TED.com / TED.org - The Official Site ⇢

TED HISTORY: A Quick Timeline

"Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world."

TED (short for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a nonprofit founded in 1984 by Richard Saul Wurman, of the American Institute of Architects.  Wurman wanted to create the best and the most exclusive dinner party - an elitist club and conference platform for the brightest minds in the world to speak and mingle and share ideas.  The event happened yearly in Monterey, California.  It was $6000 a ticket and invitation-only.  

Fig. 1.a - Original TED Brand Opening

Fig 1.b - Current TED Brand Opening

In 1996, publishing entrepreneur Chris Anderson took over as curator of TED and in 2006 Anderson started putting the TED Talks online so that they could be accessed by anyone - for free.  This essentially transformed the TED brand from a elite club to an accessible online dialogue/forum for curious, passionate, and intelligent people to interact - there are extensive, in-depth discussions and commentary under every TED Talk online.  (This changed the medium from hot to cool; from exclusive to accessible and interactive.)  Many people started to call TED “The New Harvard.”  FastCompany Magazine last month described TED as “the first top prestige education brand in more than 100 years.”  TED Talks have gone viral in only four years online and they’ve received over 319 million hits on YouTube.

In 2009, TEDx was founded as an extension of TED.  Any institution could apply for a free license to organize a TEDx Event and they’d have to obey some basic rules - not to push any religious or political beliefs, not to sell anything, and to make each talk 18 minutes.  Most importantly, all TED Talks must be videotaped.  TEDx was developed to “give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.. coordinated independently on a community-by-community basis.” 

Fig. 2 - Behind the Scenes at TED

TED is a meme-machine. TEDx started with 278 private events around the world last year (including TEDxKiberia, held in one of Africa’s largest shantytowns in Nairobi, Kenya).  This year so far, there have been 531 TEDx events around the world and there are already 730 TEDx Talks slated for next year. 

TED is committed to making the world a better place by “spreading ideas worth spreading,” engaging with intelligent people and using this network of people (this Mcluhan-esque “global village” - now online) to educate and inspire.  It’s a global dialogue with an idealist slant.  Chris Anderson is certain that people are hungry for new ideas and they want to learn and interact. He is working to integrate TED as an education tool in classrooms.  The talks are wide-ranging and cover every subject, from science, politics, music and the arts, technology, architecture and global issues.

From June 2008-June 2009 TED was viewed over 50 million times.

Last week TED announced the launch of TEDWomen (co-produced with the Paley Center for Media), a new conference that will kick off in December of 2010 and will “take a look at women through the lens of change agent, intellectual innovator, idea champion, etc.” 

*It’s important to point out that any TED profits (roughly $2M a year) are used to expand TED’s reach.  TED is owned by the Sapling Foundation, a private nonprofit foundation with philanthropic goals (using media to make lasting social change).  The Sapling Foundation was created by TED curator Chris Anderson.

Elements of Identity

Fig. 3 - Ted Homepage

Product thrust: Ideas worth spreading; the power of ideas to create long lasting and beneficial social change.

User profile: Passionate and curious, users are called “TEDsters” and they’re linked around the world as a “global village” online.  FastCompany Magazine refers to the TEDster tribe as a global community of people who are “curious, engaged, enlightened, and tech-savvy.” 

Performance: “Great ideas and the human connections they create (FastCompany).” The best minds in the world get together to swap ideas.  TED’s online talks have gone viral.  They’ve gotten 319 million hits on YouTube since TED began posting them online in 2006. TED videos have been translated into more than 77 languages, playing to a potential audience of 2.2. billion people.  

Fig. 4 - “Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity”

Enhancing lives: TED is an educational tool, but most importantly (from the TED site): “TED believes passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world.  So TED is building a clearinghouse of knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”

Brand Personality: Intelligent and idealistic, very warm, inspirational.  Interested in interconnectedness, openness, the spreading of ideas.  An idea can change the world. (An article in the Style section of the New York Times last month said that TED was making education “sexy.”)

Fig. 5 — Elizabeth Gilbert on Nurturing Creativity

Basis for relationship: Hanging out with “the best minds” in the world “from a wide variety of communities and disciplines — people like Bill Clinton, Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, Malcom Gladwell, Al Gore, etc.

Fig 6. - Bill Clinton wins Ted Prize (2007)  

TED is a GLOBAL VILLAGE (the first “global education brand” creating “a sustainable economic model focusing on technological rather than physical infrastructure – it’s online).

 Sub-brands: TED Prize is awarded to three individuals, granting them “one wish to change the world.” TEDx, TED Fellows, TEDGlobal, TED Women (to launch in December of 2010), and TEDActive (to launch in 2011).


Figure 7.a - Logo Example 1

Figure 7.b - Logo Example 2

Slogan: “Ideas worth spreading.”

Organizational Associations

  • The human network.  Make the world a better place by harnessing this network of smart people that are brought together (and automatically engage).
  • TED Brain Trust
  • The following members of the TED Community serve as a valued source of advice on issues of importance to TED’s future.
  1. Anna Deavere Smith, Actor, playwright
  2. Ashraf Ghani, Chancellor, Kabul University
  3. Brian Greene, Physicist
  4. Craig Venter, Genomics pioneer
  5. Daniel Dennett, Philosopher
  6. Daniel Gilbert, Psychologist
  7. Danny Hillis, Inventor
  8. David Deutsch, Physicist
  9. Dean Kamen, Inventor
  10. Don Norman, Cognitive scientist
  11. Eva Vertes, Student cancer researcher
  12. Freeman Dyson, Physicist
  13. George Dyson, Science writer
  14. Jay Walker, Business inventor
  15. Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO, Acumen Fund
  16. Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon
  17. John Maeda, MIT Media Lab
  18. Joshua Prince-Ramus, Architect
  19. Juan Enriquez, Futurist
  20. Larry Page, Co-founder, Google
  21. Linda Stone, Software visionary
  22. Nathan Myhrvold, Polymath
  23. Ray Kurzweil, Futurist
  24. Richard Dawkins, Biologist
  25. Sergey Brin, Co-founder, Google
  26. Seth Godin, Marketing guru
  27. Sir Ken Robinson, Creativity expert
  28. Stefan Sagmeister, Designer
  29. Steve Jurvetson, Venture capitalist
  30. Steven Pinker, Evolutionary psychologist
  31. Stewart Brand, Visionary
  32. Sunny Bates, Connector extraordinaire
  33. Tierney Thys, Marine biologist
  34. Wade Davis, Anthropologist
  35. William McDonough, Architect


TEDTalks Sponsors

Fig. 8 - Ted Partners

Heritage: *See above history.  (Morphed from a “conference platform” to an online forum promoting engagement and the spreading of ideas.)

Value Proposition

Fig. 9 - Discussion of A.I. in X-Box Game Prototype

Functional Benefits: After 2006, TED transformed itself from an exclusive club to an online library of free talks.  Suddenly, the world’s most exclusive club is available to everyone.  FastCompany Magazine recently claimed that TED has become “the first new top-prestige education brand in  more than 100 years.”

Self-expressive symbolic benefits: The exhilaration of sharing ideas and the feeling that a group of smart people can change the world using technology to spread these ideas.  It’s viral edutainment, and idealistic, virtual do-gooding.

Credibility: Credibility can be measured in mere traffic numbers in the case of TED, but those talks that have such staggering numbers for an educational brand are paired with household names and/or men and women of academic note.

Fig. 10 - Most Popular Ted Talks Mashup

Mission Statements:

Combining principles of “radical openness” and of “leveraging the power of ideas to change the world.” –quoted in FastCompany Magazine.  

Extended Identity:

Fig. 11 - ValueTheWebsite.com’s Ranking of TED.com

TED Goals:

*from the website:

The goal of the foundation is to foster the spread of great ideas. It aims to provide a platform for the world’s smartest thinkers, greatest visionaries and most-inspiring teachers, so that millions of people can gain a better understanding of the biggest issues faced by the world, and a desire to help create a better future. Core to this goal is a belief that there is no greater force for changing the world than a powerful idea. Consider:

  • An idea can be created out of nothing except an inspired imagination.
  • An idea weighs nothing.
  • It can be transferred across the world at the speed of light for virtually zero cost.
  • And yet an idea, when received by a prepared mind, can have extraordinary impact.
  • It can reshape that mind’s view of the world.
  • It can dramatically alter the behavior of the mind’s owner.
  • It can cause the mind to pass on the idea to others.

Many factors can amplify the power of ideas: mass media, technology and market forces, to name three. In the past Sapling has supported projects that use these tools to leverage every dollar spent and create sustainable change in areas such as global public health, poverty alleviation, and biodiversity. More than $10m has therefore been granted to enlightened organizations such as the Acumen Fund, Environmental Defence, One World Health, and PATH.

Fig. 12 - TED Virtual Choir

Sapling has been seeking ways to allow the extraordinary passion and inspiration created every year at our conferences in California and the UK to effect beneficial change in the world.

There are several major ways in which this now happens:

  • The TED Prize takes a great idea each year and seeks to achieve goals of global impact.
  • TED.com allows the great ideas shared at TED to be easily accessible anywhere in the world, in more than 70 languages.
  • The TED Fellows program brings extraordinary new voices into the TED community.
  • TEDx supports the creation of independent TED-like events in communities around the world.

The profits made by the TED conferences are directed toward these initiatives, and the foundation welcomes contributions from those who share its philanthropic goals. Even more, it welcomes support for the wishes of our TED Prize winners and assistance from any organization or company who can help distribute “ideas worth spreading.”

Fig. 13 - TEDWomen

Fig. 14 - TEDX

TED in the blogs:

"If you are looking for something that will expand your mind, open your heart, and possibly rekindle your faith in humankind, a good place to start is listening to the fabulously inspiring presentations made by the best and brightest among us."
— David Sunfellow, nhne.org

"TEDTalks takes conference podcasting to a whole new level. TED is going out of its way to make it as easy as possible for anyone interested to access the speeches, by making them available in five different formats."
— Huffington Post

*cut-and-pasted from the TED website

TED in the press:

At around this time of year, it seems the Internet is 35 percent TEDTalks. TED is a funny phenomenon, though. On the one hand, getting the YouTube generation to sit down and watch lectures seems a counter-intuitive proposition. But there’s something about these videos that seems to have captured the Web’s shiny, aspirational spirit.
Toronto Globe and Mail
March 19, 2009

Oh why oh why have I been bingeing on TED talks again? I promised myself I would quit watching the ecstatic series of head-rush disquisitions, available online, from violinists, political prisoners, brain scientists, novelists and Bill Clinton. But I can’t. Each hortatory TED talk starts with a bang and keeps banging till it explodes in fireworks. How can I shut it off? The speakers seem fevered, possessed, Pentecostal. No wonder I am, too, now.
The New York Times Magazine
January 23, 2009

The TED Talks program single-handedly popularized the phenomenon of brainy programming. It’s an online repository of zippy, often provocative presentations delivered by speakers at the eponymous conference.
Boston Globe
November 2, 2008

… consistently the best thing you can watch on the internet: the TED talks. Brilliant people, in the true sense of the word.
Guardian UK
July 25, 2008

A tech antidote to our current pessimism. Welcome to TED. Founded 25 years ago, the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design conference is the place for glimpses into the future.
Wall Street Journal
February 9, 2009

*cut-and-pasted from the TED website.