YouTube for intellectuals?

New site aims to spark an exchange of ideas between academics, politicians, writers and others

Big Think, a new Web 2.0-style site that bills itself as a conduit between global thought leaders and the public for sharing ideas on topics ranging from alternative energy to subprime mortgages, launched in beta on Monday.

Big Think, backed by heavy hitter investors like Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, and Larry Summers, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and former president of Harvard University, initially offers 100 hours of videos of interviews leaders like Sen. Ted Kennedy, former Gov. Mitt Romney, businessman Richard Branson, author Naomi Klein, musician Moby, Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and chef Jacques Pepin.

Organizers envision that the videos will serve as a launching pad for user-generated content on those topics and others. For example, users can upload video in which they respond to an interview or add photos to support their position on a specific topic, according to Big Think. The interviews will be ranked based on their popularity with users.

The site aims to bridge "credible, informed editorial opinion and the less controlled freestyle of online social media" the company noted.

"We live in a global age, and yet there is no central, global forum to exchange, discuss and debate the big issues and ideas of our time", said Big Think co-founder Victoria Brown, in a statement. "Big Think is a needed social endeavor that will allow an engaged global audience to share the same platform as leading voices from around the world."

In addition, Big Think has supplied a network of experts in fields ranging from science, business and medicine with Web cams they will use to report on Big Think the latest developments in their areas of expertise every few weeks.

Erick Schonfeld, a blogger at TechCrunch, noted that Big Think includes 2,000 video clips from technology folks like Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg and Engadget's Peter Rojas. However, he noted that "ever-present YouTube" factor online today and questioned the need for a niche for "smart videos."

"Yes, you can find smart videos on YouTube, although they tend to have a different style," he noted

Still he questioned whether users would rather see a British professor on Big Think "blather on about the history of America" or the popular YouTube video where a person describes the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr after drinking a bottle of Scotch.

Kristen Nicole, a blogger at Mashable, suggested that Big Think may be successful with its "mature appeal and seriousness about the content.

"Big Think has gathered professionally produced video content ripe with commentary from analysts and connoisseurs across an array of topics in order to get the ball rolling on a worldwide discussion of anything and everything under the sun," she said. "It's up to you as a user to finish the discussion. What you're left with is a weighted crowd-sourcing model."

However, she questioned how integrated Big Think will be for Internet use, noting that its videos cannot be embedded to other sites, like YouTube videos.

"While you can send them to a friend or bookmark them on Facebook there doesn't appear to be any plans for further integration with existing social networks, or the development of its own network for more individualistic purposes, such as taking the media outside of the Big Think network for expansion or promotional purposes."

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Heather Havenstein

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