I've just received an email from Martin Plenio to tell me about a new initiative to exploit YouTube to promote science on the internet. Martin writes:
I am writing to you to bring to your attention some new tool that we (Daniel Burgarth and myself) have developed that has the aim of making science papers just a little more accessible. Its called Videoabstracts and consists of 'homemade' videos in which an author of the paper explains the key point of the paper in front of a whiteboard. The videos should not be longer than 5 minutes to force people to get to the point efficiently. We feel that these 5 minutes clarify the content and relevance of a paper much better than any abstract can do.
We have produced several examples that you may see on http://www.quantiki.org/video_abstracts. We did not strive for perfection as we feel that anybody should just be able to do these with a webcam and then upload them on QUANTIKI. The videos will then be stored on YouTube and at the same time a link will be created on the arXiv.
Viewers can leave comments on the content of the video and in that way stimulate discussions.
I've looked through the videoabstracts currently available (there are 11), and I can already see what a fantastic tool this can be. If only every arxiv paper had a five minute discussion of the key points it would save me a huge amount of time deciding what to read and what to skip. Scirate does a reasonable job of highlighting important papers, but its utility depends on how many people are actively citing papers. This new tool gives authors a way to introduce and promote their own work, in a very helpful and informative way. Given how opaque some papers can be, I certainly welcome the idea of a five minute run through from the authors. I'll leave you with two video abstracts, one from Martin and one from Daniel to show how this works.