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Putting People First

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July 2007
31 July 2007

The cold, cold heart of Web 2.0

Web 2.0
An essay by sociologist and policy analyst William Davies (blog) in The Register offers a critique of Web 2.0, arguing that it represents a similar form of ‘economic imperialism’ as that promoted by Chicago School economists such as Gary Becker. In each case, utilitarianism is lifted outside of the realms of bureaucratic, economistic service delivery, and pushed into areas of our lives that were previously untouched by instrumental, egocentric rationality.

“What has changed is that these otherwise secluded and organic realms of social interaction are now the focus of obsessive technological innovation and commercial interest. The same technological zeal and business acumen that once was applied to improving the way we buy a book or pay our car tax is now being applied to the way we engage in social and cultural activities with others.

In short, efficiency gains are no longer being sought only in economic realms such as retail or public services, but are now being pursued in parts of our everyday lives where previously they hadn’t even been imagined. Web 2.0 promises to offer us ways of improving the processes by which we find new music, new friends, or new civic causes. The hassle of undesirable content or people is easier to cut out. We have become consumers of our own social and cultural lives.

It’s here that the connection with Gary Becker becomes plain. Where Becker took the utilitarian assumptions of economics and pushed them into areas of society seemingly untouched by rational self-interest, Web 2.0 takes the efficiency-enhancing capabilities of digital technology and pushes them into areas of society previously untouched by efficiency criteria.

But in both cases there is a crucial aspect of human relations that is missed out and threatened as a result. This is that the means by which people discover, choose or access something can very often contribute its value. People are not only outcome-oriented.”

Read full story

30 July 2007

For better or worse, adults learn to say it with emoticons

Emoticons
“Emoticons, the smiling, winking and frowning faces that inhabit the computer world, have not only hung around long past their youth faddishness of the 1990s, but they have grown up,” writes the International Herald Tribune.

“Twenty-five years after they were invented as a form of shorthand for computer-geeks, emoticons – an open-source form of pop art that has evolved into a quasi-accepted form of punctuation – are now ubiquitous.

No longer are they simply the province of the generation that has no memory of record albums, $25 jeans or a world without Nicole Richie. These sweet hieroglyphs, arguably as dignified as dotting one’s I’s with kitten faces, have conquered new landscape in the lives of adults, as more of our daily communication shifts from the spoken word to text. Applied appropriately, users say, emoticons can no longer be dismissed as juvenile because they offer a degree of insurance for a variety of adult social interactions, and help avoid serious miscommunications.”

Note the casual observation that our communication is shifting from the spoken word to text, which is confirmed by Swisscom’s ethnographic research on communication patterns in Switzerland.

The article also includes a short interview with Scott Fahlman, the inventor of the emoticon.

Read full story

30 July 2007

Bill Gates on natural user interfaces

Bill Gates
In an article in today’s New York Times about how Bill Gates is planning his leave from Microsoft to devote himself to his $33 billion foundation, a great deal of attention goes to Gates’ decade-long agenda for the company.

According to the article, Gates described at the company’s annual financial meeting last week “a world in which the widespread availability of broadband networks would reshape computing, giving rise to what he said would be “natural user interfaces” like pen, voice and touch, replacing many functions of keyboards and mice.”

“Ubiquitous broadband networks and high speed wireless networks have for the first time given rise to meaningful alternatives to bulky and costly personal computers. In their place are a proliferating collection of smart connected devices that are tied together by a vast array of Internet-based information services based in centralized data centers.

The industry is rushing to “software as a service” models ranging from Salesforce.com, a San Francisco company that sells business contact software delivered via Web browsers, to Apple’s iPhone, which is designed as a classic “thin client,” a computer that requires the Internet for many of its capabilities.

It is a vision that Microsoft itself has at least partially embraced. Microsoft, in contrast, is calling its strategy “software plus services,” an approach that is intended to protect the company’s existing installed base.

During the interview, all three executives indicated that Microsoft is now moving quickly to offer new Internet services for personal computer users. Centralized data storage will make it possible for PC users to gain access to most or all of their information from all of the different types of computers they use, whether they are desktops, laptops or smartphones, and wherever they are located.”

The article raises more questions than providing answers, leaving in the middle how such interfaces could become “natural”, what it might mean for people to have all this information always available (the issue of “presence” comes to mind), and how to make that experience seamless across devices.

So I tried finding out something more about the Microsoft thinking on natural user interfaces (aside from the recently launched Surface, that is), but couldn’t yet find that much. Here is a quote from a review of the Gates presentation at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC 2007): “He also talked about ‘natural user interface’ talking about how important he thinks touch, pen, and voice input will be in the future. In particularly, he singled out work on Chinese and Japanese pen input. He talked about new form factors (some of which will be driven by the new user interfaces); and talked about unified communications, where the ‘phone is going to be the PC and the PC is going to be the phone.'”

Read full story

29 July 2007

Web special on factors that make a city great

Urban Manifesto
A large chunk of the latest issue of Monocle magazine on the 20 most liveable cities in the world is freely available via the International Herald Tribune.

All the content is linked from the introductory article “Urban Manifesto: Factors that make a city great” by Tyler Brûlé, Monocle’s editor-in-chief.

“Our mission for this issue is a simple one – we want to improve the urban experience. It’s a tricky enough task for forward-thinking local governments to tackle, let alone a media brand, but we’ve been thinking about this theme since our launch and decided the best time to engage politicians, developers, architects, financiers and anyone else who has influence or an opinion about city-life was while they were stretched out, relaxed, taking the sun and fully focused on their own quality of life.

Our focus is firmly fixed on identifying the components and forces that make a city not simply attractive or wealthy but truly liveable. Researched over a three-month period, our quality of life survey is 50 per cent scientific (we’ll come to our metrics shortly) and 50 per cent subjective (sometimes a place just rubs you the wrong way and you’re not quite sure why).”

Web specials include:

And if that’s enough, there is also a comments section.

29 July 2007

BMW’s car dealership cathedral

BMW Welt
The New York Times reports that BMW is opening a lavish, cathedral-like showroom in Munich to showcase its history and to deliver vehicles, bathed in a spotlight and rotating on a turntable, to their new owners.

“Strolling through BMW Welt, with its cyclone-shaped entrance and billowing, cloudlike facade, it is easy to forget why the carmaker built this more than $250 million palace: to hand over cars to customers.

Starting in October, about 170 vehicles a day will be delivered to the cathedral-like showroom at BMW Welt (BMW World, in English). Rather than picking up a new car at a local dealership, drivers who pay a little extra for the privilege come here to receive delivery of their vehicles, finding them bathed in a spotlight and rotating on a turntable.”

The article highlights how other German carmakers are also erecting “a string of lavish, architecturally distinct temples to showcase their wares” – such as the Mercedes-Benz Museum, the brand new Porsche Museum and Volkswagen’s Autostadt, one of Germany’s top tourist attractions. The author argues that the current building boom “reflects the increasingly intense competition among the world’s leading luxury carmakers — as well as the threat posed by younger Asian auto brands that are gaining on them” and that “nowadays, that competition turns as much on heritage and image as on horsepower and handling.”.

Read full story

29 July 2007

New York Times questions von Hippel by underlining value of top-down innovation approach

Instructibles
G. Pascal Zachary, a journalist, author and teacher (at Stanford), argues in the New York Times that “the opening of innovation to wider numbers of people obscures another trend: many of the most popular new products don’t allow for customization.”

User-generated content — from Wikipedia to YouTube to open-source software — is generating waves of excitement. But the opening of innovation to wider numbers of people obscures another trend: many of the most popular new products, like the iPod, are dominated by a top-down, elite innovation model that doesn’t allow for customization.

“New technologies are becoming so complex that many are beyond the possibility of democracy playing a role in their development,” said Thomas P. Hughes, a science and technology professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Consider: Electronic implants into human bodies; gene-splicing as common as cosmetic surgery; computer networks mining vast databases to discern consumer preferences. All of these innovations are the result of corporate or government initiatives overseen by elites.

To be sure he gives credit to Eric von Hippel and the online community Instructables, but raises the question whether this is not some “kind of “democracy lite,” emphasizing high-end consumer products and services rather than innovations that broadly benefit society”.

Read full story

29 July 2007

Information architecture island on Second Life

Peter Morville talk on Second Life
The Information Architecture Institute (IAI), a professional membership organisation, has created an Info Architecture island on Second Life.

Several apparently well-attended events have already taken place:

Andrew Hinton‘s “Architectures for Conversation: What Communities of Practice Can Mean for Information Architecture” was the inaugural event on IAI’s new Second Life island. You can download snapshots, transcript and slidedeck.

Next in line was Peter Morville (blog). In his talk “Information Architecture 3.0“, Peter drew upon stories, examples, case studies, and discussions to explore the future present of information architecture. Also here you can download snapshots, transcript and slidedeck.

Session three is on 2 August with the talk “Search Engine Optimization and Information Architecture – The Makings of a Beautiful Friendship” by Marianne Sweeny. Marianne will talk about what is going on behind the scenes of today’s search technology, what is in the pipeline for tomorrow’s search technology and how information architects can work with this technology to create optimal online wayfinding systems.

27 July 2007

slow+design, examining the slow approach to design

unisg
The new “Food for Thought” journal of Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Sciences examines the slow approach to design. The entire contents in Italian and English are available to any one who completes the free registration. You can also order a printed copy.

In the article “Beyond Food Design to a Sustainable Sensoriality” (Italian version), Giacomo Mojoli, vice-president of Slow Food International, contemplates what it means to mutually contaminate the sphere of food sensoriality with the wider one of material, manufacturing and creative sensoriality:

“Slow Food is one of these paradigms, a sort of strategic design project, a network prototype, applied to the world of food, agriculture and food education. Slow Food proposed a vision, a way of thinking and acting which by now has gone beyond food to inspire a new and eco-compatible way of conceiving development and economy, on a local as much as a global scale.”

Mojoli sees the objectives of Slow Food’s new slow+design initiative as to “reunite the quality of products with that of the environment and the social forms which generate them” and to “cross the experience of Slow Food with that of those who study and promote the new economy of social networks, the so-called distributed economy, and those who, in the practical and cultural ambit of design, are concerned with the quality of products, services and communications.”

The Slow Model: A Strategic Design Approach” (Italian version) is the title of the second article on the topic by Ezio Manzini (blog) and Anna Meroni of the Milan Polytechnic. They provide a more in-depth analysis of the relation between strategic design and the slow approach. They argue that a new sustainability can arise out of this innovative union, with a rigorous sensibility towards the environment, the quality of life and daily rhythms which can be integrated into the planning of spaces and objects.

“A slow approach means first of all the simple (but in these times revolutionary) affirmation that it is not possible to produce and appreciate quality without taking the time needed to do so, i.e. if we do not slow down in one way or another.

But slow today doesn’t mean just that; it also means a concrete and practicable way of putting this idea into action. It means cultivating quality by connecting products with producers, with the production sites and with the end users who participate in diverse ways in their definition and thus become co-producers.

The slow approach therefore outlines a model of production and alternative consumption which is both subversive and feasible, a model which confronts head on the ideas and practices of today’s globalization. Nevertheless it can be immediately realized on a local level and, as Slow Food has proven, with success.”

In their long essay, they suggest three strategic directions for the slow+design initiative: localisation and experience, phenomenological quality and sustainability, and skill and self-determination.

To find out more about the slow+design initiative, see this earlier post on Putting People First. In 2004 the New York Times also published a nice feature on the launch of the University of Gastronomic Sciences.

27 July 2007

Social scientists studying human interaction in online worlds

Virtual world
The BBC reports on how social scientists are starting to use game worlds as laboratories to study human interaction.

“Researchers are getting insights into real life by studying what people do in virtual worlds, reveals a review in the journal Science.

It suggests virtual worlds could help scientists studying ideas of government and even concepts of self. Others are looking at behaviours peculiar to online worlds and how they differ from real life.

Online worlds offer great potential to social scientists because they overcome some of the problems these researchers encounter when gathering subjects in the real world, Dr William Bainbridge, head of Human-Centred Computing at the US National Science Foundation, wrote in the journal.

For instance, he wrote, social scientists often face problems finding subjects fast enough or securing funds to carry out the research.

The popularity of online worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft meant there was a ready pool of subjects that could be recruited over long periods of time for little cost, he said.

The game worlds also gather huge amounts of data about what players do that could easily be analysed by social scientists, wrote Dr Bainbridge.”

Read full story

26 July 2007

Mapmaking for the masses, online

Horse trails
“With the help of simple tools from Internet companies, millions of people are reshaping mapmaking and creating a new kind of atlas,” writes Miguel Helft in the International Herald Tribune.

“On the Web, anyone can be a mapmaker.

With the help of simple tools introduced by Internet companies recently, millions of people are trying their hand at cartography, drawing on digital maps and annotating them with text, images, sound and videos.

In the process, they are reshaping the world of mapmaking and collectively creating a new kind of atlas that is likely to be both richer and messier than any other.

They are also turning the Web into a medium where maps will play a more central role in how information is organised and found.

Already there are maps of biodiesel fueling stations in New England, yarn stores in Illinois and hydrofoils around the world. Many maps depict current events, including the detours around a collapsed San Francisco Bay area freeway, and the path of two whales that swam up the Sacramento River delta in May.”

Read full story

26 July 2007

Former Experientia intern, designer on Pentagram Design project that just won prestigious IDEA award

Interactive model of Lower Manhattan
Former Experientia intern Nina Boesch was the designer and programmer (under the creative lead of Lisa Strausfeld) on Pentagram Design‘s “Interactive model of Lower Manhattan” that just won an Industrial Design Excellence Award.

Co-sponsored by BusinessWeek magazine and the Industrial Designers Society of America, the Industrial Design Excellence Awards recognise the best product designs of the year.

This interactive architectural model of Lower Manhattan is the visual and educational centerpiece of Wall Street Rising‘s new Downtown Information Center. It provides information about the area’s history, points of interest and events. The model also serves as a communal space that visitors and residents can gather around, fostering a sense of community. A gyro-mouse is used to navigate and highlight streets, buildings and other sites, and information about the selections is projected onto the model. In addition to practical information, there are also eight short historical documentaries about the area.

Nina Boesch was born in 1978 in Bremen, Germany. She studied at the Hochschule für Künste in Bremen, Germany (where also current Experientia collaborator Marion Fröhlich graduated from) and at the Rhode Island School of Design (where Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels studied and taught and two other current Experientia interns – Laura Cunningham and Young-Eun Han – graduated from).

Last year Boesch won the 2006 Adobe Design Achievement Award in the category “interactive media” with her RISD thesis project “Manhattan Dissected“, an interactive application based on a subjectively viewed Manhattan. She started working for the New York Pentagram office after her graduation in 2006.

Janina was an Experientia intern in January-February 2006 and worked on several projects, including the design of this blog.

26 July 2007

A well-designed search engine for academic/scientific papers

Live Search
Live Search Academic is an online (beta) service to search for scholarly journal articles, conference proceedings, dissertations and academic books.

Live Search Academic is a part of the Live Search group of tools in Microsoft’s Windows Live range of services. It is similar to Google Scholar, but rather than crawling the Internet for academic content, Live Search Academic search results come directly from trusted sources, such as publishers of academic journals.

Key innovations in the user interface and sorting functionality have been designed to help consumers find information faster and truly give them an advantage in their research efforts. Key user features include these:

  • A preview pane, which allows customers to see the abstract of a result quickly by simply hovering their mouse over the result
  • The ability to group and sort results by author, journal, conference and date rather than just looking at a flat list of search results
  • Citation support in two major bibliographic formats, which enables customers to quickly compile citations
  • Author “live links” that will automatically connect to the search results of articles associated with a particular author by simply clicking on the hyperlink of the author’s name
  • A detail slider, which allows consumers to control the amount of information they see in the search results
  • Direct links to publishers’ published version, which allows customers to seamlessly access the full text of the article if they are on the network of the institution that subscribes to the full text
  • Support for macros, which allow customers to more finely tune their search results, and RSS so that consumers can be alerted when new information on a topic or author that they care about becomes available, which can be added to a customer’s Live.com page, will be coming in the following weeks.

Although launched over a year ago, I only heard about it now and immediately did a test search on “experience design”. I got a list of 322 academic papers as a result.

For more information on this new service, check the FAQ.

(via Newebmarketing)

26 July 2007

Explaining the semantic web in plain English

Web 3.0
Miko Coffey, head of digital media at NESTA (the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), has taken a nice attempt at “at a Plain English explanation of this woolly and unfortunately named concept [the Semantic web], hopefully in a way that even my mum would understand.”:

The semantic web is about making computers behave (or ‘think’) more like humans. The easiest way to understand what this means is to use a cooking analogy. Think of each website where you put your content as a big cookpot. You might throw a carrot into one pot and tag it ‘carrot’, and into another you might put some spaghetti and tag it ‘pasta’. Computers are fine with this kind of input.

But what computers can’t do yet is understand that the thing you called ‘carrot’ is a root vegetable, is full of Vitamin A – and that you are making minestrone soup. It also doesn’t know that you have another pot simmering, and that there’s pasta in there. Or that you need to make a sauce for it. This kind of thinking requires context, and an ability to see the big picture – that is, to know what’s in each pot, and to understand that you’re making dinner. That’s all that data-meshing is; it’s about applying meaning to information from different sources. This is what the semantic web is all about; I call it the “web of meaning” or the “contextual web”. It means being able to ask your computer everything from “When did I last have Sally over?” to “Can I afford a new laptop this month?”.

25 July 2007

Nokia Trends Lab

Nokia Trends Lab
Nokia Trends Lab is the company’s new physical and virtual hub of mobility experiences. It seems very much set up as a co-creation initiative, with Nokia wanting to enable creative thinkers to push the boundaries of how to use mobility as part of their creative process.

Various experiments are formed within the ‘Nokia Trends Lab’ and indulge every creative discipline ranging from music, photography, film, and design.

Music Lab
Including all styles and genres, composer, Djs, producers, ring tone creators and sound designers.

Photography Lab
Including all styles and genres

Design Lab
Including software development, product design, fashion items, multimedia creation, graphics, interactive and web content, VJ, Illustration, installation design and lighting.

Film Lab
Including film photography, special effects, character design and animation, computer animation shorts and pop promos, documentaries and film installations.

In addition, there is Nokia Trends Lab Live, with live performances taking place in a number of European cities.

There are now Nokia Trends Labs in France, Germany, Italy and Lithuania.

The European Nokia Trends Lab seem to be a version two of an earlier Nokia Trends project with strong Latin-American roots. There are Nokia trends sites for Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Europe, Mexico and Switzerland, and it is introduced as follows:

“Nokia Trends is an absolute hit with people in tune with the main trends in human and technological expression, bringing together both established and new artists.

Created in Brazil in 2004 and later exported to Latin American and European countries such as Mexico, France and Russia, Nokia Trends is an experience that proposes different ways of consuming and producing avant-garde art and music via electronic means – especially mobile ones.”

25 July 2007

Slidecasting – improving the online slide presentation experience

Slidecast
Slidecasting is a new multimedia format from SlideShare for viewing slide decks (e.g. a series of PowerPoint slides) synchronised with an audio file. It is for conference talks, musical slideshows, audio picture books or whatever else you can imagine.

To create a slidecast, you need to upload slides to SlideShare. Your audio file, however, can be hosted anywhere on the web- any server, file storage, or podcasting service. You link the slides & audio together using SlideShare’s synchronisation tool. Now every time you play the Slidecast, the audio is streamed from its location and plays with the slides.

Unlike webcasts or screencasts, slidecasts does not require complex recording or streaming technology or very large bandwidth. Instead it allows you to take existing media (slides and audio) and link them together using a free, web based interface.

(via Peter Van Dijck)

25 July 2007

Using design games

The Secret Life of Cars
Jess McMullin and others (Luke Hohmann, Serious Games, LEGO, Pat Kane) are using games and play within product, software, service and even policy development.

In this article on boxesandarrows McMullin describes why we use games, core game principles, how to apply games, and how to sell design games to your organisation or client. There’s also some good links and great commentary.

“One tool that I started to use in 2002 is design games: game-like activities that help my team gain insight, understanding, and clarity while avoiding dry and often unproductive meetings.

I’m a passionate proponent of ethnographic field studies and other ways of gaining human-centered insight. At the end of the day, that work needs to dovetail with organizational realities and requirements—and understanding business vision and drivers is where we often use design games.”

(via Ireland’s Centre for Design Innovation)

25 July 2007

BMW reports on the secret life of cars

The Secret Life of Cars
The architecture and design blog dezeen reports that carmaker BMW published the results of a UK-based study into the way people behave and feel while travelling in cars, both as drivers and passengers.

The findings come in a report called The Secret Life of Cars and What They Reveal About Us – an “anthropological study into human behaviour and motoring”, which was commissioned to help BMW understand drivers’ current and future needs.

The report explores issues such as the way sign language (image) has evolved so drivers can communicate with each other – but notes that no satisfactory signal for “sorry” has emerged. It also finds that, with the rise of eating and drinking in cars, inadequate cupholders is one of the biggest sources of driver discontent.

Among other issues explored in the report – which involved research, focus groups, driver interviews and in-car observations over a four-month period – are attitudes to vehicle emissions and climate change, talking and even singing in cars and the relationships people have with their vehicles.

The report explores the rituals of getting into and out of cars (men take an average of 8 seconds to get out, women 10 and families up to 10 minutes) and identifies new trends among car owners such as personalisation, regional colour preferences and “green-upmanship” – “a tendency to worry about whether their car looks ‘un-green’.

It suggests that families are now likely to spend more time together in the car than anywhere else and that car journeys have replaced the “semi-mythical family mealtime” as the main point of communal experience.

The study was carried out by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) in Oxford and the report was compiled by Not Actual Size.

- Download full report (pdf, 3.3mb, 89 pages)
– Other articles: The Times (UK), Design Week (UK)

(via Core77)

24 July 2007

Trabber, the simple flight search engine

Trabber
Trabber [a contraction of travel + grabber] is a new and seemingly simple search engine that simultaneously searches on the main online flight providers: online travel agencies, lowcost carriers and traditional airlines.

Trabber compares all the flight offer from [a still somewhat limited list of] providers and shows the final prices of the flights, without hidden cost. The Trabber results are the same that one would get by directly going one by one to all the web sites. The difference is that, with Trabber, one only has to search once to find all the available flights.

The tool was launched by two young Spanish entrepreneurs, with the help of a usability expert. The first version was in Spanish and that seems the most advanced site for now. Meanwhile, beta versions of the site have launched in the US, the UK, Italy and Germany.

Their business model is based on traffic redirection, they told me. The first impression is one that feels like Google, so perhaps being bought by Google might be their other business goal.

Some hickups need to be fixed still (it didn’t recognise Milan as a “nearby” airport to Turin and has only 6 traditional airlines in the Italian version), but on the whole it works rather well.

24 July 2007

Young keep it simple in high-tech world

Surfing
[Reuters] – While young people embrace the Web with real or virtual friends and their mobile phone is never far away, relatively few like technology and those that do tend to be in Brazil, India and China, according to a survey.

Only a handful think of technology as a concept, and just 16 percent use terms like “social networking”, said two combined surveys covering 8- to 24-year-olds published on Tuesday by Microsoft and Viacom units MTV Networks and Nickelodeon.

“Young people don’t see “tech” as a separate entity – it’s an organic part of their lives,” said Andrew Davidson, vice president of MTV’s VBS International Insight unit.

Talking to them about the role of technology in their lifestyle would be like talking to kids in the 1980s about the role the park swing or the telephone played in their social lives — it’s invisible.”

The surveys involved 18,000 young people in 16 countries including the UK, U.S., China, Japan, Canada and Mexico.

Read full story

21 July 2007

“And now for something entirely different…”

16 Words
Now and then I have to post something that is simply good, but has – at least at first sight – not much to do with the topic of this blog. Allow me.

The first one is 16 words (downloadreview), a hilarious Monty Python like political protest music video by Margo Guryan (an artist whose first album came out in 1968!). The music is great too.

Then there is the Daily Show by Jon Stewart. His “theatre critic” John Oliver brilliantly critiques (select second video) the Democratic failure of seriously addressing the Iraq war quagmire. Just one quote: “It’s the same old, old story: America meets war. America gets war. War turns out to be somewhat different from what America thought it was when it first fell in love with war. But now war won’t leave America alone.”

Finally, and more seriously, there is the eloquent, fiery and hard biting denouncement of George Bush and Dick Cheney by Keith Olbermann, the MSNBC news anchor.

Aside from the political message (that you may or may not agree with), it’s worth questioning why all three of these videos are so compelling.