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Posted at 9:53 pm

2013 Mar 4

A Brief History of TED 0

This post was originally published on Linkedin when I was on my way to TED 2013.

I’m getting ready for #TED2013 and so is LinkedIn. TED been around for 29 years, and I’ve had the honor of being actively engaged with it for around the last 20. Here’s some of that history as I’ve seen it, and at the bottom are links to how to watch it yourself, and info on the earliest days of TED.

I was at Macworld in 1993, and in addition to buying a Newton, I walked past a display with a video of Jaron Lanier in his dreadlocks and virtual reality gear, and it stopped me in my tracks. Bob Stein from Voyager was working the booth and said it was from TED2, that it was the greatest conference that ever was, and it would never happen again. And then he sold me a set of VHS Tapes…

I was so enamored with what I saw that I tracked down the organizer Richard Saul Wurman, applied to attend the next TED and to my surprise I got in, and I’ve always thought that sending the check along with my application helped. The price to attend TED5 in 1994 was $1,450 and I distinctly remember not having that much in my checking account and having to use a line of credit.

But I got in, and have been going most every year since, and as you can see I’ve been collecting a bit of TED history along the way.

Before there were TEDTalks, there were TED Tapes – audio cassette recordings of the conference, and I dutifully made mix tapes like “The Best of TED5″ and “120 Minutes of TEDSell” and shared them. Larry Lessig would have been proud.

Before there were TEDTalks, there were TED CD-ROM’s (both Macintosh and PC) and DVDs

TED Attendee Badges seem to have evolved along with the price and popularity of the conference – the first one I got from TED5 in 1994 is the little white one.

But the best part of TED is the people you meet, and the moments you have there. A few that stood out to me include:

  • Hearing the WIRED Magazine founding story separately from Louis Rosetto and Nicholas Negroponte, and how the pitch and funding commitment happened at TED.
  • Sitting down with Reid Hoffman and having him explan the origins of LinkedIn and what it was like at PayPal before the eBay acquisition.
  • Waiting for a cab in the rain with Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author.
  • Herbie Hancock going on stage at a local Monterey jazz bar for a set, and completely freaking out the house band.

In 2006 after the company I worked for was acquired by Yahoo! (Ironically by Jeff Weiner now CEO of LinkedIn), I worked part time for both First Round Capital and for the TED Conference. One of the things I did leading Strategic Partnerships at TED was help launch TEDTalks with Chris Anderson and June Cohen and the team, and we brought on BMW as the inaugural sponsor. It’s amazing to see that now TEDTalks have been viewed over 1 Billion Times.

First it was in Monterey, then it was Long Beach, now it’s going to Vancouver for the 30th year of TED. It used to be a hidden gem and an exclusive thing – now it’s still a gem that the whole world gets to engage with and share, and it’s both expensive if you attend and free if you just want to watch it after the fact. As cool as the TED conference itself is, I think TEDTalks and TEDx will have an even bigger impact going forward, and I hope to be involved in some way for another 20 years.

Some useful TED Links:

How to watch #TED2013 if you’re not there – you can wait for TEDTalks, or join TED LIVE to watch it live on your computer, or go to one of 200 TEDx conferences streaming it live.

Here’s the best history of TED I’ve seen from the early days written by Richard Saul Wurman, and the link I had is now dead, so I had to go to the Internet Archive Wayback machine to find it.

Here’s a video from Nicolas Negroponte at the very first TED 29 years ago – watch it see how many of his predictions came true, including prescient observations on touch screen computing.


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