In 2004, Microsoft Evangelist Jon Udell became enamored with “making movies of software.” As a high-powered denizen in computer town, Udell spent countless hours describing how new applications and programs work. Being able to convey that expertise through live experiences rather than text-based accounts was a powerful development that could easily and accurately disseminate information.

He thought the medium needed a name, so – in a pristine example of crowdsourcing – he asked his readers for help. The perfect answer would describe, “a progressively-downloadable video, which shows interaction with software, as is narrated by a presenter, or as emerges in a conversation.”

Screecasting was born. But in the four years since it’s official reception, what was originally a genre relegated to tech-centric how-tos, has undergone an artsy rebirth, and comedians and auteurs adopted the aesthetic.

These newfangled screencasts, devoid of traditional tutorial, essentially fall into two categories: “Comedy” and “Cool.”

I’m sure there were previous pretenders, but the clear King of Screencast Comedy is You Suck at Photoshop. The series parodies the genre perfectly, shot in real-time and starring the monitor of an emotional Photoshop tutorialist who can’t separate image altering from his personal life.

The Website is Down (embedded above) takes YSAP a step further, totally eliminating any how-to elements and shifting the focus to how a “web guy” interacts with his machine. What’s appealing here is the intrinsic insidery. A deep understanding and intimate familiarity with computer software programs and culture isn’t necessary for enjoyment, but it certainly adds to one’s appreciation.

The “Cool” category is essentially eye candy. This ranges from videos incidental to the creator’s actual end-product – like Chad Pughs time-lapsed illustration for Vimeo – to contrived videos that use screencasting in innovative, expressive ways – like the music video for The Bird and the Bee‘s “Again and Again” by Dennis Liu (below).

And this is just the beginning. Screencasting is a nascent genre that’s easy to use but difficult to master. I’m looking forward to more talented individuals giving the medium a shot. Personally, I’d like to see a comedy series about watching an online comedy series with real-life digital interruptions – e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, IM, Skype, etc. – playing bit roles.  If done well, that show could be internet gold.

But anything’s possible.  When the computer screen is the canvas, there aren’t really any limitations.

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