The Evolution of TED

For lunch on Thursdays I meet up with a few friends in a conference room at work and we watch TED videos. What are TED videos? I’m sure you’ve seen some. I’ve linked to several of them from here. TED is a conference, and the videos are from talks at that conference. But there are lots of conferences… why have TED talks become their own special category?

TED was created by Richard Saul Wurman many years ago as an exclusive conference dedicated to Technology, Entertainment, and Design (hence the name). Since then the ownership has changed hands, and TED has become something bigger. Chris Anderson, the owner since 2001, has pushed it in a more open direction, building on the mission “ideas worth spreading.” With the help of some generous sponsors, TED now makes available an astonishing amount of high quality video for free. The latest Fast Company magazine talks about how TED is the new Harvard. That’s overblown of course, but it does make me happy to know that clever people in all corners of the globe are able to enjoy these talks free of charge. It may not be Harvard, but it’s a darn good education.

Here’s a talk from TED employee June Cohen at O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 conference this year. It’s interesting to see how the process looks from the inside. Even when you have strong managerial belief that giving stuff away is the right thing to do, it’s very scary actually doing it. And yet it’s paid off in the most dramatic way. TED is more successful than ever, and has, in the words of her title, transitioned from “a conference to a platform.” In the same way that Google has been well served by its mission of organizing the world’s information, TED has been able to grow beyond its wildest ambitions by following its own mission of spreading great ideas.

Extra bonus: Greatest Hits of TED Videos. I recommend watching them at lunchtime with friends.