In June 2006, Peter Hopkins, a civic-minded and idealistic 2004 Harvard graduate, trekked up to his alma mater from New York for a meeting with Lawrence H. Summers, the economist and former Treasury secretary. Mr. Hopkins, who finagled the appointment through his friendship with Mr. Summers’s assistant, had a business idea: a Web site that could do for intellectuals what YouTube, the popular video-sharing site, did for bulldogs on skateboards.
The pitch — “a YouTube for ideas” — appealed to Mr. Summers. “Larry, to his credit, is open to new ideas,” Mr. Hopkins recalled recently. “He grilled me for two hours.” In the age of user-generated content, Mr. Summers did have one worry: “Let’s say someone puts up a porn video next to my macroeconomic speech?”
It took awhile, but a year after that meeting, Mr. Summers decided to invest (“a few tens of thousands of dollars,” he said, adding “not something I’m hoping to retire on”) in the site, called Big Think, which officially makes its debut today after being tested for several months.
Big Think (www.bigthink.com) mixes interviews with public intellectuals from a variety of fields, from politics, to law to business, and allows users to engage in debates on issues like global warming and the two-party system. It plans to add new features as it goes along, including a Facebook-like application for social networking, and Mr. Hopkins said he would like the site to become a popular place for college students looking for original sources.