MIT World: “A High-Impact Video Portal”

I am now attending a session about MIT World and how to utilize this video portal to maximize the impact of video on educational Web sites. We are beginning with Laurie Everett discussing the initial reasons behind creating MIT World and the goals of creating the portal. She explains that she was recruited specifically to work on the project, with a goal of sharing information freely and openly.

The site began in 1999 using RealPlayer to broadcast the videos. As time went on, it became obvious that Flash was the video plug-in of choice for the Web, so they began producing videos in Flash around 2003. They produce and publish approximately 110 video projects each year on MIT World.

Everett now shows us the home page of MIT World, a site for which she is the only staff member. She explains that the first challenge, with 675 videos currently on the site, is to choose which video to highlight on the home page. She tells us that today’s featured video on global poverty is a result of a news story she read this morning in the New York Times related to that topic.

She then moves on to show us how the site is laid out, how navigation works and what categories and attributes you can use to narrow the list of suggested sites.

The videos on MIT World come from over 100 different schools and disciplines. Each of those is categorized as a specific “host”, so that visitors can narrow their results according to the source, and so that the “hosts” can perform certain tasks to manage videos they’ve created.

Jeff Cram of iSite Design (the company that helped develop the design and architecture of the portal) is now explaining the process they went through in designing the architecture and navigation of the site. He explains that other video portals seem extremely complicated and difficult to navigate. He shows us a tag cloud called “Explore Ideas” that allows users to view a random cloud of tags and use those tags to find video results on the site. The tags on the videos are created editorially, similar to the tags used on blogs. They are not generated based on transcripts or written content within the video.

He now shows an example of a video page, explaining that they present the content of the pages behind tabs to avoid overwhelming the users in their experience. The video pages include information about the lecture (or video) itself, about the speaker, about the “host” (or provider of the video) and a tab for related materials.

Someone in the audience asks whether or not captions or subtitles are available. Laurie explains that they have not yet implemented that, but that is a project on which they are actively working. She goes on to tell the audience that they are actually developing a method to embed tags directly within the video, in addition to supplying transcripts.

Another member of the audience asks how the upload and editing process works. Laurie explains that the provider sends her a rough copy of the video. She reviews it and then has the provider convert it to a Flash file. She says that they are very adamant about not editing the videos, as they do not want to create a back-and-forth. They want to use the videos simply as archives of the events as they actually occurred rather than turning them into commentaries of themselves.

The provider is then responsible for providing in-depth information about the video/lecture and about the speaker, which is then posted on the site. Laurie then views the video and generates the appropriate tags.

She says that it is tricky to filter out which videos should be posted on the site and which should not. She says that the purpose of MIT World is to provide free, open lectures from MIT courses, and that they should be related to topics that are accessible and understanding to a “broad-thinking public” rather than providing videos of ribbon-cutting ceremonies or lectures about in-depth physics topics. She says that “it’s from MIT, it’s at MIT but it’s not about MIT.”

For MIT World, MIT owns the copyright of the material posted on the site. The lecturers and speakers sign releases allowing lectures to be recorded and posted. The videos are released under a creative commons license that does not allow modification or derivative works.

More than half of the videos on MIT World are guest speakers and lecturers rather than professors of MIT.

Videos from MIT World can now be embedded in pages or sites across the Web, so, if you find a video that interests you, that is one option you have to share the content of the video.

She is now showing us examples of videos that have been embedded throughout the web, including newspaper sites, blogs and more. She even explains that Wikipedia has hundreds of links to MIT World and that Googling “the world is flat” will bring up a video from MIT World near the top of the results.

She now goes on to explain that many of the videos from MIT World are also uploaded to and available in iTunes U. She says that they currently have 160 videos available from MIT World in iTunes U. She states that many of the videos are becoming viral without any extra effort from MIT. She now shows a chart of the “long tail” of distributing and consuming the videos on MIT World.

More than 4,000 videos are watched on MIT World each day. The videos are hosted by Akamai.

Jeff Cram is now speaking about the advantages of making the switch from RealPlayer to Flash. He explains that Flash allows people to easily consume and share the information, causing it to spread virally with little to no extra effort. The popularity of the site is user-driven.

I am currently attending a conference targeted at Web professionals at colleges and universities. The conference is known as edUi 2009 and is being hosted at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I am attempting to live-blog from the sessions I am attending today. This is one of those posts.

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