Watching videos online is usually considered fun, but generally a waste of time. Not so with TED videos, which are uniformly interesting, educational, inspiring, and enjoyable. If you haven’t spent much time (or any) checking out TED videos, you should – and to help with that, I’ve compiled what seem to be the very best 10 TED videos of 2011.

It was a grueling task, combing through the cream of the crop on the TED site, but somebody had to do it.

Some of the talks may have been filmed prior to 2011 but all of the talks here were posted in 2011. Unless you were lucky enough to attend the TED event in question, it’s still new to you. Enjoy!

How I Became 100 Artists

You don’t need to be an artist to appreciate Shea Hembrey’s “How I became 100 artists,” but if you are it’s even more amazing. Hembrey talks about his experience staging an “international art show” with 100 different artists. That would be daunting, but Hembrey decided to invent the 100 artists and create their biographies, passions, and art himself. A fascinating and inspiring piece.

A Modern Take on Piano, Violin, Cello

If music is more your thing, then the “Modern Take on Piano, Violin, Cello” entry from the Ahn Trio is a must-watch (and listen). The Ahn sisters (Maria, Lucia, and Angella) don’t spend much time talking, but you won’t be disappointed.

3 Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed

Learning experiences like this, I could do without. But Ric Elias’ talk “3 things I learned while my plane crashed, details the experience of being on flight 1549 as it crash-landed in the Hudson River in January 2009.

How to Spot a Liar

If you’ve ever watched the show Lie to Me, you’ll find this talk by Pamela Meyer fascinating. In “how to spot a liar,” Meyer explains many of the tell-tale signs of lying and how people are often complicit in choosing to believe a lie.

Try Something New for 30 Days

This is the perfect talk to watch as you plan your New Year’s resolutions. Google’s Matt Cutts talks about how you can break or form a habit by trying something new for 30 days.

“The idea is actually pretty simple. Think about something you’ve always wanted to add to your life and try it for the next 30 days. It turns out, 30 days is just about the right amount of time to add a new habit or subtract a habit – like watching the news – from your life.”

Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education

You’ve probably heard of the Khan Academy, as it’s been a big topic on ReadWriteWeb. If you want to get the scoop on how and why it was created, Salman Khan explains in his talk “let’s use video to reinvent education.” Far from “dehumanizing” education, Khan explains how the video tutorials have helped free up teachers to work with students.

The Hidden Beauty of Pollination

Louie Schwartzberg’s message in “the hidden beauty of pollination” isn’t just important, the video is beautiful. For this one, I recommend hitting up the talk page and downloading the high-res video. Schwartzberg uses high-speed images taken from his film Wings of Life to tell the story of pollinators like bees, bats, hummingbirds and butterflies.

The Art of Wearable Communication

Kate Hartman’s talk about wearable devices is a bit quirky, but very interesting. In “the art of wearable communication, Hartman talks about why bodies matter and how she works with everything from radio transceivers to plastic tubes to make wearable devices.

Haunting Photos of Polar Ice

Odds are, you’ll probably never get a chance to see the icebergs around Antarctica. That’s a shame, because as Camille Seaman points out in her TED talk, they’re really something to see.

This one is short and sweet, and well worth the time to watch.

Cracking Stuxnet, a 21st-Century Cyber Weapon

The Stuxnet worm, and what we’ve read about it in the media, is scary. But it’s even scarier than you might imagine. Ralph Langner explains how they dissected Stuxnet, where Langner believes it was originated, and the implications. Watch “cracking Stuxnet, a 21st-century cyber weapon” and you’ll be fascinated and probably a bit horrified.

Your Favorites?

It’s worth mentioning that the TED site is exactly the way that conference videos should be posted. The videos are well-shot. Subtitles are available for the videos in not just English, but many other languages.

There’s a full, interactive transcript for each video. You can download videos in high quality formats for viewing later on your phone, tablet, computer or television if you have a player that supports MP4. While there are some ads on the site, they’re minimal and not very intrusive. Which, by the way, works. Delta was sponsoring the site, and having minimal advertising attracted my attention more than if it were festooned in ads. However, we’ve embedded the YouTube links here because the TED embeds were a bit sluggish. Do check out the direct links to the TED site as well, though.

So there you have it, our picks for the best 10 Ted videos of the year. Have a favorite talk from 2011 that’s not on the list, or a talk from a previous year that RWW readers should know about? Please share it in the comments!

joe brockmeier 1