Where the lights are still out...

As Hurricane Sandy restoration efforts continue, TED offices had power restored yesterday, along with most areas of Manhattan. But many other parts of New York and New Jersey continue to suffer. A member of the TED Team Thaniya Keereepart shared this experience from her visit to one of the worst-hit areas of Brooklyn:

"Tonight I went out with some friends down to the heart of Red Hook projects to volunteer for disaster recovery. I was sort of expecting that I would just drop off food, clothing, and supplies and help out at the center where I could. I found something different there that compelled me to share with you.

Upon entering the main office area of the volunteer center, the scene was pure chaos. A little girl rushed up to whoever she thought knew anything about anything. She wanted insulin for her mother who wasn't able to come down 16 flights of stairs in darkness. There was none to give out. She took the last of the ice packs and was told that it will help keep whatever insulin left in the house cold and longer lasting.

Rodents were also a big problem. The water had pushed critters up the building. Without light or power, they would crawl everywhere. Raccoons, rats, the works.

War breaks out at the sight of a flashlight, or batteries, or blankets.

We were asked to go get water from Coffey Park by one of the coordinator. Five of us set foot into the night. The streets were dangerous. Teenage boys howled at the sight of us. Crime is high here. Why were there water at the park? The National Guard came by earlier and dumped a bunch there as a part of their "rescue effort". The only light source around at this point was this one mobile flood light that shone on 3 cops who we spoke to briefly. Their job seemed to be simply to stand in the light to emit presence.

We quickly realize that this volunteer center was not only immensely inefficient, but will likely not be able to continue to provide support to the much needed community for all of the projected 14 days without more help. My friend JuAnne, a project manager at Google, and myself took it upon ourselves to analyze the workflow of the volunteer resources with the current heroic coordinator Kirby. Our hope is to build a light weight system that could help improve volunteer process efficiency ...in 36 hours.

Turns out, the tool the Red Hook team currently uses, and the one that i found them on, is from http://recovers.org -- and there's a TEDTalk on it! This same platform is deployed for LES, Staten Island, and Astoria as well ...all for Sandy."

[Edit: More details from Thaniya are included in this TED Blog post.]

I'm proud of Thaniya and the efforts of heroic volunteers all around the area. As we return to work tomorrow, we will take some time to share stories and figure out what else we might do to help.

Meanwhile, anyone wanting to engage could take a look at the following community sites:

...and here's a HuffPo report from Red Hook yesterday. 

A stealthy serial killer and a thought experiment

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.  

Here is their daughter Katie (above) and my daughter Zoe. 


Here's Katie's story.  And Zoe's.  

And here's a thought experiment for you. If you knew there was a serial killer loose who entered people's homes undetected and silently dispatched his victims... and if you knew he had killed more than 500 people in the last year in the US and UK and showed no signs of letting up... and if you knew that any family could guard their homes against him for a couple hundred dollars...  but this wasn't happening because the companies and authorities who could do something about it weren't interested...  wouldn't you be a little bit outraged?

That's the carbon monoxide enigma.  Detectors are cheap and effective. But in the US and UK and most of Europe, there is no legislation requiring their installation.  Gas companies seem reluctant to highlight the dangers for fear of scaring people off gas. Insurers have no interest -- a human death, unlike a house fire, does not cost them.  The same governments who will make multi-billion dollar investments on commercial airline safety decline to act. Airplane risks capture the public imagination, despite the fact total deaths in recent years in the west are, literally, zero.   CO deaths trickle in one at a time, largely under the radar. Approximately 50 in the UK last year. 400+ in the US. Both numbers probably significantly understated, because the deaths are often mysterious. 

Meanwhile millions of home owners install smoke detectors, but not CO detectors, despite the fact that you can see and smell smoke, and you can't see or smell CO.  

Gordon and Avril are working to change all this. They started a foundation for Katie, launched a youtube video, and are campaigning to change the law in the UK.

I admire what they're doing.  And if anyone has suggestions for how to make a breakthrough on this issue, I -- and they -- would love to hear.  

And if you don't have CO detectors in your home, or those of people you love...  you should. Good guide here. An idea worth spreading.

Sports matches decided by God?

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.”
I grew up with that way of looking at the world.  Everything that happens to you is part of God's plan. As promoted in many evangelical circles, this idea is supposed to apply down to the very last detail, including which aisle you end up in at the supermarket.  It can be comforting in rough times, thrilling in great times. Only problem is it makes no sense. 

You can just about picture a god able and willing to execute a multi-year plan involving Japan and winter ball all in order for Vogelsong to win last night. But that same plan must then include a truly miserable evening for 400,000 people in St Louis.  Just seems a tad unlikely.  

Reminded me of the young woman I saw on US TV at the end of 2004 flown home safely from Sri Lanka,  gushing that God had saved her from the terrible tsunami.  (While for some reason deciding to leave a quarter of a million others to drown.)

There is no possible way to have a world view in which God plans in detail the interconnected, and often tragic, lives of 7 billion people (not to mention a world that includes such delights as the Guinea Worm) and still be someone who you'd want to, you know, worship.  Tom Honey gave a TED talk about this.  Make of it what you will. But meanwhile, please, good Christian sports heroes: try a different narrative. It's not surrendering your ego to "offer the glory to God".  Saying that is actually deeply ego-centric. It's claiming that God's plan for you matters more than his plan for all those people whose day you just spoiled.

P.S. In the unlikely event you ever read this, Ryan V... thanks for a great night!

9 reasons I'm excited by the new TEDBooks app

After a couple of weeks in Beta, the new TED Books app launched today on iPad and iPhone and I'm incredibly excited about it. Here's why.

1. It brings together all of our authors in one irresistible package. 16 current titles with new ones to be released every two weeks. 


2. It's free. I think a lot of people are going to download it. The titles cost $2.99 each BUT see 9 below for a tasty surprise....  

3. The app offers all the goodies you'd expect in the age of the tablet: glorious images, video, audio, links to maps, online resources, search, commenting, sharing, automatically updated editions, and much more.  

4. But, crucially, the app retains the linear narrative thread that makes reading so appealing. Some ambitious attempts to create ebooks on a tablet have somehow abandoned this. When you snuggle up with a book, you want the author to take you on a journey. You don't want to have to make constant choices as to what to look at. If you think of a book as a wonderful train journey, some ebook apps effectively boot you off the train and make you travel by rental car. They make you explore more than you want to. I see the the TEDBooks app as retaining the feel of a train journey but with the added bonus that you can look up from time to time and enjoy spectacular new views. In other words, you start at the beginning, and continue through to the end. But from time to time, when an image or a video or an external link could add to the meaning of what you're reading, they are there for you to enjoy. 
    This is why we commissioned our partners at The Atavist to build this app for us. Of all the e-book developers, it seemed to us they had best understood how to combine new media wizardry with the traditional lure of reading. Try it out. This are lots of enhancements to come.  But what's already here is pretty amazing.

5. Each book can be read in a single session. Just an hour or so. I see this as a terrific fit for our over-busy lives. One reason reading has been in decline is that it's just too daunting to start a traditional 80,000-word book knowing it will take hours and hours to complete. You could argue that traditional books are the length they are in part because people once had fewer competing claims on their leisure time, and in part because the physical nature of a printed product means that books have to be a couple hundred pages long to feel like value for money.   
    But today the question to ask of a non-fiction book is: what is the right length to explain this idea?  There are many 80,000 word nonfiction books that communicate most of their value in a couple of chapters, the rest padded out because -- well, gee --  books just have to be a certain length. We're excited to offer books that are mostly in the 15,000  - 20,000 word range. And just as an 18-minute talk can often (because of the discipline of compression) be better than a 60-minute talk, so these short books encourage authors to offer focused gems of explanation.

6. Our authors rock! Most of them have given TED Talks (and these are included by the way, in each book as a video epilogue), but the books dig into their subject matter far more deeply than their TED Talk ever could. A TED Talk is typically 2,000 words. These are 10x more. From the future of humanity to the secrets of happiness, these books offer transformational thinking.

7. We're offering authors a new publishing model.Traditionally the time from completion of manuscript to appearance on the street is as much as a year. In this format we can shrink that to a month or less. And instead of offering authors 10-12% of cover price, we split proceeds with them 50/50. (And by the way, all of our share of the revenue is being reinvested to grow this platform).

8. It's the logical next step for TED. Our mission is "ideas worth spreading". The talks have proved a hit, having been viewed more than 800 million times. But people inspired or intrigued by those talks tell us they want to dig deeper. The best way to do that is in a book.  

And last, but most definitely not least....

9. We're unveiling today a new way to collect books: by subscription. We're releasing a new book every 2 weeks, and we'd like people to own every single one of them. Why? The same reason why many people want to watch a wide range of TED Talks. There's terrific benefit to signing up for breadth of knowledge as well as depth. This is the path to:
- multi-disciplinary stimulation
- unexpected inspiration and insight
- a richer understanding of the world
- an expanded sense of possibility
- a reading experience shared with many others. "Have you read this week's TED book?!."
People have come to trust TED's curation of talks, accepting that we'll only post what we consider to be really interesting and significant. We're asking for the same level of trust when it comes to book selections. And in a time-constrained world that's going to be very appealing to some people. Given a landscape of millions of competing titles out there, it overcomes the difficulty of discovery.  
    Strategically, building a strong subscriber base is key to the future of TED Books.  That's why we've made the launch subscription offer irresistible.  $15 not only buys a three month subscription, and therefore the next six titles we publish. It also buys the right to download and own every single existing title, all 15 of them. I hope you'll download the app, become one of our founder subscribers and help us invent the future of reading.

P.S. Yes, an Android version (inc Kindle Fire) to follow. Yes, TED Books also available as Kindle Singles and on Nook, iBook and more. Details here

Behind TED's Global Talent Search

Today we unveiled the video results of a round-the-world tour.  It's a wonderful collection of 293 talks and performances, most of them shorter than 6 minutes. 

TED's Content Director Kelly Stoetzel and I attended special salons in 14 cities on six continents hosted by our local TEDx partners.  Our goal was to find new talent to invite to California early next year for our TED2013 conference whose theme is "The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered."  

Here's what typically happened:
- hundreds of people had applied online for each event, giving a summary of what they wanted to do or say, and including a one-minute youtube video application. 
- these had been combed through in advance and the best 20-30 selected for the salon.
- we arrived the prior day and began a series of rehearsals with each speaker.
- the Salons themselves lasted a couple hours, watched by a local audience ranging in size from 150-600.

Kelly and I were thrilled by the overall quality of what we saw. We were hoping that one or two people in each location would merit an invite to TED2013, and we ended up excited at many more than that. But the whole process has been an experiment in crowd-sourcing talent, and you now have a crucial role to play!

We're eager for as many people as possible to view these videos and tell us which ones you'd love to see more of.  Just to give you a sense of the variety here, they include:
- a virtuoso violinist
- the inventor of a water-less bath
- a lesson in Vedic mathematics
hiphop dancers who use sign language
- a cabbage-catapulting comedian
- a National Geographic photographer of dangerous animals
- a 13-year-old Masai boy who invented a lighting system to scare off lions

We suspect some of the above should get TED2013 invites, others probably not... but we're going to be reading every public comment before we finally make up our minds. And there are scores of other remarkable videos in the collection -- powerful personal stories, scientific discoveries, ingenious inventions, provocative ideas, gorgeous artistic endeavors and much more.

If you discover someone you really like, please share that link. If you do so on Twitter, use the hashtag #TEDTalentSearch. You'll be giving that speaker/performer a real gift.  (And if you come across someone you really don't want to see more of, it's good to share that too via the comment section.)

We'll make our final decisions on who to invite in September. Meanwhile, this video collection can act as its own generator of ideas worth spreading.

TED.com has a new video player!

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.

Here's a screenshot from the old player at full-screen. (From Reggie Watts' hilarious "talk".)

And here's the same scene in the new player. (Click to full-screen to really see the difference.)

I'm currently at a hotel in Edinburgh on limited bandwidth. Last week, I would probably have had the dreaded buffering wheel. Today, not seeing it.  Just Reggie in HD. 

There's a lot more innovation coming on TED.com.  Exciting days...

TED and inequality: The real story

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..]

The thinking behind the new open platform of TED-Ed

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.

So don't think of this site yet as a fully-fledged content library -- the  60 video lessons there currently are strong, but they're just seeds to demonstrate potential. Instead, think of TED-Ed as a new open platform.  

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.

This would be a good moment to acknowledge the amazing encouragement we've had. Our Braintrust (see bottom of this page) includes Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two of the pioneers of flip teaching, plus many at TED who've inspired us such as Sir Ken Robinson, Salman Khan, John Hunter, Melinda Gates and Jackie Bezos.  Also the spectacular work done by Seso in developing the site. And needless to say, I happen to think our fast-growing TED-Ed team, led by Logan Smalley, are miracle workers.

Do please share your feedback, either here in the comments or by emailing education@ted.com. We're eager to know how you think TED-Ed might best be used, and how we might improve it.  If it works, it will be, as ever, through the power of all of us.  


Abundance vs disruption: dramatically different views of the future

At this month's TED conference, there was animated debate between two sharply differing views of the future.

ONE: The future will be one of scarcity and disruption.  Economic growth has run up against the limits of what our planet can offer. 

TWO: The future will be one of abundance, driven by technological innovation. We're only just starting to tap human potential. 

The first view was eloquently represented in this talk by Paul Gilding, the second in a powerful talk from Peter Diamandis.  After they spoke, I brought them on stage to debate each other directly. Here is the footage of that debate, which quickly became the main talking point of the conference, with the TED audience split nearly 50/50.

What makes the debate especially fascinating -- other than the fact that, um, our entire future is at stake here! -- is that on top of the factual debate, there is another whole layer around the tools of persuasion. Which is the more powerful motivator to persuade humanity to shape a better future: fear or hope -- or perhaps some nuanced combination of both?  

I can't easily think of a more important set of questions we should be thinking about!

Do you agree? And who do you think won this particular debate? 

YouTube commenters let rip on TED-Ed!

When TED Talks first launched in 2006, it took more than 4 months for us to rack up our first million views. TED-Ed, which launched on YouTube last Monday, did the same in just one week. That's certainly exciting, but of course the TED brand is far better known now than six years ago. Numbers are only part of the story.

The biggest single factor on which I judge if something is going to take off is the tone of responses to it.  Like vs LOVE!  It's really only the latter that gives you a chance of viral lift-off. (It's fine to have critics... just so long as there's an audience who responds with real passion!)  Our goal was to spark curiosity... to make learning fun. Teachers we showed the material to seemed excited. But what about learners themselves?

I've been on tenterhooks this past week watching the comments come in. YouTube comments don't always make for comfortable reading. But to our delight, the YouTube hordes began offering up some gems. Real beauties. Here are a few of them... selected from comment streams to several of the TED-Ed videos posted.  Promising, right?

(click on right-hand arrow to advance to next comment)

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!