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Davis ThinkingDavis Thinking } analysis and interpretation

Wherever Two or More are Gathered in TED's Name

J. Kevin Ament
Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The TED conference began in 1984 with the simple goal of bringing the top minds of the Technology, Entertainment and Design industries together for short, thought-provoking talks with their peers. The for-profit, invitation-only gathering was largely unknown in its early years outside of the small community of innovators who spoke at and attended the annual conference. Twenty-five years later, a very different TED announces TEDx, independently organized local events designed to share recorded TED talks with and capture new inspiration from a global network of community leaders. The brand’s evolution is a case study for what our institutions of higher learning should be doing: leveraging digital strategies and new technologies to create global resonance for content traditionally constrained by bricks and mortar.

When Chris Anderson’s Sapling Foundation acquired TED in 2001, he made some significant changes to the organization. TED became a non-profit with a clear mission: to leverage its brand equity to broadly share “ideas worth spreading.” Anderson opened TED’s archives for distribution through social media platforms and, through the Open-Translation Project, enlisted passionate volunteers to translate talks into more than 50 languages. The brand’s prestige (largely due to its past exclusivity) continues to attract top-caliber thinkers, and social media provides the outlet for spreading their inspiring messages, incredible projects and provocative ideas.

The new announcement about TEDx takes this content aggregation and distribution model to another level. It’s franchised curation, lending out the equity in the TED name to help local organizers attract the best and brightest from their own communities with a significant carrot -- the chance their TEDx talk could be featured on TED.com alongside a who’s who from the global arts and sciences community. Each event is a portal for both sharing TED talks with new audiences and funneling new ideas to the organization.

In effect, TEDx creates local networks for distributing global content, and creates local content for global distribution.

More than 100 events have been planned, and more than two dozen already held, including a few high profile gatherings. The State Department recently hosted its own TED event to introduce and discuss new approaches to complex global issues, proving Anderson’s new strategic direction and democratization of content sourcing haven’t squandered TED's brand capital. In fact, its value continues to appreciate and multiply as TED content is aggregated and contextualized on social networks and by local organizers.

Audiences aren't the only groups with something to learn from TED's content aggregation and distribution model, and from the global education platform currently under development through TEDx.  Educational instutions should study TED's evolution.  By sharing quality content freely and openly using social and digital networks, TED serves both speakers and audiences well, advancing art and science, promoting breakthrough research and creating exponentially more value they the organization extracts from its networks. And perhaps TED's most valuable lesson for brick and mortar educational institutions is that continued education need not be bound by campus, curriculum or credit hour. Creating digital platforms for sharing and promoting inspiring ideas may prove the path toward rebuilding our educational system and stoking the curiosity and imagination so badly needed, and so sorely missing, in formal education today.

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