Opening up TED, June Cohen, SXSW

  • Started releasing talks in 2006. as talks grown online, the audience has gone fromn 1000 people in a room to 100m around the world it changed the organisation, from conference for an elite audience to thinking about how to serve the global community. So everything rallied around the notion of ideas worth spreading. A complete turnaround
  • Will now be opening up API, to allow developers to build Ted apps, to continue with the philosophy of radical openess.
    The idea of having people running TED events makes lots of people nervous for us; most organisations would find the levels of openess challenging and frightening. They found the steps frightening as they took them. For all of the scenario planning, but have learnt that the unintended consequences have been overwhelming positive.
  • It started with the content, in 2006, podcasts, then websites in 2007. Was a controversial decision at the time; TED was know as an elite conference, expensive and that was part of the appeal, that it was private. But the impact was limited; deciding to put talks online was against widom – would there be any audience, this is against standard business – keep commodity scare and price high to keep the value.
  • In the first year, when we put talks online, we increased our fee by 50% and sold out in a week with a 1000 person waiting list. They’d sold out before, but not as quickly. Putting the talks online was not about selling seats – it had sold out always – but the goal was to spread ideas. Every decision has been around this question. Will it spread ideas.
  • We were looking to reach people everywhere, both in geography and in media habits. It needed to live on any platform and adapt as things change.It also needed to adapt the open model, eg releasing under creative commons. We wanted it to spread…out of our control, as long as it was non-commercial. We used embedable players, was very important to get it out there.
    Focused on for a small screen – the mobile. Focused on tight focus, engagement through tight shots etc, they designed the shoot for that model.
  • Ted talks start strong, they do not include the introductions as that is boring online. you need the speaker to get right to it. It has to grab them in 5 secs.. The talks look to evoke contagious emotions, evoke human connections.
  • They needed to find visionary sponsors, as it is expensive and time consuming. IF you have great content, you can find these sponsors who share the vision. You need plenty of support and a great team
  • Open translation project – people were asking for it. Took a few years of development, launched under 2 years ago Subtitles in 80 different languages, dynamically changing during the talk . 16000 translations, 600 translators. All volunteers. One question often asked, is about quality, how to maintain it. We thought about it for 6 months. We needed a systemthat worked in languages we did not understand. We did a lot of talking with others doing it. This was not wikistyle, we assigned places. There are 2 translators for each talk, a translator and a reviewer. You give them credit; and holds them responsible. There is also a feedback loop, to give responses. Finally they have guidelines, about principles, what to think
  • IN 2009, we were really only reaching English speaking. IN 2010, huge areas of the world opened up. Hitting around 65% of the worlds population. Theoretically. THere are bandwidth issues etc, so looking at other ways. TedTV is one pilot project to get the content out there. Broadcasters can take talks and build own programmes.
  • Next thoughts were about connecting people. Two weeks ago they launched a conversation tool; to propose an idea, stage a debate or ask a question. They have time limits, constraints are good. Significance completes what they were thinking about when starting putting content online – allows the conference experience of people/debate/conversations to move online. The stage is only half of the experience, the conversations are the other half.
    Opening up the whole programme – TedX. They could not produce the conferences themselves; they made a programme, with guidelines, etc. They do not charge event holders, TedX can’t make a profit. ALl about spreading ideas further. They launched with excitement but a lot of nerves. They put a lot of thought into guidelines. What has been fascinting has been the level of professionalism, experience and enthusiasm and they have learnt a lot. They thought there would be a couple of dozen events; there have been 1500 events, in many languages.
  • Open Sourcing the code – opening up the API. To spread ideas, need to reach people on different platforms. TED has a small team and can’t do it on own, and don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. There are so many platforms to reach. They want to be surprised by the apps. All talks and the metadata will be accessible. Looking at launching on mid year…but will work with developers to ensure what they do meets needs.
  • Openness works when there is a clear goal that inspires; where there is a passionate userbase; where there are clear guidelines – with rewards and consequences; allow community ways to police itself; Finally, make your contributors rock stars. THey thought about making the speakers rockstars, now it has expanded. THey make them feel honoured in the community.
    Openness is not easy; it goes against human instincts to protect what you have. it is challenging to fight against that but have to push through that fear. The rewards have been extraordinary.

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