Website Review: TED.Com

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Issue 62

Website Review


Erin M. Hartshorn

Copyright © 2011, Erin M. Hartshorn, All Rights Reserved


TED is a phenomenon, most familiar to the majority of people through the TEDTalks available on, on YouTube (, on iTunes (roughly 300 at a time,, through BitTorrent ( and Boxee (, as well as through apps for iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad, and probably the Android, although I don't know for certain. There are over 800 talks currently available, and has a spreadsheet listing them all (, as well as lists by theme, event, and speaker. Beyond the talks, however, TED also has several blogs, the TED Prize, TEDx events, TED fellowships, and of course, the TED conferences where the talks are given, including specialized conferences such as TEDWomen and TEDIndia. In their words, "TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading."

So who is Ted?

This is addressed on their "About" page, along with descriptions of their various programs, as well as links to questions such as whether TED is elitist. TED conferences began in 1984 to bring together people from three worlds: technology, entertainment, and design. Although these topics still form a backbone for TEDTalks, there are other talks that don't fit into these categories, including talks on India and Africa, and Sophal Ear's talk: "Escaping the Khmer Rouge" (

They've got themes on how the mind works, how we learn, the creative spark, words, master storytellers, the oceans, peering into space, women, Africa, food, cities, and more ( ). Some of these are great for thinking about how we create, why we write, and what it means. Others make excellent background watching for everything from science fiction (space, oceans, tech) to relational dynamics for any era (cities, poverty, medicine, collaboration) to history (including a demonstration of an astrolabe), and beyond.

A few talks I recommend are: Philip Zimbardo's "How ordinary people become monsters ... or heroes" (; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's "Creativity, fulfillment and flow" (; Tim Brown's "The powerful link between creativity and play" (; Daniel Libeskind's "17 words of architectural inspiration" (; Shekhar Kapur's "We are the stories we tell ourselves" (; and Margaret Gould Stewart's "How YouTube thinks about copyright" ( ).

One of the problems with this embarrassment of riches, of course, is that it's difficult to find time to watch. I don't think I'll ever manage to catch up on all the videos that are already up (let alone the new ones being added all the time). However, even when I'm short on time, there's a theme that's perfect -- TED in 3 minutes ( Some of the talks are actually up to 6 minutes long, but that's still short enough to watch while, say, waiting for water to boil for rice or for pasta to cook.

Sharing of TEDTalks is encouraged, including reposting videos to Websites or blogs, as long as the terms of the Creative Commons license are followed -- Attribution, NonCommercial, NonDerivative ( A way I'd like to make use of sharing: If I were running an SF/F con, I'd find a room or a corner somewhere and just set up a computer to run back-to-back TEDTalks. It would be a great way for people to relax when there wasn't anything else they wanted to attend -- an alternative to anime or movies, although every bit as potentially brain-intensive as attending a panel discussion. However, the Creative Commons license on TEDTalks is noncommercial, which means special permission must be obtained before doing such a thing where people have had to pay admission.

There are several ways to keep up with what's new at TED, including becoming a fan on Facebook, following TED on Twitter, and subscribing to the TED Blog through RSS. Things other than videos also show up on the blog, such as "100 Websites You Should Know and Use" (

And should you want to create your own TED-like experience, there is even a venue for that -- TEDx ( You can also check to see whether there is an event (or more than one) being held near you, as well as watch Webcasts of events. These events may include live presentations as well as TEDTalks videos, along with discussion of the topics presented. You can even obtain a TEDxLive license to simulcast (live Webcast) a TED Conference.

Overall, this is an excellent site. There may be talks that you don't necessarily agree with, but that's okay. There are speakers who don't agree with each other. The point is to be exposed to ideas, new or old, and use them in our lives and in our work -- and try not to spend so much time on the research that we don't make time for the writing.

Links listed in this review: