TED was born in 1984 out of the observation by Richard Saul Wurman of a powerful convergence between Technology, Entertainment and Design. The first TED included demos of the Sony compact disc and new 3D graphics from Lucasfilm, while mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot demonstrated how to map coastlines with his newly discovered fractals. Several influential members of the digerati community were there, including Nicholas Negroponte and Stewart Brand.
But despite the stellar lineup, the event lost money, and it was six years before Wurman and his partner Harry Marks tried again. This time, the world was ready and the numbers worked. TED has been held regularly in Monterey, California, ever since, attracting a growing and influential audience from many different disciplines united by their curiosity, open-mindedness, a desire to think outside the box ... and also by their shared discovery of an exciting secret. (TED was an invitation-only event; it never had an advertising budget or a PR campaign.)
Meanwhile the roster of presenters broadened to include scientists, philosophers, musicians, religious leaders, philanthropists and many others. Over the years, TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Frank Gehry, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Billy Graham, Annie Lennox, Peter Gabriel, Quincy Jones, Bono. Yet often the real stars have been the unexpected, like Aimee Mullins, a Paralympics competitor who tried out a new pair of artificial legs onstage, or Jennifer Lin, a 14-year-old pianist whose 6-minute improvisation moved the audience to tears.
For many of the attendees, TED became one of the intellectual and emotional highlights of the year. That was certainly true for media entrepreneur Chris Anderson, who met with Wurman in 2000 to discuss the conference's future. Wurman, at age 65, was ready to pass on the reins. A deal was struck, and in 2001, Chris’s foundation (The Sapling Foundation) acquired TED, and Chris became TED’s curator.
Chris pledged to stand by the principles that made TED great: the same inspired format, the same breadth of content, the same commitment to seek out the most interesting people on earth and let them communicate what they are passionate about, untainted by corporate influence.
But there were also significant changes under the new ownership. First, the content continued to broaden. TED explicitly sought out the world's most interesting speakers, no matter what their field of expertise, and there was a growing attempt to reach outside the US. Second, there was a growing realization that the ideas and inspiration generated at TED could and should have an impact well beyond the conference itself.
Accordingly the years 2001–2006 saw three major additions to the TED family:
- a sister conference, TEDGlobal, held in a different country every other year
- the TED Prize, which grants its winners one wish to change the world
- a groundbreaking audio and video podcast series, TEDTalks, in which the best TED content is released free online.
TEDTalks proved so popular that in 2007 TED's website was relaunched around them, allowing a global audience to enjoy free eyeball-to-eyeball access to some of the world's greatest thinkers, leaders and teachers.
The story continues...