The elephants in the room at TED

Larry Page says hi, we say thanks for the phone!

First, let’s get the elephant out of the way so we can talk about more important things. What is the elephant? No, it’s not Larry Page, co-founder of Google, seen above waving to the audience at TED after he gave them all a free Nexus One.

So, what is the elephant? That TED costs $6,000 and is hard to get into (next year’s TED is already sold out, for instance). They never give away more than 15 press passes, too, which means that most of the world’s press corp can’t get in. This always pisses off people, just as it did to Sarah Lacy, writer at TechCrunch.

I don’t have $6,000 and I doubt I’ll get invited next year for free and, even if I could gather $6,000, it’s sold out for next year anyway.

Freaking elitists!

But, let’s take the elephant head on: rich people can afford things you and I can’t. I can’t afford a Ferrari either. Even though I definitely appreciate them. I can’t afford a private plane, even though when I’ve gotten a ride in one I’ve always appreciated them and can see why I’d want one. I can’t afford an original Ansel Adams’ print, either, even though I am a huge fan and would love to have one.

So, let’s turn it around. You should know that in 2008 I took a similar stance to Sarah’s. That TED is unattainable for most people, and that it’s a closed society, etc. What did I do about it? I went to BIL, a free event that goes on at TED. I will attend that again next year because I seriously doubt that I’ll be able to get into TED. But I am trying to go one further, I will try to get the money together to buy BIL a video feed from inside TED.

But since attending I’ve changed my stance from the one I had in 2008. What is the one now? Jealous people should just keep their mouths shut. And I’ll include me in that stance.

Truth is, TED has opened up its content to the world. More than 500 talks have now been shared on TED Talks.

On the TED stage I saw that they had hundreds of events where the live feed was broadcast, including many into Silicon Valley (several VCs and entrepreneurs invited me to view TED with them at their houses, or work offices). Rackspace bought the feed too and lots of my coworkers were talking with me about the talks. So, getting access to the content might not be attainable by everyone in real time, but is certainly attainable eventually by everyone.

The funny thing is just a couple of weeks ago Sarah Lacy was at an exclusive venture capital event in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I wasn’t invited. Neither were you, probably. Did she disclose the elitism of this event? No way. Does she disclose all the closed parties or events she gets invited to that me and you don’t get invited to? No way. One rule of closed parties is you don’t Tweet about them or you don’t get invited back.

I assume I won’t get invited to TED next year and that this year I won the lottery and next year, well, the lottery won’t strike twice. So, that gives me a sort of mental freedom to tell you what I really think of this event.

But here’s the rub: I will be at TED next year if I am alive. And the year after that. And the year after that. I will pay for it and get there somehow.

Why? It was the most incredible event I’ve ever attended. By far.

What makes TED TED? Well, for one, it’s TED because Sarah wasn’t there (and I won’t be there next year because I didn’t pay the $6,000 in time). Its elitism and expense IS part of why TED is magical and if you ever get to go, either because you have the money to attend, or because somehow you won the lottery like I did and you go to go you’ll see that it is magical, in the same way that James Cameron shared with us that visiting the Titanic for real is magical (he did just that). Damn elitists. Having experiences I can’t have.

TED should be PROUD of the elephant in the room. It should embrace it far more than they do. The attendees there should celebrate it and run with it. Many do. One VC told me as we were leaving yesterday that the expense not only makes networking world class but that it ensures that people actually attend and listen to the lectures. Want proof? Look at the notes that these rich people took. I’ve never seen notes like these at any other event. After all, rich people can have parties with other rich people anytime they want. But TED isn’t like any rich guy party I’ve ever been to and I’ve been fortunate enough to be at more than my fair share (heck, remember, I live right by the Half Moon Bay Ritz which is a rich-guy party every night of the year. I can’t afford to stay there either).

Nina's most excellent TED notes

Those notes are from Nina Khosla, design student at Stanford. Does that name sound familiar? It should, her dad is famous VC Vinod Khosla. She shares her notes with the world on her website, by the way. I interviewed her about her notes and some other things and you can listen to that on Cinch.

Dance at TED with LXD

What is TED? It’s a celebration of human performance. On the TED stage we saw some of the best scientists the world has ever known. Some of the best dancers (you’ll see them on stage at the Oscars, by the way, don’t miss them). Some of the best musicians. Some of the best entrepreneurs. Some of the best children. Some of the best politicians.

It is one event where you not only get to see them on stage, and if you watch TED Talks you know what that’s about, but you get to meet them in the hallways and talk with them. A couple of days ago I talked with Bill Gates about his ideas for nuclear energy. Controversial yes, but the guy does his homework and knows more on the topic of energy than anyone else I’ve ever met.

It is a celebration of learning. Learning means pushing yourself beyond where you are today. Yesterday we heard a story from a girl who has been told she has three years to live. What is she doing? Going to school and she explained why in a way that brought a tear to many eyes around the world. She wasn’t even at Long Beach, but was attending the sessions in Palm Springs, which is where there was a video feed and a separate set of talks. Proves you didn’t need to go to TED to go to TED and that TED doesn’t cost $6,000 for everyone, you can see it in Palm Springs for less, or in a video feed for even less.

But the $6,000 everyone pays helps in ways you can’t really understand unless you go. First, the stage is hand built. During some talks my mind got a little bored (not every talk is interesting, one talk about spiders didn’t have the famous TED payoff and I found myself back in Chemistry class, learning stuff I probably will never use so my mind went elsewhere). My eyes started wandering around the stage. I looked at this stage for two days before I noticed a little model airplane hanging from the top. Did you see the stack of National Geographics at the front left? Or the microscope at the front right? Those details don’t sound important, but they weave together a fabric that encourages your mind to explore new ideas.

Blow this photo up that I shot of James Cameron. Now look at just some of the weird stuff they put around the stage.

James Cameron

You might think that doesn’t matter, but it does. It’s a fabric that encourages your mind to absorb and synthesize the ideas discussed. But it does more than that. It makes being at TED an ultra-HD experience. One that you can’t really get from the TED Talks, although even in video you notice a visual richness that’s just not there in other conferences. It’s the details and the details cost money.

Second, it helps in bringing speakers from around the world. Third it helps in hiring world class video teams so you can watch them for free at home. Fourth it helps in details, which makes this a remarkable event, one unlike any other I’ve attended.

Details like the food. Details like the badges, which are the best in the business. Details like the sound system, which was most excellent and contrasts with the sound in most other conferences (I sat in both the front row and the back and it was awesome).

Details like the exhibits strewn around the conference hallways.

I could go on and on.

Sarah Silverman

OK, let’s take on another elephant in the room. The Sarah Silverman talk, which Techcrunch also wrote about (interesting that they write so much about TED). She used the word penis and retarded a lot. I thought her talk both failed and succeeded, but not because of that.

I thought it was brilliant of TED to invite some speakers on stage that were very risky. Silverman wasn’t the only one. In the closing talk Ze Frank asked whether what the world really needed was penis-flavored condoms. Other speakers talked frankly about sex, or showed graphic images that would challenge any audience.

Silverman succeeded because her talk was a science experiment, albeit one of trying something out on a much different audience than she usually gets to perform in front of. TED is all about trying out ideas and seeing which ones are the best and hearing from the people who do the best experiments, from dance to algorithms. Silverman is the best at her craft alive today. Or certainly in the top .001%.

It was why she was on the TED stage. She used that opportunity to try to challenge the audience. That was successful and I hope TED invites her again to perform another one of her experiments on stage.

But it failed too. I found her talk repulsive and challenging. I was in the second row. I actually was one of those who called for her to come back out on stage, although I knew that she had challenged the audience in a way that would be viewed as a failure. She challenged me quite a bit with her experiment. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that Chris Anderson, the guy who runs TED, had said she was “god-awful” on Twitter (he now has removed that tweet).

I didn’t have a chance to discuss that talk with Chris, but I would say that he was wrong and right. He was right that her talk wasn’t up to the usual TED quality but that she represented the best of what TED is: science experiments in human living.

See, science experiments RARELY succeed. Thomas Edison said that you know him for his successes, but that if you really knew him you’d see his thousands of failures.

TED needs more Sarah Silvermans who will try content experiments out on stage. I hope it doesn’t become some conservative organization that only lets safe people and safe ideas on stage.

If I talked with Sarah Silverman, though, I would have encouraged her to attend a TED before she talked (I heard she was only there for that morning). If she had, I’m sure she would have tried a different experiment on this particular audience than the one she attempted.

Anyway, so many ideas challenged me and inspired me over the past few days. Already a couple of the videos have come out, here’s those:

Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food — Sharing powerful stories from his anti-obesity project in Huntington, W. Va., TED Prize winner Jamie Oliver makes the case for an all-out assault on our ignorance of food. (This was my favorite talk of the event).

Augmented-reality maps: Blaise Aguera y Arcas on TED.com — In a demo that drew gasps at TED2010, Blaise Aguera y Arcas demos new augmented-reality mapping technology from Microsoft. (Recorded at TED2010, February 2010 in Long Beach, CA. Duration: 8:14)

My favorite part of TED was PUBLIC, though. It was the afterparty at the Westin. Check this video out of that party:

So, to wrap this up, don’t be jealous, let’s figure out how to get more of you into TED.

UPDATE: I totally forgot the work that the Sapling foundation, which supports the TEDx prize, does to support science around the world too. Glad that Stephen Collins reminded me of that. Oh, and many of the attendees actually pay more than $6,000 because they want to support the foundation’s work in a deeper way.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

138 thoughts on “The elephants in the room at TED

  1. Oh Robert – seriously – that was the most disingenuous I've ever seen you be. It's invitation only to attend. We both know that they make it easy to view – you viewed it yourself before this year – but that didn't satisfy you then, did it?

    As for putting down $6k? Just as soon as I win the lottery and don't have a money-sucking-pit (read: child) at home, I'll put down the $6k for TED and the $10k for the World Series of Poker and see which one I get into first! ;)

  2. I am a marginally imaginative mysanthropist. I only skimmed TED to figure out how to most cleverly dismiss it.

    I masturbate into a soggy copy of Catcher in the Rye.

  3. > I’ve never seen notes like these at any other event.

    You just haven’t looked. These are my notes from Idea City in June, 2003. Every talk. Detailed. With pictures. http://downes.ca/ideacity/index.htm

    Not that it’s relevant – but the face that you’ve never seen something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t mean the work at TED isn’t derivative and inferior (and yet called ‘better’ and ‘original’ ONLY because it was created by a rich person).

  4. TEDxSF does charge for events simply to cover costs such as food, lighting and hi-def video so we capture content and share ideas just like TED Long Beach. A committee of nearly a dozen mostly made up of long time TEDsters (myself included) volunteer to ensure the SF events keep the quality high. TED also gives us a 'liscence' to hold events which is one other way they can be sure quality is maintained.

  5. Craig Mundie is actually head of RESEARCH at Microsoft. Judging from the Pivot and Maps demos I think he's got some amazing scientists working with him. He's also responsible for major initiatives in the developing world. I have a lot of respect for him and his group.

  6. Hi, Tom Rielly from TED here. Nearly everyone, including actors, pays to attend TED. Accredited press covering the event do not pay as per press norms. Arianna was covering the event. It would be unfair to let people in free just because of who they are.

  7. Love the TED talks and follow them throughout the year for the incredible material, invention and insight they shed on the whole of human achievement. Your comment was so spot on about even the stage offering brain food (Forget eye candy) and the means to help digest the profound implications of so much brilliant and shared thought. The talks are avaialble through out the year, and many of us can watch and learn from them.
    That I really took away from your post Robert, that we as humans DO always have the means to learn and to stretch ourselves intellectually, and even emotionally as you mention with Ms. Silvermans presentation.
    We always do have the ability to research, and read and think and that power is so important to our survival and renewal. And that power as you point out is always there for us.
    As a huge fan of your writings and blogs and yes even tweets, I am thrilled you got to go and be there. You are “Our Man at TED” and are our man at the frontlines of technology. All of us who fiollow you do so because we want the insight you provide, and the up to the minute reports and stories and videos. ( I just watched Pranav Mistry's incredible talk from TEDIndia in 2009, a few months ago, and see how his opensource work is affecting invention.)
    We follow you because we want to know more, and want that great sphere which houses our mind to also expand. And it can, and it does and it does so without $6,000 USD or a million. It does so because we choose to open it up and fill it with relevant knowledge and meaning. and TED.
    Thank you.

  8. Pompous? You are right. I phrased that badly. What I don't like is when people are fooled by things that I think are pseudo-intellectual. A moderate amount of what I write is dedicated to the idea keeping people from being fooled by financial and economic charlatans, who take advantage of the lack of knowledge of those they exploit. What I fight on money issues, I don't like in other spheres.

  9. I think you’re missing the point. Perhaps you really are only interested in hearing lectures on topics you’ve invested hours into studying, but some people—many of them “intelligent” by any reasonable standard—would rather dabble with their precious time. I agree that not every TED talk is brilliant, and that audiences might even walk away with a poor or incorrect understanding of the good ones. Yet to me, trashing the whole platform as you do is like belittling a newspaper for reporting on complex topics (peer-reviewed studies, foreign relations, etc.). The articles aren't ultimately rigorous, but they often benefit readers and certainly serve a purpose.

  10. Well, for one, Bohemian Grove is male only. For two, Bohemian Grove doesn't put their talks up on the Web for all of us to engage with and see. For three, Bohemian Grove doesn't mix the best performers from a wide range of talents. But I'll tell you more later, gotta go because the airplane I'm on is landing.

  11. The thing is, Silverman was way off the reservation with her comments about wanting to adopt a terminally ill retarded child. Those were NOT catered to this particular audience and if she had spent some time with them she would have known that. I found her talk overall to be pretty funny and brave stuff, but there she just wasn't funny to me and others in the audience. I agree with you, though, that Chris Anderson's tweet wasn't smart. He reacted emotionally and didn't come up to the level of performance that TED expects either. But the neat thing about this all is we're all human. The performer. The audience. Everyone. We're all flawed, even when we're brilliant. There were several talks that explored that in depth, including one by an autistic woman a couple of hours earlier. Anyway, I do have to say that Silverman did get us all to talk and caused us to look inside by being challenged by poorly thought out content so from that point of view she totally was a huge success.

  12. Nice piece, except I disagree about your comment; “If I talked with Sarah Silverman, though, I would have encouraged her to attend a TED before she talked (I heard she was only there for that morning). If she had, I’m sure she would have tried a different experiment on this particular audience than the one she attempted.”

    An experiment really isn't an experiment if it's catered to the audience. Miss Silverman's work is consistently a radical departure from mediocrity. One can not find brilliance without bravely venturing into uncharted territory. The onus is on the audience. Stay, leave, clap, don't clap – no one was forced to keep their seat warm.

    TED espouses “new and cutting edge different” which is apparently what Miss Solverman delivered. It would have been have been amazing if TED stayed true to its ideology and held a safe harbor for Miss Silverman's piece affording an opportunity for conversation instead of crucification. All brilliant, radical ideas from technological to concepts like civil rights start way, way outside the comfort zone of contemporary acceptability. It is the very essence of innovation and change.

  13. Appreciated your comment and thoughtful push-back, Tom (even if my own instincts still find tremendous value in TED as a model and TEDx as an accessible event/community).

    Curious about your last line: “How to get the TED experience without paying $6,000: read books and go to talks at universities…”

    Books and universities have been accessible for longer than any of us have been alive, yet why is that neither — in terms of access, experience, or energy — 'inspire' the same way that TED as of late? I doubt it is because books or universities lack quality and “Q”uality on many fronts, but both are predictable and 'quieter' in terms of the visceral experience. I doubt TED will be a significant focus in 5-10 years, but for a limited time — with a wide range of elements/needs intersecting — TED may be suggesting that people are seeking something more vibrant than “just community” or “just intellectualism.”

    For all its weaknesses or promises, I wish we'd look at TED as a) a temporary social reaction and b) as a model for what 'schools'/'learning' can be over time: push the boundaries in ways that are accessible.

    Again, I appreciate your reaction and believe — from my own experience — that you're right about being able to create a D.I.Y. TED-like experience (set) without fronting the $6K or related bits just being being savvy, having a dynamic radar in place, and being madly curious.

    That being said — from the vantage point of one teacher in one school — I can tell you that teachers/students (beneath the college level at least) are hungry for the very concept of what TED suggests. There's something deeper going on that may have nothing to do with the elites or the power-players who are in Long Beach (etc). I'm growing more curious about what TED will mean in 10 years, as opposed the pro/con debate now.

  14. Robert,

    Your post is a great take on the situation, but there's an aspect left out that I think warrants a mention:

    You don't need to pay $6,000 or go to Long Beach to have a TED experience.

    One of the most interesting things that TED did last year is open up the TEDx program (ted.com/tedx). The initial plan was to enable people to host events to watch previous talks and have a few new speakers, but it's really taken on a life of its own. Last November, I organized TEDx MidAtlantic (http://tedxmidatlantic.com), which was held in Baltimore (this year's event will be in DC). I know you may be thinking “an independently-organized TED event is not the same as TED,” but you'd be surprised.

    Our speaker lineup included United States CTO Aneesh Chopra, NPR's Scott Simon, Nobel Prize Winner and Malaria Research Institute head Peter Agre, farmer Joel Salatin (from Food, Inc. and Omnivore's
    Dilemma), among others. Tony Geraci, who spoke at TEDx MidAtlantic, is one of the “angels” Jamie Oliver spoke about and his talk was just as eye-opening and inspiring as Jamie's. We had someone talk about restoring a long-lost Archimedes text and the potential benefits of using hallucinogenic drugs to treat disorders. Sonja Sohn (from the Wire) left the audience in tears after a powerful talk and spoken word performance about inner-city kids. Andrew Bird, who you saw perform this week, was actually going to play at TEDx MidAtlantic but his tour schedule shifted and he had to cancel.

    Check out some pictures here: http://www.storiography.com/journal/tedxmidatla

    I know how much you love notes, so check out these done by one of the attendees: http://www.flickr.com/photos/annmaryliu/sets/72

    The event was fully catered, our badges were awesome
    (http://www.flickr.com/photos/xiana-aretta/40822…) and we even had a pre and post event. Our live stream went out at 480p — better quality than TED was streaming last week — and we peaked at 3,300 viewers. 600 people were in the audience.

    Now clearly, the scope wasn't quite that of TED. We had to pack 20 speakers into a single day (hoping to change that this year), and we didn't have millions of dollars to spend on tents and banners. We also didn't have a room full of VCs to rub elbows with (why do you need TED for that anyway?). But here's the rub:

    TEDx MidAtlantic was free, entirely funded by sponsors and worked on by volunteers. People came from up and down the east coast. One person even flew out from California. This year's event will probably run $50 or $100 to help cover costs. We are planning to have around 1,100 people in attendance (the audience is curated just like TED is, but most everyone got in last time).

    So what's my point? You ended your blog post by saying “let's figure out how to get more of you into TED.” Well, this is one way to do it. TEDx MidAtlantic is only one of probably 100 such events happening
    across the United States and hundreds more internationally. Few events will be on the scale of ours (TEDx Silicon Valley was in December and focused on folks like Peter Thiel and Reid Hoffman, and TEDxSF is a small quarterly gathering), but this effort is making TED accessible to those who can't get to Long Beach or Oxford. In in some respects, a TEDx event can be even more interesting and powerful than the main TED.

  15. HyperActiveX – they don't upload select video clips – they upload all of the talks in their entirety. They are exactly the same length – 18 minutes – at the live event as in the download. Nobody gets to run over… I've seen a tech billionaire's presentation gently interrupted and brought to a close when he tried to overrun (OK; the interruption does get edited out of the upload :) TED really does do whatever it can to spread the entire content as widely as possible, for free, as quickly as possible. Which I think is your definition of walking the talk :)

  16. I've just done a quick survey of the TED2010 attendee list (as in, I went through four random pages at 27 names per page) and I'd say that between 70% and 75% are white. That compares favourably with the 79.96% white population of the US (source: Wolfram Alpha).

  17. What makes TED so special is not singing the praises of its individuals, but rather, what comes of the interplay between great minds from different disciplines. Constellate that with monied people who 'get it' and can help realize the visions of these innovative thinkers, and therein the magic lies. The TEDster closest to my heart is not some uber wealthy person intent on fluffing her feathers. She is a hard working marine researcher whose longtime association with TED has helped spread her message about ocean conservation to key players who can and do make a difference. Right after Jamie Oliver accepted his TED prize, there were offers of free office space and seed money to help him realize his vision of reducing obesity through educating children about food and cooking. Though there will always be those who posture, TED is a place of action, and it has been my observation that vanity is not well regarded among its ranks.

    1. Right. Because the surplus of food is the real problem for the world right now.

      (The point of an event like TED is for rich people to *pick* the issues that will be “important” and then fund them – thus ensuring no issue that threatens their position will be deemed important).

  18. Robert,

    Lots has been discussed in your initial post and the comments – I have nothing to add to the conversation except that as you said in private conversation, you have to be here at TED to 'get' TED. You described it as an ultra HD experience – something that can't be captured on film or experienced in 2D. There is a shared experience that everyone in the room feels that is not adequately captured in the TED Talks.

    Yes it is expensive and for the past 10+ years I look forward to the being able to attend the conference and stretch my view of reality. (I remember growing up in a family that saved up all year for a four week vacation that was beyond our financial means, but was critically important in that we used the time to travel the US and stop and learn along the way. My mother explained that our education was more than just what we would learn in the classroom) I feel the same way about TED. If you thought of the money as a tuition fee….

    It seems that only at TED do I find myself confronted with topics that do not appear on my daily radar. I don't hang out with Nobel Laureates or Billion $ CEO's normally – but for five days each February I can and do. There is a lot of talk (above) about elitism, costs, $$$, etc – but I have to say that even tho I am definitely not in that rarefied air, no one at the conference comes off that way. Everyone is approachable and that may be the most amazing thing about TED – I have walked up to many, many people I would never have a chance to talk to and had an interesting conversation. It is a chance for me to practice my 'engagement' skills, by finding something to get them talking, and hence have a TED moment of my own.

    I for one look forward to you attending TED again, it was a pleasure to get to know you better and hear your stories. I also look forward to seeing you at a TEDmicro event sometime in the future.

  19. Robert,

    Lots has been discussed in your initial post and the comments – I have nothing to add to the conversation except that as you said in private conversation, you have to be here at TED to 'get' TED. You described it as an ultra HD experience – something that can't be captured on film or experienced in 2D. There is a shared experience that everyone in the room feels that is not adequately captured in the TED Talks.

    Yes it is expensive and for the past 10+ years I look forward to the being able to attend the conference and stretch my view of reality. (I remember growing up in a family that saved up all year for a four week vacation that was beyond our financial means, but was critically important in that we used the time to travel the US and stop and learn along the way. My mother explained that our education was more than just what we would learn in the classroom) I feel the same way about TED. If you thought of the money as a tuition fee….

    It seems that only at TED do I find myself confronted with topics that do not appear on my daily radar. I don't hang out with Nobel Laureates or Billion $ CEO's normally – but for five days each February I can and do. There is a lot of talk (above) about elitism, costs, $$$, etc – but I have to say that even tho I am definitely not in that rarefied air, no one at the conference comes off that way. Everyone is approachable and that may be the most amazing thing about TED – I have walked up to many, many people I would never have a chance to talk to and had an interesting conversation. It is a chance for me to practice my 'engagement' skills, by finding something to get them talking, and hence have a TED moment of my own.

    I for one look forward to you attending TED again, it was a pleasure to get to know you better and hear your stories. I also look forward to seeing you at a TEDmicro event sometime in the future.

  20. Great post. You captured the essence of TED in a way that no one else I read has. I'm going to post a link on Facebook so my friends start to get why I go.

    This was my third TED. I went to the first remote TED that was held in Aspen three years ago and have been in Long Beach the last two years and will be there next year as well.

    I, too, can't afford $6000 and all the other expenses and vacation time to go to TED but I figure out a way to save for it every year. So do my friends. It's the best thing I've ever done. TED helps me think differently and interact with people who care about themselves and the world. Pollyanna-ish? Sure. But isn't that what we need a little more of in this world?

    So, save your money, Robert. TED needs people like you.

  21. How to get re-invited to TED, by Robert Scoble:

    1. Get invited to TED.
    2. Attend TED.
    3. Write glowing review of TED and how, really, it is elitist, and that's what's so great about it.
    4. Mention 45 times how you can't afford it and that you are certainly *not* going to get re-invited for free, thus daring the organizers to prove you wrong.

  22. That's my read on TED. Much of it is pseudo-intellectual, with enough flash and dazzle to amaze the sub-120 IQ crowd that think they are getting something brilliant and exclusive.

    That said, the $6000 seems a reasonable price for some of the business contacts one could make there. Go there to talk with people, but you can learn more by reading good books.

  23. Whew, some incredible comments contrasting the pros and cons of the event. I've enjoyed many of the TED talks online and appreciate your first person perspective. I had no idea how exclusive the event was, just that it looked classy as far as stage and attendies. If a bunch of folks want to pony up $6k+ to get together once a year that's great.

    Some of the greatest communities are invite only, if you're not selective at all you end up spending your limited time with an average crowd, and what fun is that ;)?

    As much as I love a good idea, I'd like to see measurable impact from gathering together such a great crowd. What actually happens after the event is more important to me, than the initial idea sharing that happens inside. Please share all the cool stuff that's going to happen now that you've attended:
    1) folks you're going to interview in the startup/tech scene now that you've gone
    2) the funky projects you can help get involved with
    3) peoples lives you can have an impact on
    4) how you have re-evaluated your own priorities based on the emotional stories and experience

    Are we still on for June12th-ish, I'll be in your area and am working hard on nifty social tools in the meantime (VictusMedia.com).

  24. FYI, you can afford an original Ansel Adams print. Many prints are available, for merely the cost of reproduction, from the Library of Congress. IIRC the cost starts around $10.

    And you, Scoble, are still an insufferable prat.

  25. I'm so glad you, the Scobleizer went to Ted, because I didn't understand what it was all about…until I just read your post.
    It fascinates me that so many conferences are deadly quiet right now and people have lost interest and funds…and up pops Ted…with a $6,000 ticket, and no way to get an invitation…and it is packed to the rafters.
    It shows that creativity and big ideas still work. So, glad you went and told us all about it.

  26. > such a magical consortium of brilliant minds

    @daniellethys Please! Have you read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers? I'm sure these people are intelligent and hard workers, I take nothing away from them on that score, but you make them sound as if they are super human and they are NOT. Please everyone (from Scoblizer to Zakaria) stop with the “god” treatment. TED is just a private club that likes to show off now and then to the world (to reinforce the exclusivity of the club — by invite only). Inviting outliers is really cool and its in some ways not unlike a modern day circus event. What about real heros like doctors who save people's lives every day? TED homogeneity, yes of course. If I may, a quote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb author of the Black Swan, from his home page:

    “My major hobby is teasing people who take themselves & the quality of their knowledge too seriously & those who don’t have the courage to sometimes say: I don’t know….” (You may not be able to change the world but can at least get some entertainment & make a living out of the epistemic arrogance of the human race).

  27. Had no clue that it was like $6,000 to goto TED, thats crazy – If i had the money i would go for sure and you're so right we can still appreciate their stuff, especially since we have access to their content and videos. Thank you for sharing the good stuff with us, btw love Sarah Silverman – not surprised at all that TED didn't get her, LOL!

  28. Robert, there are plenty of us who have nothing but burning contempt for the whole TED enterprise who aren't jealous or bitter about not getting a ticket. A lot of think that TED is crap because it is elitist. I think it is crap, but I don't think it is crap because it is elitist.

    My problem with TED is that it is intellectual junk food. There are some smart people speaking at TED, but there are some absolute frickin' lunatics there too. Daniel Dennett is one of the smartest philosophers in the English-speaking world. Okay, yep, got a lot of respect for the man. On the same stage, though, you've got crazy pill-popping, we're-all-going-to-upload-our-brains-into-The-Matrix Ray Kurzweil, who has gone from making some great synthesizers to making lots of graphs about the Singularity which plot arbitrary data points on to a graph (his is a world where Moore's Law never ends; in ours, well, there's a reason why people are learning all these interesting new programming languages like Erlang and Scala all of a sudden). The guy is a technoquack of the highest order. They seem to have plenty of other futurists who promote Singularitarianism – but when was the last time you saw TED give space to someone who wasn't firmly bought into the futurist paradigm. How about, I dunno, Mitch Kapor. He said all this Singularity stuff was “Intelligent Design for the IQ 140 crowd”. He's exactly right. It's a religious impulse thing, not a rational thing. Will TED ever have someone to point out that the emperor might actually be naked? No, they'll just get the geek equivalent of transcendental meditation gurus to come out and waffle away. I wouldn't put long odds on them getting that fucker Deepak Chopra on stage in the next few years.

    The speakers get 20 minutes to share their idea – that is, summarise their recent book. For most of the speakers at TED who are talking about stuff I'm interested in, I've already got their books, where they get 400 pages to explain their idea, rather than 20 minutes. Those books sell for, I dunno, $20 rather than $6,000.

    People seem to get very excited about this conference, but if you live in or near a decent sized city (like I live pretty close to London), you can find plenty of other venues which provide you with far more 'ideas worth spreading' every week. What you do is you find these big institutions called universities. They have people inside them who spend all day working on ideas. We fund them as taxpayers to do this. We may as well get some of what we pay for. At these places called universities, they give talks about ideas – often for an hour and a half rather than twenty minutes, and often ideas right at the cutting-edge, rather than softened up to get through the heads of Hollywood actors. They take questions. It is free to attend. Some of the ideas there require you to use your brain a bit to keep-up. But the sort of people who've got $6,000 for a TED ticket (and the resources to get themselves to Long Beach) surely must be intelligent enough to catch whatever pass is thrown at 'em, right? ;-)

    How to get the TED experience without paying $6,000: read books and go to talks at universities…

  29. I don't even understand the reason for this post Scobleizer. For eons people have had private parties, so why is TED any different? Please explain to your blog readers why is TED different than say the Bohemian Grove of northern California? Or maybe Scobleizer didn't do his history lessons and wasn't even aware of the Bohemian Grove? The latter is probably more likely. No offense, but tech geeks are not usually known for their history prowess.

    @Christopher you seem to know your history quite well – I would love to see you counter, say, Fareed Zakaria who on CNN after Copenhagen interviewed megalomaniac Nathan Myhrvold who claims he has a patented garden hose he's going to hold up into the stratosphere with helium balloons and spray aerosols into the stratosphere like a volcano to counter global warming as his little geoengineering mad scientist hat trick to save the world. You should have seen Zakaria's intro of Myhrvold, oh he's such a little “god” and a child prodigy and a great chef and can do lots of puzzles when he was in the womb of his mamma, and he is a physicist and Einstein's little brother who thou art shall save the world (Zakaria made me want to puke from his intro). I'm sure Nathan is in the class known as megalomaniacs which substantially comprise much of TED (not everyone but most). Give me a break, Nina Khosla gets to attend TED because of big Daddy Warbucks? These kiddos of wealth are really in a tough situation because they didn't ask to be the children of the Vinods. Imagine the pressures of living under the same roof as a “god”, these “godlets” have enormous parental expectations from moms and pops. Anyone who had read Gladwell's Outliers will realize the super elites, while certainly not dumb and many of them academically talented (with enough training anyone can memorize), had the benefit of being born into certain time slots and having environmental support. Don't forget Gates had a Daddy who was a lawyer who could proof read those early Microsoft contracts for Billy Boy. But Steve Jobs didn't have this which is why I LOVE it that Steve Jobs is who he is and he doesn't attend these megalomaniac TED circle jerks! Its amazing no one has noticed this (Scobilizer keeps talking about Billy Boy and how he was in the hallways and at dinner tables with Meg Ryan and friends but what was perhaps more interesting is what Scobilizer didn't say — he didn't say that Steve Jobs was MIA because look at the family background diffs)! Any decently educated person with enough time can read tons of papers about nuclear power (why, I just don't get it, why should be be impressed by Gates on this score?). Do you really want to trust the world's future energy policies to Billy Boy and his patent troll pal Nathan? So back to my original point about TED: who cares? Serioiusly. Who cares about TED? TED is a closed club that likes to show off to the world with their tape delayed videos. Stop complaining about the $6K fees and what Sarah Lacy says or doesn't say, and do something more productive.

  30. Good science experiments always succeed.
    A scientist is testing a theory. You may get a positive result or a negative one, sometimes it is unclear, but you always learn something from it. You always know more afterwards than before. That is the point of science. Not to prove your opinion.
    You can choose your opinions – you can’t choose your facts.

  31. Ref blackcanseco's black/white ostracism post above. You're right so let's do something about it. Contact me so we can hold the first “Black Ted” in 2011.
    Suggest we do it here in Geneva, nearer Africa than US, more sustainable.
    Serious suggestion. Anyone interested ?
    Robert can you promote ? Would TED want in ?
    Cheers, Mike in Geneva.

  32. Elitism is fine. The world has always had it and we've survived. Exclusivity is fine. The world has had that too and we're doing quite OK. The problem with TED is not elitism and exclusivity. The problem is that elitism and exclusivity kinda contradict the notion of “Ideas worth spreading” .. don't you think? If those ideas are worth spreading, then they should be spread. OK, uploading select video clips on a web page is better than nothing. How about live TV coverage? How about CDs? How about getting more independent content distributors involved? If they want to walk the talk (about spreading ideas), they should do whatever they can to provide / enable access to TED content, including, perhaps, select off-line content that's worthy. And then they can be as elitists as they like about who gets to attend the live event. Who cares?

  33. TED just has a business model that works well and I think will become more and more common.

    Maybe I'm missing something but also don't quite understand how it's elitist when the talks are up online for free. Most professional conferences don't do this. Not to mention conferences are always expensive – usually it's companies that pay not individuals.

    With TED everyone can get the important information for free, if not the networking and experience. But then, if I thought I was in a position to get $6k worth of experience and networking then surely it would be worth it. That's just the market price. I'd love to attend TED and I don't feel it's horribly elitist just because it's on the other side of the planet and I can't afford to. They're selling a scarcity – access.

    TED is perfectly exploiting the new shape of the media. The TED business model is one that is doesn't require copyright. The content is out there for free, it benefits from sharing. The talks are abundant and everywhere, I watched Jamie Oliver on my iPhone on saturday night on a bus travelling through London. Free videos make _more_ people want to attend, not less.

    Information is an infinite good, it _can_ be free. Physical access, because it is seriously limited, _has_ to be expensive.

    What I don't understand in all this talk about saving the newspapers, the New York Times isn't running a TED style conferences as part of their model. Papers need to sell scarcity, access is a scarcity and great papers like the New York Times have the brand to pull it off. 1000 people paying $6000 where all the op-ed columnist talk are, where they invite world leaders. $6m won't run the paper for a year, but it'll keep a few reporters in Basra.

    I suspect if he really wanted to be elitist, Chris Anderson could charge a lot more than $6,000. Instead, I think he makes a great contribution to the cultural conversation for everyone.

  34. TED just has a business model that works well and I think will become more and more common.

    Maybe I'm missing something but also don't quite understand how it's elitist when the talks are up online for free. Most professional conferences don't do this. Not to mention conferences are always expensive – usually it's companies that pay not individuals.

    With TED everyone can get the important information for free, if not the networking and experience. But then, if I thought I was in a position to get $6k worth of experience and networking then surely it would be worth it. That's just the market price. I'd love to attend TED and I don't feel it's horribly elitist just because it's on the other side of the planet and I can't afford to. They're selling a scarcity – access.

    TED is perfectly exploiting the new shape of the media. The TED business model is one that is doesn't require copyright. The content is out there for free, it benefits from sharing. The talks are abundant and everywhere, I watched Jamie Oliver on my iPhone on saturday night on a bus travelling through London. Free videos make _more_ people want to attend, not less.

    Information is an infinite good, it _can_ be free. Physical access, because it is seriously limited, _has_ to be expensive.

    What I don't understand in all this talk about saving the newspapers, the New York Times isn't running a TED style conferences as part of their model. Papers need to sell scarcity, access is a scarcity and great papers like the New York Times have the brand to pull it off. 1000 people paying $6000 where all the op-ed columnist talk are, where they invite world leaders. $6m won't run the paper for a year, but it'll keep a few reporters in Basra.

    I suspect if he really wanted to be elitist, Chris Anderson could charge a lot more than $6,000. Instead, I think he makes a great contribution to the cultural conversation for everyone.

  35. whoa….TED is the UN IMO. Every race, walk of life, gender, color, brand, type, sexual preference, size, weight…was present and accounted for, both on stage and off. There were hoards of translators and TEDx conference licensees from all over the world too. I met more people from other countries than the U.S.

  36. Thanks for the post. I appreciate your POV.

    Has TED ever been syndicated offline? It's great that the organizers offer such generous access to talks on the web, but in a way doesn't this just open them up to a larger set of of the “elite” (in this case, the technologically literate)? I'd be interested to see what sort of reaction the presentations get from a broader audience.

  37. > makes networking world class but that it ensures that people actually attend and listen to the lectures
    You nailed it right there and that definitely justifies the premium in my book.

  38. Thinking about it, I wouldn't trade our time in the Yellowstone River together for a TED. Your post shows just some of the reason of why. That definitely was a “TED moment.”

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