Aja B.
  • Aja B.
  • New York, NY
  • United States

Online Community Manager, TED

This conversation is closed.

We're making a small change to TED Conversations

Hello all! I wanted to let you know that we're in the process of making a small change to the TED Conversations platform.

It's been a great year and a half since the debut of TED Conversations, and you've had some excellent discussions in that time. We're constantly impressed by the breadth, depth, and diversity of topics and participants here.

Unfortunately, we've also seen a growing number of inappropriate, spam, and abusive topics, which our small team has worked around the clock to remove. Over time, this has become a bit overwhelming. In response, and in order to continue to provide a space for meaningful conversation and debate, we're rolling out a simple approval process for new Conversation topics.

What will this mean? Well, submitting a new idea, question, or debate will work as it always has. You'll use the same form to enter a title, description, related TEDTalks, and a timeframe for the discussion. Once you click Submit, your Conversation will enter an approval queue, where the TED team will read and publish it within 24 hours (though usually much faster). If we can't publish it, we'll send you an email with feedback and instructions on how to re-submit. Once approved, the new Conversation will work as always, with TEDizens around the world joining in your discussion to talk, brainstorm, and collaborate.

Our hope is that this small change will provide a stronger and more consistent experience for you and for the rest of the online TED community. As always, we'd love to hear from you! Please get in touch with us below, or at conversations@ted.com with any thoughts or feedback you'd like to share.

Thank you, and we look forward to seeing your future TED Conversations!


Aja Bogdanoff
TED Conversations Team

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    Oct 12 2012: I'll propose a suggestion, and remember, it's just a suggestion :)
    That you have a list showing conversations that didn't make it to publishing. That way no one will doubt the neutralism of the process of filtering the conversations.
    It can be optional based on the writer request. If he doesn't want it to show up on the list then it doesn't show up on the list.
  • Oct 12 2012: TED is american centric, they are all about the status quo as long as it exists within the narrow american paradigm. That's the real problem with TED is that it is highly american centric. Behind the facade of sharing of ideas is a hypercapitalistic paradigm and anything that doesn't fit neatly within it is chucked.

    When people who manage TED start deleting comments on history of american capitalism because it offends their ideology that's a real problem. While there may be some abusive comments, you can't have 'ideas that change the world' without serious disagreement and criticism. Many ideas about changing society are actively suppressed by the powers that be because many even educated people find the truth threatening their ideals. TED is all about elitism behind the facade. Lets face this fact, there's much interesting about TED but you won't won't find serious discussion that goes beyond the surface or goes 'too outside of bounds' of what people who run ted (americans) find ideologically palatable.
    • Oct 12 2012: The fact that I'm reading this seems to defeat your argument. An existential paradox, no?

      I agree that serious discussion is hard to find. However, I would define "serious discussion" as that which leads to action. Generally the distinction happens when a conversation becomes not about whether to act, but logistics, what and how. A team of competent individuals might have such a conversation, and you might find those individuals here.

      Good luck to you, sir!
      • Oct 14 2012: Sorry but I've seen it happen since I am one of those people who's comments was deleted for no reason at all, nor was I informed or messaged I had committed some faux pas. It just magically disappeared. This is what happens to many peoples comments on ted. The internet allows censorship without informing the audience that you're being censored.

        The reason why people are agreeing is because they've seen it happen.
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      Oct 12 2012: Lots of people talk about the history of American capitalism both in scholarly settings and here on TED as it enters the many conversations that are always underway about alternative economies or economic policy.
      I would have said capitalism is a popular topic here and elsewhere rather than a taboo and that critique is as common as defense.
      In terms of serious discussion, people participating in online discussions make choices of how deeply they want to get into things. You are right that online discussions (here or elsewhere) tend not to look like rigorous scholarly exchanges, if that is what you mean by serious discussion. But the depth of discussion derives from the tastes and choices of participants rather than any sort of actions by site administrators.
      There is another issue, which affects how conversations unfold here or anywhere. Some topics are of great interest and so arise frequently. Even those who are highly interested in a topic may not choose to engage in the same question or issue every time it arises. To someome new to the site, that may seem like lack of interest. Looked at more broadly, it may just be that people who have been around a site for awhile are drawn to topics they have not been discussing recently.
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    Oct 11 2012: In general, I beleive censorship weakens creativity. It funnels ideas to a narrow scope. I wanted to believe TED was about change for the better. Now it seems there's to be a bias towards status quo. It's as if TED assumes we can 't determine spam from genuine good info. Please don't water down the site. We already have the Flag tool...let people think for themselves. Isn't that the point? Or are we all supposed to agree on everything?
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      Aja B.

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      Oct 11 2012: Hi Wade,

      It's not that we don't think you can tell the difference; it's that we don't want the spam to continue to make it difficult to find the good info. Since we don't have the resources to react quickly enough to inappropriate topics after they're posted, this is the best way we can find to make sure that the conversations that get published really are creative, interesting, varied, etc. We're not at all interested in preventing opposing views, political beliefs, etc... only in ensuring that TED Conversations lives up to its goal of "conversations worth having". Does that make sense?

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        Oct 11 2012: I accept your boundries. Together we may learn to broaden them.
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      Oct 11 2012: you are welcome to find another forum on the internet that is not moderated, yet intelligent conversation is going on for an extended period of time. you could also drop me a note if you find any.
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        Oct 11 2012: I enjoy this forum because of people like yourself who share thier valuble knowledge and unique experiences. I think I'm begining to understand what TED and Aja are trying to maintain. This forum begs you to think about things in ways you may have not thought of before. I would say the new Moderation will help to keep the forum in a class by itself.

        Thanks Krisztian I appreciate and look forward talking with you and the community.
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    Oct 11 2012: Good idea, this will increase chances of finding great conversations easily.
  • Oct 11 2012: As always the masses are subdued at the hand of the few.
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      Oct 11 2012: I understand where you're coming from Shawn but the team is small and in a way the change is probably adding to the load. One day we will all be Mods for each other.
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        Oct 11 2012: Why not today? Why not here and now?
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          Oct 12 2012: I would have no idea how to implement such an idea. I thought of it when i was in a discussion with Pat about job creation except how do we pay each other? Gerald had put up a Q about what he could buy with his TEDcred and i thought we could use this for an exchange of personal time but then it would only work here. We could name them PM's=Personal Moderators to PAM's= Personal Assistant Moderators and PSM's=Personal Security Moderators, we could even start up a company to train people paid in Point exchange, lol you can see the holes in this idea and i have no idea what a Mod does anyway, it was a fun thought experiment. What do you think Wade? Could you add to it or rework it?
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          Oct 12 2012: It wouldn't work in the long run because people confuse what "Freedom of Speech" really means (depending on their laws that cover it).

          Freedom of speech is not guaranteed in a "private organization", such as the TED website. The owners of the organization get to make whatever rules they want about what type of posts or conversations are allowed, and how they will be conducted. They are the ones who get to moderate the forum and decide if a topic or post is in accordance with the goals of the website or community.

          Anyone who "joins" the community is bound by the rules established by the organization. Fritzie posted those rules in this thread, and they are on the main TED website.

          If you don't like the rules, you have the freedom to leave and go elsewhere. If the "elsewhere" you go allows you to say, "TED has some stupid posting rules!", complain about it there.
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        Oct 12 2012: After I got over my intial knee jerk reaction to censorship as well as talking with Aja, I realized what I enjoyed about this forum (see my reply to Kristian).

        I look at the forum now as TED being the Host and we are the guests. Now we have an outstanding Butler at the door to shield us from distracting trolls and sales people.

        My friends, Enjoy the party ;) ! Can someone point me to the champaign server?
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      Oct 11 2012: The TED community is not a democracy, Shawn. None of the members who volunteer to participate here got to vote for the leadership of the website nor the community.

      If you feel you are being "subdued" by anyone responsible for maintaining the purpose of this community, your "freedom" allows to you leave this communiy and post in other website communities that allow posting the way you would personally prefer to do it.

      Respectfully submitted.
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      Oct 11 2012: These are the Terms of Use pasted in from the website, in case anyone is not clear on what sort of threads would likely not be accepted.

      "We are seeking to build a mature online community centered around ideas that matter. Please be aware, when participating, that we will remove: •content promoting pseudo-science, conspiracy theories, zealotry, proselytizing, self-promotion, product-hawking, and new-age fluff
      •content written in txtspeak, all-caps, or otherwise lazy grammar
      •content posted by members using joke names or non-names
      •disrespectful, distasteful, unconstructive, or illegal content"
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        Oct 13 2012: I have a great deal of respect for this community. These are not just passing conversations. Only constructive thoughts and positive collaboration belong here. I imagine it takes a great deal of human hours to check these streams for "spam" and inappropriate content. So as I have suggested, it would be great to implement a software that automatically picks out disrespectful language, distasteful, curse words, etc.
        My new suggestion is to insert above guideline on top of every posted conversation/idea/debate so all new comers receive them and hopefully refrain from ruining conversation streams.Also I am in favor of profile content so we know who the commenter is, what they are about, etc. This is what sets TED apart. Cheers for TED!!

        Hi Frizie, Hi Aja !! ( It is great to see you again ;-), Rick, Wade, ken !!
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          Oct 13 2012: Hi, Juliette. My initial inclination was like yours, Juliette, that it would be a bold and honest statement for everyone to use real names and include profiles. In fact, when I started here, I thought everyone did that.

          There are two reasons I changed my mind on this. One is that some people in some parts of the world put themselves at risk for speaking their opinions freely. In that case using real names silences them. The flip side is, of course, that some people are less civil if they can hide behind a pseudonym.

          The second reason is that regardless of where one lives, on the open internet, there are people who do prey on innocent people, particularly if they have a way of identifying and finding them easily. Sometimes its a mean prank, sometimes bullying, and sometimes the perpetrator is psychotic. Such people can join open communities and target people in their offline lives.

          So I understand that some people are more comfortable using pseudonyms or not putting forward profiles as a safety measure.
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          Aja B.

          • +1
          Oct 13 2012: I've been through a similar journey with real names vs. pseudonyms (names people are attached to, not complete anonymity). I thought this was interesting:

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        Oct 13 2012: This is helpful Aja!!
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    Oct 13 2012: I think users of the internet are best served when not every discussion site and venue is the same. The internet provides lots of venues for all kinds of purposes, including spam, self promotion, marketing products and services, and so forth.

    Aside from the fact that TED doesn't HAVE to become an open chat/sales/spam platform (as Rick sometimes reminds us), I think we are all better off when the internet allows us a choice rather than a great sea of same-ness.

    A parallel might be an open classroom to which anyone can come to learn about physics. What if while discussion is underway, there is a continuous flow of people who, seeing a large gathering of people, run in to try to sell merchandise? How about to engage people in discussion of the latest music videos?

    There is nothing wrong with selling merchandise or chatting about music videos, but couldn't the people assembled to learn physics be granted a little space just for that purpose? There are SO many opportunities outside of the setting for these other matters.

    I appreciate TED's trying to do and be something different, a resource and place that I think is quite unique.
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    Oct 13 2012: The moderation you mean? Then I suggest we all talk about it, because I found TED to be a place for pertinent, high quality conversations (generally speaking) and censoring measurements like this one are damaging to the image and the cause itself.

    Censoring someone is at central level is profoundly anti-democratic. Should we allow authorities to censor what information reaches us over the Internet? Was it cool that Egyptian authorities were able to shut down the Internet and virtually all communication to oppress those that faught for personal liberties which were in disagreement with the policy of the government? I think TED is about that freedom and not about the censorship.

    There are ways to mediate discussions, to filter out spam or indecent behaviour, but it must done by the people not at by the centre. Here is just one possibility:

    People can register on TED with 0 credibility, as in neutral. No negative, no positive. Every thumb up would push a person (increase credibility) every thumb down (needs to be introduced but it can't be that complicated as the thumb up is already there, will decrease a persons credibility. It can even be made so that successive thumb up/down work by increasing/decreasing credibility exponentially.

    After the credibility system is in place a simple "sort by credibility" option would allow people to find conversations that are relevant and pertinent. But on the other hand it would allow other people as well to work their way up the ladder as a true democracy should.

    The sole existence of such a system (as simple as it is) will compel people to behave and conform to the standards imposed so far on this forum. After all, if one speaks, one wants to be heard so it is in the best interest of everybody to conform, and to participate in discussions by grading other people.

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      Oct 13 2012: 1. TED is a private organization, not a democracy. Nobody has an inalienable "right" to post here saying anything they want to in any way they want to. Freedom of Speech is not applicable in a private organization. TED gets to set their own rules. That is the only way to ensure TED meets the standards of a community that can have constructive conversations pertaining to the exchange of ideas worth spreading, and not the type of "ideas" (conversation content) prohibited in the "Terms of Use".

      2. No...do not implement a "Thumbs Down" rating capability. The concept of TED is to allow the exchange of ideas in a civilized manner where an objective person will not be offended just because someone disagrees with them. I do not want any system where my "credibility" can be reduced just because someone else is not objective and thinks a dissenting opinion or idea is "wrong" solely because THEY don't agree with it...then have the ability to "discredit" me as retaliation with a mouse-click on a Thumbs Down icon. If someone wants to try to "discredit" an opposing view, make a reply post explaining why they don't agree so the entire community can see who is doing the "discrediting".
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        Oct 13 2012: I somewhat new to TED, so out of respect to the organization and all the people that have been here before me I really do not wish to escalate this. I am just hoping to participate here in something constructive.

        1. When an organization reaches such a magnitude like TED, it can longer hide behind the rules of small scale private sector where democracy is applied somewhat differently. It has the potential and intention to impact so many lives that it becomes subject to a new set or rules of morality, which are not perceived at small scale level. A private organization of the kind you are saying would have a tag like "Ideas worth telling me and I do what I want with them", which is not the case.

        2. If a simple thumbs down functionality is not working (and I will trust you and Aja on this one), more complicated algorithms may be implemented. Something that monitors peoples behaviour (willingness to comment the post after reading it, willingness to give thumbs up, willingness to follow the subject by returning to the page again and again multiplexed with it's credibility of the member who performs these actions, and perhaps a hidden thumb down which is exclusive to trusted members and staff.
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      Aja B.

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      Oct 13 2012: Just to let you know, we did actually have a thumbs-down button, along with the thumbs-up button, for over a year. I don't know if anyone here remembers that time, but it was completely and totally abused. A member who disagreed with another member could suddenly find themselves dropping 1,500 "points" over the course of a few days, and members with offensive and argumentative positions would suspiciously have the highest scores.

      Which isn't to say that such a system can't work, obviously sites like Reddit use up/down voting to great success... but we did try a version it, and had a pretty bad experience. Perhaps we'll give it another go someday.
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    Oct 13 2012: I agree with moderation but it needs to be done in moderation and with certain principles that are respectful in nature towards all: the the host, the postee and those that read it.

    I recently started a debate: http://www.ted.com/conversations/14360/debate_our_culture_isn_t_ada.html, and it got approved but with a twist: the title was modified, and a URL that I attached was ousted from the text.

    I would have preferred that somebody ask me before performing these changes on a discussion I was posting. A title is very important and my choice of words were very deliberate. Why is a title which is put in by a TED moderator better for a topic that I posted better than my title? Does this person really know better than me what I wanted to ask?

    The link was an outside link, not within TED. It was to an article on my personal blog which contains a lengthy essay regarding the topic I posted. By lengthy I mean at least 10 times as much as a TED debate would allow me to post. I added it because I believe it was important to the discussion and would have clarified a lot what I was debating. I really do not see why it was eliminated, except that maybe TED people desperately try to keep people on their site for traffic. Otherwise if people visit a harmless blog entry, which in this case is on topic, would either find the blog uninteresting and then leave it immediately or find it interesting and to the point in which case it becomes an "idea worth spreading". Isn't that what TED is about?

    As a side note, I've been meaning to post this topic for a long time, but I was not sure if I was allowed to post references and I was puzzled of how I could communicate what I am asking about in so few words. But then I found this post: http://www.ted.com/conversations/14146/is_there_a_biological_basis_of.html, where there is a reference to an external site, so I figured that if others may do it, I may too. But it is clearly not the case.

    I think this kind of attitude is harmful to TED.
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      Oct 13 2012: It could be Stefan that you could be the very first one to have to go through it?
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        Oct 13 2012: I think there is a bug in the system. If I answer you in narrow view conversation (the kind that you have when you open it from an email) it will post a new comment rather than answering in-line like this one.

        Please see my answer above.
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      Aja B.

      • +1
      Oct 13 2012: Hi Stefan,

      We're currently experiencing a higher than normal level of spam in the form of members using posts simply as a way to drive traffic to their blogs/sites, so yes, we are starting to be more careful about links. We also encourage new topic creators to stay within the 2,000 character limit, for the sake of a healthy conversation:

      "Be clear and concise! Conversation starters are limited to 2,000 characters, and our most successful Conversations are much shorter. Include enough information for your audience to build on, but leave room for the discussion to grow."

      From our Conversations How-To Guide: http://www.ted.com/pages/conversations_howto
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        Oct 13 2012: It is sad that people abuse for personal gain pretty much everything in this world. This is indeed one of monsters that we as a society created. But kill me if you must, I still don't think that the answer to the the problem is censorship by the hands of staff.

        If in the short term is a necessity, because that's the reality we face, it must be done with the greatest of care, because it is a slippery slope. It is a system that can be just as easily abused as democracy can be.

        Any way, I am happy I can be a part of this community. I think you are doing a great thing.
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    Oct 13 2012: I must confess I am surprised that due to being overwhelmed by the task of removing some posts you are taking on the task of inspecting each conversation for approval (is that any less overwhelming?). However, that is your business as a manager and you know better than I.

    Perhaps, a more automated approach would be helpful, similar to what happens on reddit. I love reddit, but it has its problems too. It is so crowded, and its algorithms put so much priority to what's new that it is impossible to have a conversation that goes on for even a couple of days. Part of the magic of ted conversations is a certain "sweet spot" in the amount of users which cannot really be controlled. As it gets bigger, we might just all have to put up with stuff we don't like.

    I suggest a system that automatically gauges a topics interest of the community by the number of comments. Perhaps, once a week, the conversations with the highest amount of comments can be bumped to the top to make them easier to find, while still giving new conversations some time to develop. Typically, conversations that are abusive or just silly will have few people commenting in them.

    I am also curious about the featured section. What does it take for a conversation to get featured? Is that automated or curated?

    The thing I like as a user about automation is that it is very clear cut. There is no room for people to accuse the moderators of being biased when its mostly run by a computer program.

    Whatever course of action you take in the future, please explain the new policies clearly.
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      Aja B.

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      Oct 13 2012: It's actually around the same amount of work in hours, but without the 24/7 anxiety that someone has posted something incredibly inappropriate that hasn't been taken down yet. We've had topics posted that advocated violence against children, that physically threatened other members, and, of course, that flooded the listings with 20 identical posts advertising knock-off wristwatches.

      We're definitely looking at systems like Reddit, but anything involving an automatic algorithm will require a much broader reworking of the platform. And we're also looking into replacing the Featured section with the "Most Active" section, so the front page would just consist of the Conversations that are getting the most posts. What do you think?
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    Oct 13 2012: i didnt find it until i made a post

    .i dont think it is a good idea..it may reduce our enthusiastic ,you know ideas always come unexceptly ,i always want to solve the problem inmidiety you know at that time my ideas can all come out .i can very good express waht i want to say ,if you change the time i may forget what i want to say ,and my ideas may disaprier,.when debating i can t approch my view frently .i hope you can consider it.

    good idea always come Inadvertently
  • Oct 12 2012: Yup :)
    For more true, meaningful, and advanced conversations....!
  • Oct 12 2012: The ability to close and/or delete our conversations if one has either sufficient answers to a question or realize that the conversation doesn't go anywhere, would be highly useful.
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      Oct 12 2012: no it would not. you don't own the conversation you have started. it is a public forum.
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      Oct 12 2012: I am not sure which of two things you mean.

      In Aja's announcement, I see nothing to suggest that anyone administrative will be deleting threads that are sufficiently answered or not going anywhere. The change is only about filtering out spam threads before they are posted.

      If you mean individuals should be able to delete or close their conversations early because they are not satisfied with how they are unfolding, my opinion is that that would not be a good thing. While we pose questions because they interest us, once we open the thread, it no longer belongs to us but rather to the community. Those who participate in the thread or even those who read the thread without posting may be learning a great deal, even if the person who opened the thread is not getting what he seeks.

      What is more, if you delete a thread you opened because it no longer serves your interests, you would be deleting other people's contributions and ideas as well. I don't think that is right. You can, of course, delete your own posts. While I think that makes threads harder to follow, like one half of a telephone conversation, some people do that.
      • Oct 12 2012: You are probably right. You convinced me to reevaluate my position on this issue. Have a good day.
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    Oct 12 2012: I appreciate the level of civility on TED. I appreciate that most people post under their real names and post their real (I hope) faces. I have nothing against closing my mind to certain things. Let's keep it this way. :-)
  • Oct 12 2012: I think this is a good idea. I found some user producing two themes that were no different to each other except for one word in the title. Then the user was not serious enough to follow the conversation and just opened a new, related one, as if the other two were closed cases. That feels quite perplexing, lacking of seriousness, and lacking of the most basic principles of discourse. That's spam. So, it might look as if you are bound towards "censorship," but I welcome your idea. I do find figuring out which conversations are worth entering a tad challenging. I hope this new procedure of approval will help. Yes, some of us will feel offended and might disagree with some of the judgements you might make. But that's life.
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    Oct 11 2012: i would suggest to limit all "why we use money" and other venus project nonsense to one per month.
    • Comment deleted

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        Oct 11 2012: i'm sorry to hear that in the near future, you will not be able to open 4 discussions per week about the same subject.
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          Oct 11 2012: Thanks that was a genuine LOL. You see Mats suffers from a condition we in the psychobabble world call projection.
        • Oct 11 2012: There is always a gray area that, where any seemingly overlapping themes, can occur, but I have always 'attacked' my own ideas or discussions from different angles, so that more people can engage in the topics that interests me. I don't see anything wrong with that.
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          Oct 13 2012: Mats,

          In the type of topics that get discussed here on TED, there is rarely a single cause nor solution to any of them. "World Problems" are not isolated problems with factors only applicable to the one topic issue.

          There is a difference between a thread being "hijacked" or going "off topic", as opposed to introducing a related issue during the conversation/debate that is applicable to the single topic issue.

          With TED discussions, the scope of the topic being discussed/debated will normally contain multiple "issues" affecting it. So if somebody "wanders" off your original topic, it doesn't mean they are hijacking the thread or making it "off topic".

          There is no need to post multiple conversation topics relating to the same "generic" topic. An effective conversation/debate about the "generic" topic should introduce "other factors" associated with that overall topic. That is what critical thinking produces. Critical thinking eliminates "tunnel vision".

          Now, whether all the participants in a thread will comprehend that, or rather think the discussion has been hijacked or gone off-topic, is dependant on THEIR ability to understand the purpose of using critical thinking in the first place.
  • Oct 11 2012: I always thank for all the great achievement by the TED staff members, etc. Cheers for all of you! :)
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    Oct 11 2012: Thank you, Aja, for spam filtering for us. I am grateful for a site like TED devoted to discourse about issues and ideas and am grateful also that the internet provides so many options outside of TED for people interested in talking about other stuff.
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      Oct 12 2012: Hey Fritzie

      Since you're our resident Mr Spock(compliment bud, a compliment) where do i click to find where i can nominate a speaker, for the life of me i can't remember where i saw it, it's somewhere here?
  • Oct 11 2012: yuck.....!
  • Oct 10 2012: Hi Aja Bogdanoff,

    Thank you for the notice.

    Although change can be a bit uncomfortable at times, most of us understand why it is necessary to shift gears on occasion. I do think TED is breaking new and fertile ground with the addition of TED Conversations. You have some very interesting people participating in this forum.

    I can imagine discussions centering on how to best operate this service. I must admit I would enjoy being part of this process to meet enterprise needs, yet maintain, or even expand membership engagement.

    I plan to attend a TED conferences down the road, possibly Palm Springs.

    Best regards, Dan F
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      Aja B.

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      Oct 10 2012: Thank you, Dan. It's true, change is never easy... but we have to keep moving forward. Hope to see you at a future conference!