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Vloggers revolutionizing knowledge sharing

By Meng Wenjie | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-28 07:54
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Learning through short videos has become a popular trend. VCG/CHINA DAILY

Video content creators foster curiosity and understanding through bite-sized knowledge-sharing videos, sparking ongoing learning beyond traditional education, Meng Wenjie reports.

Ever wondered why deep-sea fish look so peculiar or how social media apps track your preferences? The answers to these questions can be found in the videos produced by "Chaizhidao", a channel on multiple Chinese video platforms, including Bilibili and Douyin, dedicated to popularizing science.

Wang Zhenxing, the founder of "Chaizhidao", was born in 1992. Recognizing the increasing trend of young people acquiring knowledge through video content, he started pursuing video creation in 2016. His team initially produced both knowledge-based videos and articles. But in 2019, Wang made the decisive commitment to focus solely on video production.

Comprising over a dozen members mainly from Generation Z, Wang's team boasts diverse professional backgrounds in geophysics, engineering, and design, presenting knowledge in each area in a simple and accessible manner.

However, conveying a complex topic in a digestible 5 to 10-minute video format is not simple. To ensure a comprehensive dissemination of scientific insights, Wang's team employs a variety of techniques tailored to the nature of the information at hand. For topics rooted in everyday life, they incorporate live-action or real-life footage to foster a sense of relatability with their audience. For more abstract principles, hand-drawn animations serve as an invaluable tool in visually conveying intricate concepts.

In a video discussing the existence of garbled characters in computers, Wang's team chose to use purely animated illustrations to explain the underlying principles. "We spent nearly three months creating this 15-minute video," he said.

Their hard work has paid off. The channel has attracted over 10 million followers across different platforms.

Learning through short videos has become a popular trend in recent years. A research report released by Bilibili in 2023 revealed that as of March 2023, 243 million users had engaged with knowledge-based content on Bilibili over the past year. This figure surpasses the number of college students in China by 5.5 times, indicating the widespread appeal of this form of learning.

As the audience for such content continues to grow, video bloggers like Wang are witnessing gradual expansion and are playing increasingly significant roles in internet content creation. Notably, the report highlights that in 2023, general knowledge subject videos made up 41 percent of Bilibili's overall content.

The report also suggests that sharing knowledge through videos prompted the emergence of "niche knowledge" and "implicit knowledge" categories. For instance, Bilibili houses numerous content creators from niche industries, such as professional storm photographers, expert donkey hoof trimmers, and cultural relic restorers. Thanks to these video influencers, the implicit knowledge within these fields has now been more widely popularized.

Among the influencers are Xiaotou (pseudonym) and Mingming (pseudonym), a young couple who run a channel on Bilibili named "Xiaotou Mingming TM", dedicated to sharing cultural and artistic knowledge.

Xiaotou, born in 1994, holds a degree in advertising, while Mingming, born in 1995, holds a degree in art. They started the channel in 2020 and their videos primarily delve into art history, shining a light on the untold stories of often-overlooked artists.

"We strive for highly original content, avoiding topics that have already been extensively covered by others," Mingming said. "This drives us to uncover the more unusual and fascinating details of history, highlighting those transparent, inconspicuous, and often overlooked people and stories."

As a female creator, Xiaotou incorporates a distinctive female perspective into the channel. In a special video series titled Transparent Her, Xiaotou unveils the stories of female artists and scientists hidden and overlooked in history.

"In my exploration of art history, I have noticed that while male artists often take center stage, females are predominantly cast as models," Xiaotou said.

Motivated by this realization, she immersed herself in various texts, unearthing numerous narratives of female artists tucked away in the margins. She soon discovered that these stories were scattered across different sources and seldom brought to light.

"As a content creator, I understand that tales of renowned figures are more likely to captivate audiences, whereas narratives of lesser-known female artists might not receive as much attention," Xiaotou admitted. However, she still chose to share the brilliance of these inspiring women, bringing courage and strength to a wider audience.

"Hoping to do more than simply recount historical anecdotes or life stories of artists, I aim to explore their connections with life in the process of sharing knowledge, addressing the confusion and difficulties people may encounter in their daily lives," she said.

Credibility matters

With the emergence of knowledge-based videos, distinguishing reliable and rigorous content among the abundance of available videos can be challenging for many viewers.

Tang Cheng, born in 1990, is a video blogger on Bilibili. He and his wife, Cai Chunlin, both have academic backgrounds in science.

In 2019, they ventured into producing general life sciences videos on their channel "Fangsi Tafu" (Fun Stuff).

In 2020, Tang started making a series of short videos focusing on dinosaurs. After surveying existing online popular science videos, he found that most of these prehistoric creatures were either conveyed in an overly simplistic manner or were excessively technical.

"Some videos even address dinosaurs by their fossil numbers instead of their names," Tang said. Recognizing the limitations these videos had in providing general viewers with a comprehensive knowledge of dinosaurs, Tang resolved to create his own series.

Fun Stuff's videos blend entertainment with accuracy. Tang's engaging narration, together with captivating scripts, and fitting background music, selected by Cai, transforms paleontology and the history of evolution into an exciting competition.

"Through these videos, I hope to instill a sense of fascination in the audience toward life sciences," Tang said.

When it comes to science content, precision and reliability are the key. Tang once dedicated nearly two months to crafting a video on the evolution of ginkgo trees, with most of his time spent on thorough investigation and verification. Throughout his research, Tang encountered a lack of systematic research papers or monographs on the topic. As a result, he and his team compiled all relevant papers they found so that they could present comprehensive knowledge clearly and engagingly.

"Referring to one research paper after another, we confirmed nearly every statement made in the video," Tang said. "I would venture to say that this video is the first to thoroughly explore the topic of the evolution of ginkgo trees."

Tang perceives pseudoscience as similar to weeds in a field — harmful yet a natural occurrence. "Creators of authentic popular science content make things better and more rigorous, whereas pseudoscience naturally wanes in influence over time," he explained.

According to Wang, a key criterion for assessing the reliability of a popular science video lies in its sources of information.

"If a video relies on information derived from primary research papers or includes perspectives from interviews with experts and scholars in relevant fields, it is generally considered more credible," he said.

Each video crafted by Wang's team demands a minimum of three weeks to produce. In addition to consulting research papers or authoritative literature, they actively engage in interviews with industry professionals.

"Not all knowledge is documented in traditional sources like books and papers, especially information closely tied to contemporary changes. While such information may not have been systematically compiled in literature, it often resides in the minds of experts at the forefront of their fields," he explained.

Feedback from professional viewers also plays an important role in refining the content. If errors or omissions are pointed out, Wang's team will promptly issue corrections in the video's comment section after verification. "Timely corrections upon discovering errors also foster positive interactions with the audience," Wang said.

Knowledge sprout

It might be true that the entertainment nature of short knowledge-based videos aids in avoiding the typical boredom associated with learning, but how much do they really teach since they're usually only a few minutes long?

"I don't think short videos provide a structured learning experience," said Wang. However, he also stressed that these videos offer fragmented information, supplementing knowledge gained outside traditional education.

"If the videos spark viewers' interest in a specific subject or field and encourage them to delve into structured learning, it's immensely rewarding for popular science content creators," he added.

Mingming drew upon observed data to underscore the benefits of knowledge-based videos for viewers. " The back-end data of our videos show peak viewership after lunch, dinner, and on weekends, which means these videos don't disrupt formal education or structured learning. Instead, they replace entertainment time, enabling people to acquire knowledge in bite-sized chunks."

He believes that these snippets of knowledge plant seeds in viewers' minds. For example, he and Xiaotou often receive messages from viewers who, while traveling or visiting a museum, come across a painting mentioned in one of their videos.

Tang shared his perspective on nurturing a healthy ecosystem for popular science. He believes the audience for such content is diverse, each with unique needs.

"For instance, I created a comprehensive popular science video about a particular type of ancient creature. However, some viewers might not even know that such a creature exists. Therefore, even a short introductory video about it provides new knowledge for them," Tang explained.

"As long as it's a rigorous knowledge-sharing video, it's beneficial. Only with numerous reliable creators catering to diverse audiences and producing varied content online can we establish a healthy popular science ecosystem."

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