Can NBC's iCue teach you anything new?

Designed as a "learning environment," tool uses a large collection of news clips from NBC's archives to enable anyone to catch up on news coverage and current events.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

Last week NBC quietly released a learning tool called iCue in conjunction with MIT. (See coverage on CNET TV's Loaded.) It's been designed as a "learning environment" using a large collection of news clips taken from NBC's video archives to enable anyone to catch up on news coverage and current events. This archived footage is put into context, as long as viewers are willing to acknowledge that the content is coming only from one source (NBC), and for now only with the focus on the U.S. presidential elections.

To get going, users can simply wander around the site, viewing various footage that's been meticulously categorized and documented (complete with transcripts). They can also put their knowledge to the test with a smattering of editor-created mini games that require both a contextual understanding of what was going on at the time of the clip, along with whatever other bits of historical insight are found in the one- to two-minute segments. There's a whole lot going on, and I'm betting the casual user is going to get lost very easily.

That's not to say NBC hasn't created a very powerful tool. If you've got the time and patience to learn the system and sit through a bunch of old news clips, you're likely to pick up some knowledge, albeit slightly outdated. Some games are even easy, like the clone of concentration that has you matching pairs of presidential candidates with former U.S. presidents based on which state they're from--that's downright fun.

Concentration is one of iCue's more enjoyable excercises, having you match up presidential candidates from different eras based on what state they're from. CNET Networks

Another thing NBC has definitely gotten right is the video player. Each clip is housed in a tiny floating window that can be flipped over like widgets in OS X's Dashboard. This B-side contains the video's metadata, including an entire set of keywords that pull up a listing of related clips. Users can add their own keywords, in the form of tags, as well as color each video item one of six colors, which I think is superfluous, unless you're planning to color code your entire collection of videos--a nice touch for library science majors, but likely to be useless for most.

NBC's video playing widget is simple yet full of extra options on its 'B-side' that you can flip to. CNET Networks

The site is also a social network in the making. iCue users can befriend one another and send each other their small video collections (iCue calls them "stacks") that contain whatever notes, comments, and tags that have been added to each clip. I couldn't wrangle up anyone to swap stacks with me, but in practice you can chronicle an issue from beginning to end with a collection of clips and pass it on to someone else to watch in whatever order you want. That's pretty neat, albeit time-consuming to put together.

So to answer the question I asked earlier, NBC's iCue can definitely provide a whole lot content and context for current events if you're willing to jump through some hoops. There are a ton of clips on there, and parsing through them can be as easy or as difficult as you're willing to make it. NBC's greatest asset is in some of the pre-made sets of exercises and games, which put the grunt work on the editors instead of the users.

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