Qwiki is out of private testing and now available to the public. Haven't heard of them? Well, then, you haven't been reading TechCrunch lately. Qwiki is the winner of the most recent TechCrunch Disrupt contest and is using video in some pretty interesting ways. Now that the service is public, I thought I'd take it for a spin and let you know what's going on.
Qwiki isn't the easiest service to explain, as evidenced by their own "About Us" description:
"Qwiki's goal is to forever improve the way people experience information."
Well, that seems a little... ambitious. And a bit vague. What else do they say?
"Whether you're planning a vacation on the web, evaluating restaurants on your phone, or helping with homework in front of the family Google TV, Qwiki is working to deliver information in a format that's quintessentially human – via storytelling instead of search. We are the first to turn information into an experience. We believe that just because data is stored by machines doesn't mean it should be presented as a machine-readable list. Let's try harder."
That's a bit better. For now, Qwiki has assembled tons of information, images, and video about a great many topics, and the information is presented to the user in a video format--with a computer voice providing narration based--in part--on Wikipedia article text.
Perhaps the best way to tell you what Qwiki is all about is to show you a sample presentation:
Now, clearly, Qwiki is not a video search engine, as TechCrunch implies. It's much more accurately described as a sort of video Wikipedia, as you can see from the sample entry above.
What's Good About Qwiki
Video. You know how online video enthusiasts are always talking about how video is going to change everything? This is exactly the kind of thing those people are talking about. I am convinced that video will become the basis for our future resources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and more. I have no idea if Qwiki will be the company that leads the charge and stays on top, but a move like this toward a new way to learn and discover information is inevitable. So, first and foremost, Qwiki gets that part of it right--people love video, and a video-based extension of Wikipedia-style learning is a natural thing.
Social. There are the standard social layers for Facebook and Twitter included, so you can share your favorite Qwiki, and there are options to learn more by clicking through to YouTube, Wikipedia, and other resource sites.
Embed. You can embed your favorite Qwiki on your website or blog. You know those blog commenters that love to just drop Wikipedia links in the comment box as a witty retort? Yeah, they're going to be embedding Qwiki's soon.
User-Generated Content. Users can improve Qwiki's by suggesting images or videos they believe should be included, or by providing feedback as to the Qwiki's audio quality.
What's Not Good About Qwiki
Computer Voice. Ugh. Nothing is more distracting to a wonderfully vivid learning experience than hearing that grating computer voice trying desperate to sound human. Not that there's any feesible way to have an actual human being do the job--content can't be very dynamic if we have to call in the voice talent every few weeks to update a report. But the voice is very reminiscent of the audio from an Xtranormal video, and it pulls me out of the content-viewing experience.
Wikipedia Reliance. Reportedly there will be more sources for the audio narration than just Wikipedia. And I hope so. Because I'm still not ready to endorse Wikipedia as the final source of authority on everything.
Time. As much as I think the future of resource information is in video and multi-media presentations like what Qwiki is doing, I think there will always be a market for text-based encyclopedias like Wikipedia. Why? Time constraints. If I need to learn about Easter Island, and I have all day with no commitments... then I would gladly watch a Qwiki. But if I'm cramming for a test, or putting the final touches on a blog post, I don't have time to watch Qwiki's entire presentation just to search for the one factoid that will really help me.
Adoption. For this thing to really work, they're going to need the people to love it. And more importantly, they're going to need the people to contribute to it--the way Wikipedia did when it got started. And there's just no way to predict whether or not that will actually happen.
I love this idea. Video is definitely coming to the arenas of education and information gathering, there's no doubt in my mind. Does Qwiki have what it takes to be the king of that space? There's no way to know right now. It's not always the first company to market that ends up dominating a marketplace--just as Alta Vista. But in the absence of any real competitors, I think Qwiki's chances are good. They've got TechCrunch behind them, and just landed an $8 Million funding round with former Facebook founder Eduardo Saverin--for a lot of concepts, those two things alone would equal success.
But visual learning is an idea whose time has come. It makes no sense to leave resources like encyclopedias as text-based entities when video is in such demand in virtually every other form of content.