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Tim Lorang Blog

Academic Video has No Authority

Posted by Timothy Lorang on Fri, Oct 01, 2010 @ 06:04 PM

I just read a short, free guide about on-line marketing available from Copyblogger called Authority Rules. It has some very useful information about how to build trust and authority on the web and sets up the piece by using some well know studies to show that people usually defer to authority figures. The guide then demonstrates how all of that has been turned upside down on the web. Authority tends to flow to those web sites that turn up highly ranked on search engines. High search engine rankings then tend to reinforce the authority perception because those are the sites people tend to go to, read, link to, and quote which again increases their rankings on search engines. This happens even if someone with more expertise has a web page but does a bad job of marketing.

In my last blog I talked about how difficult it is to find relevant video content on the internet, especially if you rely on sites such as YouTube. Just because content is highly rated or turns up on the first page of your search does not mean that it is vetted, relevant or even true. But it is worse than that. If I search for “used cars” I’ll find more relevant and useful used car sites than I would find sites dealing with academic lectures if I searched for academic, educational or university lecture videos. You certainly do not come up with a list that approaches the authority or usefulness that you find at the Open Culture site.

I think the reason for this failure is a combination of several things.

First, most content providers don’t understand how the video lectures are part of their brand. Academics hate thinking this way. Marketing and branding is cheap and vulgar. But if Professor Johanna Smith from Upstate U. is the expert on Green Widgets she does herself, Upstate U. and those who need to know about Green Widgets a disservice by avoiding this approach.

Second, for most academics, making material available to the general public on the internet is not a priority. Many feel that providing information and knowledge to the public via the internet or television is beneath them. My unofficial estimate is that over half of the speakers barely know their talks are on the internet. They had to give a talk, someone recorded it and they signed a release form and that is the end of it. Likewise, if you asked the University Relations director or a dean at most colleges and universities they will have no idea about what videos from their faculty are available on-line.

Finally, most in academia don’t see how giving away knowledge or information is going to help them. They feel they get paid to teach and they should be paid if their lecture is on TV or the internet. Why would anyone come to their class if they could watch them on-line for free?

These feelings are not universal and many in academia do get it but many more do not. And because it is not a priority they will not spend the time or the resources to improve their products, promote their videos or make them easy to find or use.

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