YouTube today announced YouTube Slam, a new “experiment” they cooked up with Google Research. On the surface, it’s a pitch to fans to be a part of creating the next viral video sensation–the YouTube blog post says you can help discover the next Charlie Bit My Finger or Surprised Kitty. Each week, featured new videos will be matched up in head to head battles that the users vote on, with the winners being featured on a YouTube Slam Leaderboard.

YouTube Slam – Video Vs. Video

For instance, there just might be some battles over cuteness:

Weekly winners will be featured on the Leaderboard, which looks like this:

Of course, this is about more than a fun treat for users–and it’s definitely a fun treat for users. But YouTube has ulterior motives here, and I love them. They want to improve video discovery… they want to better their ability to predict, find, and feature content that is going to appeal to the masses.

See, YouTube wins when people watch more videos (and specifically when they spend more time watching videos). They haven’t given up on their quest to rival television in the amount of time people spend on the service each day.

YouTube Slam is a way to let a smaller sample size of the overall video viewing population tell YouTube what videos (and what type of videos in general) are the best. Which… in turn… will help YouTube get the right content in the right places so viewers of all kinds can find what they want and be entertained.

And I don’t mean to diminish the actual fun and usefulness of this “experiment” for the users, many of whom I’m sure would enjoy helping decide which videos have the best shot at being the next big thing. So all in all I think this is a good thing for everyone.

But the true power and meaning of YouTube Slam probably won’t be known or felt for a while. I’m sure YouTube has high hopes for the kind of data and insight they can glean from user interaction with YouTube Slam–hopefully to help them begin to curate their own content a little better and get the right videos in front of the right viewers. Everyone wins with better video discovery.