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Channeling the power of big ideas


As has been suggested on the blog before, we’re witnessing a flourishing of the “mass intelligent”. Podcast lovers, computer science devotees and people who thrive on big ideas are coming out of the closet, proudly proclaiming their allegiance to all things a little nerdy. And now a new YouTube channel, THNKR, has come along, designed to set the hearts of the mass intelligent aflutter.  

Produced by, THNKR is original video programming dedicated to giving viewers “extraordinary access to the people, stories, places and thinking that will change your mind”. THNKR currently has four original series: Bookd, on game-changing books; Epiphany, on big ideas; Podium, on the art of oration; and Prodigies, on the young and bright.

In all of its programming, THNKR is trying to straddle the line between education and entertainment. The channel emphasizes ideas and conversation over lectures and academia. “Our philosophy is not the pedantic version of education. It’s a thoughtful, intelligent discourse”, Sidney Beaumont, co-executive producer of THNKR, recently told me.

THNKR’s “educational, but entertaining” philosophy certainly has its roots in TED talks, the wildly popular series of presentations that Nathan Heller of the New Yorker recently called “a showroom for the intellectual style of the digital age”.

“TED really paved the way”, Danny Stolzman, co-executive producer, said. “There is incredible hunger for content about big ideas. And we’re really excited to bring what we believe is our real ability in narrative storytelling to bear around big ideas”.

And there definitely are “big ideas” videos on the channel designed to appeal one’s nerdier sensibilities. In “Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian Loves The Open Internet”, Ohanian offers a rallying cry against SOPA and PIPA (two acronyms that the mass intelligent will know well). In another video, scientist Dr. Ronald Mallet discusses how Einstein’s theories hold the key to making time travel a reality. And in a clip from the Prodigies series, a 9-year-old boy explains what the discovery of the Higgs boson (what has been referred to as the “God particle”) means for science.

“Emergent intelligence is something we think a lot about on the THNKR team”, Stolzman told me. “In our connected world, ideas can spread so quickly and have a life of their own. The hive aspect of the web is really exciting to us. And we’re constantly trying to engage the hive and figure out what big ideas are next – and how best to cover them”.  

Given that this network effect of the Internet is one reason the mass intelligent has thrived, it comes as no surprise that the channel is designed specifically for the Internet. Putting its content on YouTube allows THNKR to better target this demographic and also build a vibrant online community dedicated to the spread of ideas.

“We see the power of digital, and in part of YouTube, as something that can appeal to an audience who brings a greater passion for ideas and community that you wouldn’t necessarily see with mass media”, Beaumont said. “We’re delighted that the cultural mood for ideas has emerged in this way and that technology platforms have empowered us to do this type of storytelling”.

There are obviously still hurdles in Internet storytelling. It’s often difficult to discover personalized and interesting content on YouTube, and YouTube’s focus on original programming is new and untested. But given the rise of the mass intelligent and the demand for higher-brow, nerdier storytelling, THNKR should be able to tap into an audience hungry for big ideas.