Product Review: Aeon.
Non-profit scholarly site Aeon offers a wealth of documentary and educational films to feed your mind.
I’ve become quite the fan of Aeon over the last year. The brainchild of UK residents Brigid and Paul Hains, Aeon draws articles and essays from top thinkers on a wide variety of disciplines. The arts, humanities, social and practical sciences all rub elbows on the front page. The air can be a bit rarefied and the jargon can sometimes floor a layman – these are some of the top thinkers in their fields basically allowing us to peak over their shoulders – so it can be intimidating.
It can also be exhilarating, as often these essays invite the writer to break out of the academic paper straitjacket and just talk about stuff that interests them. I’d seen that Aeon offered a video section, but it wasn’t until recently with my review of their exclusive short documentary Dream Girl that I saw just how much was on offer.
Founded in 2012 by the Hains, Aeon is a non-profit charity that aggregates and publishes a ton of scholarly pieces. While partnerships with universities and publications provide access to traditional academic papers, the meat of the site is original essays and short-form pieces (called Ideas)…and a quickly burgeoning section for video essays, documentaries and interviews. These videos range from 3 minute explorations of educational topics and cultural issues to 20 minute originals and exclusives.
Much like the sci-fi platform Dust, Aeon’s page aggregates videos which are primarily hosted on platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo. The site organizes the offerings under broad categories: latest, popular, originals and exclusives. The videos are further tagged by theme and run length, but there is no way to sort the films. When you select a video, you get more information such as the videos source, credits, and a summary of the film.
Free. They are a non-profit after all. (There are headers and footers appealing for donations to Aeon. They’re just one size up from unobtrusive and one size down from obnoxious. Luckily they’re pretty bland so you quickly develop a blind spot for them.)
Aeon’s library may seem niche, but it’s limitations are deceptive. As long as you’re in the mood for something educational, their is a video here for every interest under the sun. It has a tremendous variety in terms of length, depth, tone and ability level. There are fun and breezy overviews of a subject; Aeon also features deeply plotted and meticulously researched treatises on high level concepts. There are interviews that range from brief “Big Think” style personality pieces, to what could easily pass for a college lecture.
The documentaries include juried works that have won international prizes, to quick 5 minute series on current event topics. It’s all educational, which may seem monotonous, but the scope and diversity of the pieces means you can easily binge hours of short videos from film theory to string theory.
As the preceding paragraph illustrates, I think Aeon is more than just a niche platform. We’ve reviewed other streaming services with focused content before: Dust is just sci-fi, Shudder is just horror, and SnagFilms is primarily art-house fare. Niche streaming seems to be a trending model for smaller services to make a name and to get picked up by the mega-aggregators like VRV. I would say that Aeon is much more like Snagfilms than it is like Dust or Shudder.
It has a limited purview, but within that domain it has a stunning amount of variety. The major issue I have with Aeon is that is not well-optimized for search. The creators would probably call that a feature instead of a bug; the ethos of the site is to foster a breadth and depth of knowledge, like the classical liberal arts colleges of yore. Aeon video is a post-secondary education…without the crippling debt or alcoholism.