TED (conference)

TED Conferences, LLC
Type of business LLC
Type of site
Available in English, multilingual subtitles, transcript
Founded February 23, 1984 (1984-02-23)

Area served USA
Owner Sapling Foundation[1]
Founder(s) Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks[2]
Slogan(s) Ideas worth spreading
Website ted.com
Alexa rank Increase834 (May 2016)[3]
Registration Optional
  • February 23, 1984 (1984-02-23) (first conference)
  • February 22, 1990 (1990-02-22) (annual event)
Current status Active

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an American set of conferences run by the private nonprofit organization Sapling Foundation, under the slogan "Ideas Worth Spreading".[4] TED was founded in February 1984[5] as a one-off event and the annual conference series began in 1990.[6] TED's early emphasis was technology and design, consistent with its Silicon Valley origins, but it has since broadened its focus to include talks on many scientific, cultural, and academic topics.[7]

The main TED conference is held annually in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Its companion TEDActive is held in the City of Whistler, British Columbia, about 125 kilometers northeast of Vancouver.[8][9] Prior to 2014, the two conferences were held in Long Beach and Palm Springs, California, respectively.[10] TED events are also held throughout North America and in Europe and Asia, offering live streaming of the talks. They address a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling.[11] The speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can.[12] Past speakers include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Billy Graham, Richard Dawkins, Bill Gates, Bono, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and many Nobel Prize winners.[13] TED's current curator is the British former computer journalist and magazine publisher Chris Anderson.[14]

External video
Jimmy Wales: The birth of Wikipedia, TED (conference), 2005[15]
Chris Anderson: A vision for TED, TED (conference), 2002[16]

Since June 2006,[2] the talks have been offered for free viewing online, under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives Creative Commons license, through TED.com.[17] As of March 2016, over 2,400 talks are freely available on the website.[18] In June 2011, the talks' combined viewing figure stood at more than 500 million,[19] and by November 2012, TED talks had been watched over one billion times worldwide.[20] Not all TED talks are equally popular, however. Those given by academics tend to be watched more online, and art and design videos tend to be watched less than average.[21]


1984-99: Founding and early years

Bill Clinton addresses TED, 2007

TED was conceived in 1984 by architect and graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman, who observed a convergence of the fields of technology, entertainment, and design (that is, "TED").[22] The first conference, organized by Harry Marks and Wurman in the same year, featured demos of the compact disc, co-developed by Philips and Sony and one of the first demonstrations of the Apple Macintosh computer.[2][23] Presentations were given by famous mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot and influential members of the digerati community, like Nicholas Negroponte and Stewart Brand. The event was financially unsuccessful; it took six years before the second conference was organized.[24]

From 1990 onward, a growing community of "TEDsters" gathered annually at the event in California State University Monterey Bay, until 2009, when it was relocated to Long Beach, California due to a substantial increase in attendees.[25] Initially, the speakers had been drawn from the fields of expertise behind the acronym TED, but during the nineties, the roster of presenters broadened to include scientists, philosophers, musicians, religious leaders, philanthropists, and many others.[24]

2000-16: Recent growth

Curator Chris Anderson in 2007

In 2000, Wurman, looking for a successor at age 65, met with new-media entrepreneur and TED enthusiast Chris Anderson to discuss future happenings. Anderson's UK media company Future bought TED. And, In November 2001, Anderson's non-profit The Sapling Foundation (motto: "fostering the spread of great ideas.")[1] acquired TED from Future for £6m.[26] In February 2002, Anderson gave a TEDTalk in which he explained his vision of the conference and his future role of curator.[27] Wurman left after the 2002 conference.

In 2006, attendance cost was $4,400 per person and was by invitation only.[28] The membership model was shifted in January 2007 to an annual membership fee of $6,000, which includes attendance of the conference, club mailings, networking tools, and conference DVDs. The 2017 conference will be $17,000 per attendee.[29]

In 2014, the conference was relocated to Vancouver.

TED is currently funded by a combination of various revenue streams, including conference attendance fees, corporate sponsorships, foundation support, licensing fees, and book sales. Corporate sponsorships are diverse, provided by companies such as Google, GE, AOL, Goldman Sachs, The Coca-Cola Company; among others. Sponsors do not participate in the creative direction of the event, nor are they allowed to present on the main stage, in the interests of journalistic independence.[30][31]

The TED staff consists of about 140 people headquartered in New York City and Vancouver.[32]

TED Prize

The TED Prize was introduced in 2005. Until 2010, it annually granted three individuals $100,000 and a "wish to change the world".[33] Each winner unveils their wish at the main annual conference. Since 2010, in a changed selection process, a single winner is chosen to ensure that TED can maximize its efforts in achieving the winner's wish. In 2012, the Prize was not awarded to an individual, but to a concept connected to the current global phenomenon of increasing urbanization. In 2013, the prize amount was increased to $1 million.[34] TED Prize winners in previous years:

2005[35] 2006[36] 2007[37] 2008[38] 2009[39] 2010[40] 2011[41] 2012[42] 2013[43] 2014[44] 2015[45] 2016[46]
BonoLarry BrilliantBill ClintonNeil TurokSylvia EarleJamie OliverJRCity 2.0[47]Sugata MitraCharmian Gooch[48]David IsaySarah Parcak
Edward Burtynsky[49]Jehane NoujaimEdward O. WilsonDave EggersJill Tarter
Robert FischellCameron SinclairJames NachtweyKaren ArmstrongJosé Antonio Abreu

TED Conference commissioned New York artist Tom Shannon to create a prize sculpture to be given to all TED Prize winners. The sculpture consists of an eight-inch (20 cm) diameter aluminum sphere magnetically levitated above a walnut disc.


In 2005, Chris Anderson hired June Cohen as Director of TED Media. In June 2006, after Cohen's idea of a TV show based on TED lectures was rejected by several networks, a selection of talks that had received the highest audience ratings was posted on the websites of TED, YouTube, and iTunes, under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0.[50][51] Initially, only a handful of talks were posted, to test if there was an audience for them. In January of the next year, the number of TED Talks on the site had grown to 44, and they had been viewed more than three million times. On the basis of that success, the organization pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into its video production operations and into the development of a Web site to showcase about 100 of the talks.[50]

In April 2007, the new TED.com was launched, developed by design firm Method. In subsequent years, the Web site has won many prizes, among which seven Webby Awards, iTunes' Best Podcast of the Year (2006-2010), the Communication Arts Interactive Award for "Information Design" in 2007, the OMMA award for "video sharing" in 2008, the Web Visionary Award for "technical achievement" in 2008, The One Show Interactive Bronze Award in 2008, the AIGA Annual Design Competition (2009) and a Peabody Award in 2012.[52][53][54][55]

As of June 2015, over 2000 TED talks had been posted.[18] Every week 5-7 new talks are published. In January 2009, the then number of videos had been viewed 50 million times. In June 2011, the number of views totaled 500 million,[56] and on 13 November 2012, TED reached its billionth video view.[20] Chris Anderson in an interview in March 2012:

It used to be 800 people getting together once a year; now it’s about a million people a day watching TEDTalks online. When we first put up a few of the talks as an experiment, we got such impassioned responses that we decided to flip the organization on its head and think of ourselves not so much as a conference but as "ideas worth spreading," building a big website around it. The conference is still the engine, but the website is the amplifier that takes the ideas to the world.[57]

In March 2012, Netflix announced a deal to stream an initial series of 16 two-hour shows, consisting of TEDTalks covering similar subjects, from multiple speakers. The content will be available to subscribers in the US, Canada, Latin America, the UK and Ireland.[58] Hosted by Jami Floyd, TED Talks NYC debuted on NYC Life on March 21, 2012.[59]


In 2005, under Anderson's supervision, a more internationally oriented sister conference was added, under the name TEDGlobal. It was held, in chronological order: in Oxford, UK (2005), in Arusha, Tanzania (2007, titled "TEDAfrica), in Oxford again (2009 and 2010) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (2011, 2012 and 2013). In 2014, it was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.[60] Additionally, there was TED India, in Mysore (2009).

TED's European director (and curator of TEDGlobal) is Swiss-born Bruno Giussani.[61]

The Open Translation Project (OTP)

TED Open Translation Project started in May 2009, and aims to "[reach] out to the 4.5 billion people on the planet who don't speak English," according to TED Curator Chris Anderson.[62] The OTP utilizes crowd-based subtitling platforms to translate the text of TED and TED-Ed videos, as well as to caption and translate videos created in the TEDx program (with its technology partner dotSUB until May 2012, and recently with open source translation tool Amara). At the time of the launch, 300 translations had been done by 200 volunteer transcribers in 40 languages.[15] In May 2015, over 70,000 sets of subtitles in 107 languages[63] had been completed by (an all-time total of) 38,173 volunteer translators.[64]

The project contributed to a significant increase in international visitors to TED's website, with traffic from outside the US growing 350 percent, 600 percent growth in Asia, and more than 1000 percent in South America.[65]

Members have several tools dedicated to knowledge management, such as the OTP Wiki OTPedia, Facebook groups, or video tutorials.[66]


A TEDx talk in Windham, New Hampshire, in May 2015

TEDx are independent TED-like events, which can be organized by anyone who obtains a free license from TED, agreeing to follow certain principles.[67] TEDx events are non-profit, but may use an admission fee or commercial sponsorship to cover costs.[68] Similarly, speakers are not paid. They must also relinquish the copyrights to their materials, which TED may edit and distribute under a Creative Commons license.[69]

As of January 2014, TEDx talk library contained some 30,000 films and presentations from over 130 countries[70][71] In March 2013, eight TEDx events were organised every day; raised up from five in June 2012, the previous year, in 133 countries.[72][73] TEDx presentations also include live performances, which are catalogued in the TEDx Music Project.[74] In 2011, TED began a program called "TEDx in a Box" that allows people in developing countries to hold TEDx events. TEDx also expanded to include TEDxYouth events, TEDx corporate events and TEDxWomen. TEDxYouth events are independent programs set up for students roughly between 7–12 grades.[75] These events usually have people closer to the age of the students and sometimes show TED Talks. According to TEDxSanta Cruz, "as of 2015, over 1,500 [TEDx events] have been scheduled all over the world".[76]

TED Fellows

TED Fellows were introduced in 2007, during the first TEDAfrica conference in Arusha, Tanzania, where 100 young people were selected from across the continent. Two years later, during TEDIndia, 99 Fellows were recruited, mainly from South Asia. In 2009, the Fellows program was initiated in its present form. For every TED or TEDGlobal conference, 20 Fellows are selected out of more than 1200 applicants; a total of 40 new Fellows a year. Out of the 40 Fellows selected in the previous year, 15 people are chosen each year to participate in the two-year Senior Fellows program (in which they will attend four more conferences). Hence, every year, there are 40 new Fellows plus 30 Senior Fellows from the two previous years.

Acceptance as a Fellow is not based on academic credentials, but mainly on past and current actions, and plans for the future.[77] Besides attending a conference free of charge, each Fellow takes part in a special program with mentoring by experts in the field of spreading ideas, and he or she can give a short talk on the "TED Fellows" or "TED University" stage, the day before the conference starts. Some of these talks are subsequently published on TED.com. Senior Fellows have additional benefits and responsibilities (like hosting a TEDx event for 50+ people).[78]


Main article: TEDMED

TEDMED is an annual conference focusing on health and medicine. It is an independent event operating under license from the nonprofit TED conference.[79]

TEDMED was originally founded in 1998 by TED's founder Ricky Wurman and after years of inactivity. In 2008, Wurman sold TEDMED to entrepreneur Marc Hodosh, who recreated and relaunched it. The first event under Hodosh’s ownership was held in San Diego in October, 2009. In January 2010, TED.com began including videos of TEDMED talks on the TED website.[79]

The second Hodosh-owned edition of TEDMED took place in October, 2010, also in San Diego. It sold out for a second year and attracted notable healthcare leaders and Hollywood celebrities.[80]

In 2011, Jay Walker and a group of executives and investors purchased TEDMED from Hodosh for $16 million with future additional payments of as much as $9 million. The conference was then moved to Washington, DC.[81]

Other programs



Frank Swain,[88] a deaf journalist, refused to participate in a TEDx event without getting paid. He said that it is merely unacceptable that TED, which is a non-profit organization, charges attendees $6,000 but can't afford to pay anything to their speakers.[89]

Sarah Lacy of BusinessWeek and TechCrunch claimed TED was elitist, on the basis of $6,000 ticket price for in-person attendees, poor treatment of less important attendees, and a friend getting disinvited to TED after quitting an ostensibly prestigious San Francisco job.[90]

TED talk content

Disagreements have also occurred between TED speakers and organizers. In her 2010 TED talk, comedian Sarah Silverman referred to adopting a "retarded" child. TED organizer Chris Anderson objected via his Twitter account, leading to a Twitter skirmish between them.[91][92] Chris Anderson blogged about the experience.[93]

Also in 2010, noted statistician Nassim Taleb called TED a "monstrosity that turns scientists and thinkers into low-level entertainers, like circus performers." He claimed TED curators did not initially post his talk "warning about the financial crisis" on their site on purely cosmetic grounds.[94]

Nick Hanauer spoke at TED University, challenging the popular belief that top income earners in America are the engines of job creation.[95] TED was accused of censoring the talk by not posting the talk on its site.[96][97] The National Journal reported Chris Anderson had reacted by saying the talk probably ranked as one of the most politically controversial talks they'd ever run, and they needed to be careful about when they posted it.[96] Anderson officially responded indicating that TED only posts one talk every day, selected from many.[98] Forbes staff writer Bruce Upbin described Hanauer's talk as "shoddy and dumb"[99] while New York magazine condemned the conference's move.[100]

Following a TEDx talk by Rupert Sheldrake, TED issued a statement saying their scientific advisors believed that "there is little evidence for some of Sheldrake's more radical claims" made in the talk and recommended that it "should not be distributed without being framed with caution". The video of the talk was moved from the TEDx YouTube channel to the TED blog accompanied by the framing language called for by the advisors. The move and framing prompted accusations of censorship, to which TED responded by saying the accusations were "simply not true" and that Sheldrake's talk was "up on our website".[101][102]

According to Professor Benjamin Bratton at University of California, San Diego, TED talks' efforts at fostering progress in socio-economics, science, philosophy and technology have been ineffective.[103] Chris Anderson responded that some critics have a misconception of TED's goals, and failed to recognise that TED aimed to instill excitement in the audience in the same way the speaker felt it. He stated that TED only wishes to bring news of the significance of certain topics to a large audience.[104]

See also


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