Many people think of YouTube as a big time-waster with nothing but videos of animals dancing and guys getting whacked in their privates.

But as time goes on, I become more and more conscious YouTube as a great resource in many respects. For example, in my work as a writer and analyst, I’ve been making good use of corporate videos on YouTube, where it’s possible now to access in-depth presentations by company executives, scientists, and other experts.

Thanks to a mention yesterday in Boing Boing, I’ve learned about Khan Academy, which now has over 1,200 educational videos on YouTube. Using a very simple “chalk talk” format, Salman Khan, an engineer and manager, provides 10-20-minute video presentations on a huge variety of topics, including science, history, math, finance, economics, and more.

These videos would be useful as quick reviews or knowledge fill-ins for students, both adult and child, or for parents who are trying to help their kids with their studies. I also find them useful as a writer who needs to be able to get up-to-speed quickly on economics and finance topics.

Khan creates his videos on a tablet computer with pen input. Here’s an example of a video explaining the basics of banking:

AB — 8 June 2010

Big green copier buttonRecently I’ve been studying the use of ethnography in large companies for product design and market strategy, which relates to some of the work I’ve done in usability and user experience.

In process of the research, I ran across an interesting anecdote about how the “big green button” on printers came out. I think it illustrates the value of video ethnography in product design, but, on an even more basic level, the value of simply watching how people live and work and use your product.

In a 1999 presentation for WPT Fest, Xerox PARC anthropologist Lucy Suchman described how she helped Xerox engineers understand how hard copiers were to use:

Around this time [1979] a project began at PARC to develop an intelligent, interactive expert system that would provide instructions to users in the operation of a particular photocopier, just put on the market and reported by its intended users to be “too complicated.” With Austin Henderson, I initiated a series of studies aimed first at understanding what made the existing machine difficult to use, and later at seeing just what happened when people engaged in “interactions” with my colleagues’ prototype expert advisor.

Scientists struggling with copierIn order to explore these questions in detail we got a machine ourselves and installed it in our workplace. I then invited others of my co-workers, including some extremely eminent computer scientists, to try using the machine to copy their own papers for colleagues, with the understanding that a video camera would be rolling while they did so. This resulted among other things in what has become something of a cult video that I produced for John Seely Brown for a keynote address to CHI in 1983, titled “When User Hits Machine.” This image, taken from a 3/4″ reel-to-reel video recording made in 1982, shows two of my colleagues using the machine to make two-sided copies of a research paper. The CHI audience would recognize Allen Newell, one of the founding fathers of AI. His PARC colleague is a brilliant computational linguist named Ron Kaplan.

Video ethnographer Susan Faulkner of Intel relates one of the interesting results of Suchman’s video:

The film was shown to researchers and engineers at Xerox, and it led to significant changes in interface design, including the addition of the now ubiquitous large green button that allows users to quickly and easily make a copy.

AB — 2 June 2010

I was happy to find a YouTube version of this Kodak ad from about 1963. I’m not sure why a 12-year-old would understand how it feels to watch your children grow up, but I remember I used to cry watching this ad.

I would have to say this is good advertising — makes a strong emotional connection with the viewer and an excellent tie-in to the product. Until today, I hadn’t seen this ad for over 40 years, but I still remembered that it was for Kodak.

Interestingly, the ad is two minutes long. I understand that the song “Turn Around” is by songwriter Malvina Reynolds.

AB — 7 April 2010

Here’s a clever presentation from Dorling Kindersley Books, a division of Penguin Publishing, with a message about young people’s supposed non-interest in print media. Be sure to keep watching to the halfway point, when the message takes a 180:

AB — 17 March 2010

Here’s a hilarious commercial featuring an alien with a lovely British accent describing how his life has changed since he switched from eating people to Raisin Bran Crunch. A good illustration of how commercial ads can go viral!

AB — 11 December 2009

Normally I steer away from hip-hop, but this collaboration between Tom Waits and Kool Keith was weird enough and fascinating enough to take note of. Gives you an idea what Tom Waits might look like if he was a scary cartoon monster (he already has the voice anyway):

AB — 19 Nov. 2009

Here’s a crazy but creative mix video I ran across tonight — title is “Meow Mix,” by Cyriak:

AB — 19 Nov. 2009