We've recently launched a Google Research web site that we'll be updating to provide information about research activities at Google. Among other things, one thing you'll find there is the ability to search and view videos of talks at Google.

One of the best features of working at Google is the rich variety of talks that we can attend, both technical and general interest. Most of these are videotaped for later viewing. This has multiple benefits:

  • In case of a scheduling conflict, Google employees may view talks at a later time (yes, some of us do have other things to do in the day).

  • Talks are available for viewing by Google employees at other sites. This provides us with a much more cohesive intellectual culture than most global companies.

  • When appropriate, speakers may opt to have their talks available on the World Wide Web. This provides a benefit to both viewers and speakers, since it allows speakers to reach a much broader audience, and it allows viewers to hear interesting talks without the need to be
    physically present.

The World Wide Web started out as a means for scientists to communicate among themselves. In the early days it provided a less formal and timely means of distributing information than archival refereed publications, and it's now routine for a scientist to have a home page from which they distribute their writings and thoughts. Moreover, it's also now commonplace to find a large fraction of current scientific literature through the web, both refereed and unrefereed. In fact, the situation has evolved to the point where scientists often consult the web for publications before going to a library.

Archival publications are but one means of communication that has typically been used by scientists. Another mode of communication that has a long history of use is the presentation of talks at meetings and during visits to other institutions. Oral presentations have historically been less formal, and allow the speaker to be more speculative and interactive.

In the last few years, several technological developments have made it possible to distribute high quality video of talks on the web in addition to written publications. This distribution of videos from talks holds the promise of changing the way that scientists think about communication. Imagine what lessons would be available to us if we had the ability to view lectures by Kepler, Einstein, Turing, Shannon, or von Neumann! Imagine also what it would be like to be able to watch and listen to selected talks from conferences that are across the world, without having to suffer the burden of traveling to the remote location. Such media are unlikely to ever completely supplant the richness of communication that arises from personal interaction in physical proximity, but it will probably still change scientific communication as much as email and the web have already.