one of two main site categories: "Meta" and "Physical." "Physical" comprises traditional issues like Policy and Politics, Arts and Culture, and Science and Technology, while "Meta" encompasses more abstract philosophical issues like Wisdom, Inspiration, and Faith and Beliefs.
There are plans to add social networking as well (but then everyone has that plan) and it is primarily being targeted at graduates and undergrads, according to Hopkins.
Part of it, he says, is a reaction against celebrity (the interviewer is also taken out of the picture and so the affect achieved is almost a confessional) and I think he's definitely right on this, and you can imagine others trying similar intellectual ventures.
Hopkins told The New York Times: "I've had the general view that there is a hunger for people my age looking for more intellectual content."
Big Think feels very much something like Guardian Unlimited might do almost as an outgrowth of Comment is Free.
You can easily imagine it working and turning into a real weighty community. Rather than popping in to YouTube for some digital rubber-necking to see the latest celebrity disaster, it is easy to see people going to a site like Big Think and hearing what: Mitt Romney, Republican US Presidential hopeful, has to say about the law; Jon Meacham, Newsweek editor, has to say about the rise of fundamentalism; Ted Kennedy on his worldview; or Niall Ferguson on identity. Jon Meacham, So far the site has won backing from investors including: Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist and co-founder of PayPal; Gary David Goldberg, who created the TV shows 'Spin City' and 'Family Ties'; and David Frankel, a venture capitalist who was the lead investor in Big Think.
The only Brit on the site so far (that I saw) offering their opinions is Richard Branson. Is that a plus? Listening to him babble about the media it doesn't seem so.
It has to make money like everything out there and Hopkins is hoping that if they can grow the community enough the ad dollars will flow.
Maybe they will.