Tech confab with a conscience goes global

In bringing TED to the masses, Anderson relocated the main show from Monterey, Calif., a few hundred miles to Southern California to accommodate more people. The larger venue in Long Beach accommodated more than 6,000 at the February event. "It was like going from horse-and-buggy to car," Anderson says. "But it was necessary because TED was so elitist."

The arc of TED

TED has come a long way in a short time. The eclectic show used to be an exclusive party among the rarefied ranks in the seaside hamlet of Monterey. "It was the dinner party I always wanted to have but couldn't," says Richard Saul Wurman, an architect and graphic designer who founded TED in 1984. He succeeded wildly.

The convergence of thinkers has led to noteworthy outcomes. A 1992 meeting of journalists Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe and Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the Media Lab at MIT, led to key funding from Negroponte for the launch of Wired magazine. "That was the magic of TED — fortuitous meetings outside the presentations leading to unforeseen and sometimes remarkable outcomes," Rossetto said in an e-mail.

It was at TED that the Macintosh was seen for one of the first times, in 1984. (Apple CEO Steve Jobs, however, has yet to attend.)

Since Anderson took over, he has infused it with a sense of social purpose. In February, oceanographer Sylvia Earle addressed the plight of oceans and aquatic wildlife. The talk was so good, one TEDster — Addison Fischer, an inventor and investor — donated $1 million. She also won a TED Prize.

Dictionary evangelist Erin McKean argued for a change in "the form factor" of dictionaries during a TED presentation in 2007. Her speech led to funding from McNamee that helped her create Wordnik, a website devoted to the "discovery of words."

"People actually paid attention at the conference," McKean says. "They weren't staring at their laptops during my presentation." She spent five minutes talking to Lostcreator J.J. Abrams about mechanical pencils. "It was kind of Dadaist."

"It's about spreading great ideas and making a profound impact on society and the greater world," says Cyan Banister, editor-in-chief of, an adults-only social network. She now considers herself a "TED person for life" after attending it for the first time in Long Beach.

When invited, she was asked to fill out a questionnaire listing her personal achievements and their impact on society. Upon arriving, she — like others — was encouraged to interact with other attendees. "It is a creative catalyst," she says. "People say innovative, challenging, contrarian things. There are no scripted answers."

The globalization of TED has not come without some trepidation, however.

Some entrepreneurs want a nod to the past, and have discussed a simulcast of the Long Beach event in Monterey, where it all started. Max Levchin, CEO of social-networking applications maker Slide, is among those who someday hope to recapture the show's intimacy and "ocean" vibe.

"Monterey was fundamentally an overgrown dinner party where the very cool people were invited," Levchin says. "Maybe if enough people want a return to that, I'll do it."

TED says it has no plans for a Monterey event.

For the most part, though, most TED participants say they are happy with the show, as is Wurman.

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