I took time out from Hurricane Sandy chaos yesterday to trek up town Manhattan to a cafe featuring actual electricity and a breakfast to meet Gordon and Avril Samuel, a British couple whose story I wish I didn't know so well. We both lost a daughter in 2010 to carbon monoxide poisoning.
I've had a thing for the San Francisco Giants ever since I moved to the Bay Area (from England) in the mid 90s. So I was as happy as anyone last night to see their improbable comeback continue, led by the stellar pitching of Ryan Vogelsong.How did he do it? Focus? Years of hard practice? Buster Posey's calls for a rare blizzard of fast-balls? The intensity of the crowd? All of the above plus a little luck? Vogelsong had a different explanation:“I just believe that God had a plan for me this whole time,” Vogelsong said. “I feel like all the stuff that I went through—going to Japan and going to winter ball at 33 years old, and getting back here last year, is stuff that He was doing for me to get me prepared for this moment.”
This has been a long time in the works, and I'm really excited to see it live. Our new player allows much higher-definition video. It also auto-adjusts for people's bandwidth to minimize any buffering issues.
Today TED was subject to a story so misleading it would be funny... except it successfully launched an aggressive online campaign against us.
The National Journal alleged we had censored a talk because we considered the issue of inequality "too hot to handle." The story ignited a firestorm of outrage on Reddit, Huffington Post and elsewhere. We were accused of being cowards. We were in the pay of our corporate partners. We were the despicable puppets of the Republican party.
Here's what actually happened.
At TED this year, an attendee pitched a 3-minute audience talk on inequality. The talk tapped into a really important and timely issue. But it framed the issue in a way that was explicitly partisan. (The talk is explicitly attacking what he calls an article of faith for Republicans. He criticizes Democrats too, but only for not also attacking this idea more often.) And it included a number of arguments that were unconvincing, even to those of us who supported his overall stance, such as the apparent ruling out of entreprenurial initiative as a root cause of job creation. The audience at TED who heard it live (and who are often accused of being overly enthusiastic about left-leaning ideas) gave it, on average, mediocre ratings - some enthusiastic, others critical.
At TED we post one talk a day on our home page. We're drawing from a pool of 250+ that we record at our own conferences each year and up to 10,000 recorded at the various TEDx events around the world, not to mention our other conference partners. Our policy is to post only talks that are truly special. And we try to steer clear of talks that are bound to descend into the same dismal partisan head-butting people can find every day elsewhere in the media.
We discussed internally and ultimately told the speaker we did not plan to post. He did not react well. He had hired a PR firm to promote the talk to MoveOn and others, and the PR firm warned us that unless we posted he would go to the press and accuse us of censoring him. We again declined and this time I wrote him and tried gently to explain in detail why I thought his talk was flawed.
So he forwarded portions of the private emails to a reporter and the National Journal duly bit on the story. And it was picked up by various other outlets.
And a non-story about a talk not being chosen, because we believed we had better ones, somehow got turned into a scandal about censorship. Which is like saying that if I call the New York Times and they turn down my request to publish an op-ed by me, they're censoring me.
For the record, pretty much everyone at TED, including me, worries a great deal about the issue of rising inequality. We've carried talks on it in the past, like this one from Richard Wilkinson. We'd carry more in the future if someone can find a way of framing the issue that is convincing and avoids being needlessly partisan in tone.
Also, for the record, we have never sought advice from any of our advertisers on what we carry editorially. To anyone who knows how TED operates, or who has observed the noncommercial look and feel of the website, the notion that we would is laughable. We only care about one thing: finding the best speakers and the best ideas we can, and sharing them with the world. For free. I've devoted the rest of my life to doing this, and honestly, it's pretty disheartening to have motives and intentions taken to task so viciously by people who simply don't know the facts.
One takeaway for us is that we're considering at some point posting the full archive from future conferences (somewhere away from the home page). Perhaps this would draw the sting from the accusations of censorship. Here, for starters, is the talk concerned. You can judge for yourself...
No doubt it will now, ironically, get stupendous viewing numbers and spark a magnificent debate, and then the conspiracy theorists will say the whole thing was a set-up!
OK... thanks for listening. Over and out.
[Edit: Had to switch off commenting for a couple days because of a Posterous notification bug that was driving people crazy. They say it's fixed now. If you comment and get notifications you don't want, you should be able to immediately unsubscribe.]
[Edit: One other reporter's take..]
Big day. After more than a year of planning and dreaming, we're finally launching our new TED-Ed website, whose goal is to offer teachers a thrilling new way to use video.
The site is in Beta. But we think there's enough there to show why we're so excited about this. Because the goal is to allow any teacher to take a video of their choice (yes, any video on YouTube, not just ours) and make it the heart of a "lesson" that can easily be assigned in class or as homework, complete with context, follow-up questions and further resources.
This whole process is explained really well in a video the TED-Ed team just created.
Let's step back a minute. In recent years at TED, we've become enamored of a strategy we call "radical openness": Don't try to do big things yourself. Instead empower others to do them with you.
This has served us well. Sharing TEDTalks free online has built a global community of idea seekers and spreaders. Opening up our transcripts has allowed 7500 volunteers to translate the talks into 80+ languages. And giving away the TEDx brand in the form of free licenses, has spawned more than 4000 TEDx events around the world.
So it's natural that we would look to this approach as we embark on our education initiative.
TED-Ed uses the power of "open" in two major ways. First, many of you joined in our excitement as we launched our new TED-Ed YouTube channel last month and invited teachers and animators to collaborate in producing the raw video content. It's thrilling that almost a thousand of each have already stepped forward, and the first fruits of those collaborations are already coming through and are highly promising. Check out this one for example.
But the second part, launching today, incorporates the talents of a much wider group of teachers... and also many people outside formal education. Because what we've created is a set of tools that allows you to take a video and turn it into a powerful lesson that can easily be customized, shared and the usage of it made visible to you.
I's not just professional teachers who can make use of it. Here, for example, is a lesson I just created in 3 minutes on TED-Ed. It's a customization of a brilliant animated TED-Ed video about atoms. I've added my own headline, intro, questions and follow-up links. If you go there and answer those questions (from a logged-in account) I'll be able to track how you did!
And it's not just TED-Ed videos that can be treated this way. You can do this with any video on YouTube that allows 3rd party embedding, i.e. almost all of them. I'm a fan of a YouTube video that cleverly demonstrates pendulum waves. It took me just a few minutes to turn it into this lesson. (You can't yet add multiple choice questions to YouTube videos, but that's coming.)
It seems to us there are many possible uses of this functionality. Our longer term dream is that we will be able to aggregate the best lessons that teachers create and share them with a wider audience.
So we see this next phase as being one of listening, learning and watching what people actually do with the site. Apart from anything else it will help enhance the educational potential of the rest of the TED website. One of the repeated requests from teachers regarding TEDTalks has been the desire to present them with added materials that allow someone to dig deeper. The TED-Ed tools allow anyone to do just that. (And we ourselves will be working with many of our speakers to encourage them to create such lessons based on their talks.)
High on our developmental priority list is to enable translation of our TED-Ed talks via the large community of translators already supporting TED. We also plan to make it possible for teachers and students to log-in using their Facebook accounts instead of having to set up a TED account.
But I would love you to give TED-Ed a try in its current form. Specifically, I'd like you to make sure you try "flipping" a video to turn into a lesson that you can then publish, even if you just keep the link private. So go to the site, find a lesson, say this one, and click "flip this lesson" at the bottom right of the video.
The term "flipping" is intended as a respectful nod to the exciting concept of "flip teaching" in which lessons are assigned on video as homework to allow kids to learn at their own pace, and to open up class time. The benefits of flip teaching are still formally unproven -- it's early days -- but it holds great promise:
• Students using video outside class can learn at their own pace. Those who get stuck can replay and watch again.
• By allowing the students to absorb the basics of a lesson before coming to class, time is opened up in class for inquiry, discussion, collaboration, critical thinking and personalized attention.
• Essentially, flip teaching allows teachers to time-shift and to expand total learning time.
We hope our new site will make it easier for teachers to experiment with this concept.
At the same time, we've had more than a thousand teachers and animators offering to help create new videos. And plans for part 2 of our launch (which will bring TED-Ed to TED.com in a surprising way) are nearing completion. Can't wait to launch this next month!