The New York Times has an interesting article from a few days ago about how young people are using YouTube as their primary search engine for finding information on the internet. Entitled "At First, Funny Videos. Now, a Reference Tool," the report describes how kids are increasingly seeking all sorts of knowledge on this extremely popular video sharing site. The reporter Miguel Helft writes:
The explosion of all types of video content on YouTube and other
sites is quickly transforming online video from a medium strictly for
entertainment and news into one that is also a reference tool. As a
result, video search, on YouTube and across other sites, is rapidly
morphing into a new entry point into the Web, one that could rival
mainstream search for many types of queries.
This makes me pretty sad. Are kids so lazy that they won't even be bothered to read text on the internet anymore, much less an actual book, when they want to find out about something?
It also reminds me about all of the hand-wringing that used to go on about "Cliff Notes." Now "Cliff Notes" seems like digging through the stacks at the Library of Congress compared to heading to YouTube and putting into the search bar "Lincoln assassination" or "Pathagorean theorem" or "how to write a haiku."
But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.
The thing about Youtube video content is that for many subjects its the most efficient way of getting to the knowledge that you are looking for. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Video can incorporate voice, visuals, text, and audio effects
- Video involves a certain narrative trajectory from beginning to end, rather than an open ended structure
- Video is "sit back" media that doesn't require you to make any decisions or use judgement — just sit back and let it wash over you
- YouTube videos are by the nature of the technology very short
- The Youtube recommendation, commenting and tagging system helps steer you to just the right 3 minute content you need
That said, I find this a completely counterintuitive way of searching for information. But I'm not 9 years old.