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Pāvils Jurjāns

Director/owner, Knowledge Factory

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Why does TED.com have so little focus on open-source (software/hardware/ideas)?

To my view, what has happened with open-source software movement, is something totally spectacular. Software development 2.0, if you wish. And with great implications on the rest of the economy, if/when the frameworks of OOS will be applied to the hardware development.
What is happening with Creative Commons licence, is equally impressive. And that is also about sharing, reusing and mixing.
I am somewhat puzzled, why such a great organisation as TED is, does not emphasise the importance of the open source movement. Don't want to build conspiracy here, but would that be reluctance to upset sponsors? For example, people from Microsoft have had several talks, while Linus Torvalds or Tim Oreilly or Mark Shuttleworth - zero.

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    Feb 20 2011: I don't think TED 'gets' open source.

    Every aspect of this site is proprietory, and the downloadable info for TEDx organisers is all .pdf, .doc, or .psd

    No .png, no .odt, no open-source software being used or recommended.

    I'm guessing it's due to inertia rather than any policy, and I know that the team are all very busy. So there is probably nobody responsible for saying "hey, shouldn't we be trying this?"
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    Feb 21 2011: I think the truth is actually somewhere in the middle. Michael gave a good answer showing the support of open-source with some undeniable facts, but on the other hand that Pavils also made a good observation.

    I remember being very annoyed when Stephen Lawler got to give a tour of Microsoft Virtual Earth at TED, but no developer of Celestia was given the chance.
    The same goes for Google's Lalitesh Katragadda giving a talk on Google Map Maker. I am not questioning the great potential in using it in situations like the Haiti earthquake, but what about Open Street Map? Together with a good friend we set out to map our home town and have now achieved a map with greater accuracy and more details than that of Google.

    So in conclusion I must agree that whilst TED is doing its best, it could do more.
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      Feb 21 2011: I agree actually, but I think I'm conflating two areas in my response -- TED's internal practices vs. TED's speaker/content curation. I spend my days immersed in the former which I do believe approaches Open Source as both a practice and philosophy with a great deal of vigor.

      TED Curation, however, is far outside my day-to-day work. I think curation by definition is the opposite of open source. Even so, I believe TED does an outstanding job of it. True, there are always a few voices that I feel are neglected, but the curators themselves appear to periodically feel the same way.

      From what I've seen, every speaker recommendation is investigated in a disciplined and fair manner by people I find thoughtful, open-minded, and emotionally intelligent. (Working at TED leaves me biased of course, but it's what I've witnessed since I started working here. So take this for whatever it's worth.)

      Please recommend speakers! While the curators track a broad spectrum of areas of thought, invention, and action, they don't purport to be worldwide authorities on 'ideas.' TED would no doubt benefit from exploring unusual aspects of Open Source and would listen carefully if you shared some which might fit the format of a TEDTalk.
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    Feb 24 2011: Having been very involved with the Open Source community in the past, I find it interesting that I've not been concerned with this issue very much. I should qualify that I'm very much of the BSD/Apache open source mindset in which pragmatism plays a large role, not the GNU/GPL side of the open source house which actively promotes a 100% open source world. I respect that viewpoint, BTW, but I don't share it.

    In the world of software, I see open source is very much about the open communication and collaboration of ideas expressed in source code. This source code is run on proprietary platforms (most of the time) and is often used to build proprietary systems (Facebook, Google, etc) but the benefit to increasing the leverage of the collaboration of the ideas is the key benefit of Open Source.

    Applied directly to ideas, I think TED is already there. The ideas are openly expressed and if you watch over time, you'll see that the speakers do influence each other greatly. Ideas are combined, re-expressed, and re-cast all of the time. Even the quality of the talks is going up as the speakers unconsciously hold themselves up to higher standards.

    And even though TED events themselves are highly curated, that's not so different than the role Linus plays in Linux. He—and more accurately the rest of the team working on Linux—are themselves curators. And for those that dislike the particular blend that TED provides, there's TEDx.

    TED's highest goal is to amplify ideas. The pragmatist in me isn't concerned about whether or not the software platform behind the website has its code published somewhere or what codec is used. The concern is to make sure that as many people on the planet have access to the raw ideas as given by the presenters so that they can listen, use, and combine them to make the planet a better place. PDF, H.264 and more have a place in that currently. As long as the TED tech team remains nimble and adopts new ways, I think we're good.
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      Mar 4 2011: I'll just throw a small disclaimer - I did not intend my OP to look like complaining that ted.com isn't based on open-source technology. My intention was to point out that there are relatively very few talks that feature the open source idea. That does not necessarily must be about software, although the software indeed is right now the most successful environment where shared open source development has shown its amazing power. It could be any form of open collaboration, and people should be more informed about the wonderful idea of collaborative development of content and ideas.
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    Feb 20 2011: Actually, in my experience TED is a ardent supporter of Open Source. Sponsors have no input on whether content or the technologies behind the site are open (see the CC license at the end of every TEDTalk and the license-free nature of all images we capture at conferences.)
    We endeavor to use open source software in encoding and managing our video, although we always balance those decisions with a respect for quality concerns. All our video is currently moving to h.264 -- itself not open source -- but encoded using ffmpeg and x264. As soon as VP8/WebM (or Theora) catches up in efficiency and quality we are ready to transform the library once again.
    To be sure, certain technologies crucial to our workflow require us to venture into the world of closed technologies. We've moved all video recording away from linear media to HD-based capture, but the best tool we've found available to us in doing that records using ProRes. Even so, a slew of tools we've developed internally are based on open source technologies -- users reap the benefits of these although are never aware if their use.
    Linus Torvalds et al likely haven't spoken at TED because of reasons unrelated to the 'politics' of their talks. See Julian Assange's talk for a sense of TED's interest in exploring the openness of ideas. Or watch Larry Lessig's 2007 talk -- far from ambivalent about the worthiness of Open Source.
    If you find that there is a particular aspect of TED.com or TED that neglects an open source technology which is more efficient and/or higher quality than what we're currently using please post the specifics here. I am certain all the developers and media geeks at TED are interested!
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      Feb 21 2011: Hi Michael, thanks for reply from the TED staff.
      I totally agree that the decision of TED to publish the talks, and do it under CC licence is a great, influential move. I'd even say revolutionary. However, my point is that general public needs to get some deeper understanding about the open source initiative. For most of the public, OSS rhymes with "bunch of weirdos working late after their paid hours, to produce some software for other geeks". Since the distribution model of OSS is totally different from the commercial ware, we see very little advertising supporting it. In result, there is very low level of understanding about this phenomena. And I deliberately use word "phenomena", because this is indeed a new kind of socio-economic phenomena, and should be studied as such. I am not trying to play role of Linux fanboy here, but I am excited about the possibility and success of the amazing collaboration that enables the OSS to happen. What enabled OSS could transform also other information-intense fields, like hardware engineering or cretative expression.
      My own eyes were opened, by reading the book "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", which covers the subject in pretty deep detail. I think, this topic deserves at least one quality talk in the TED talks.