Growing by listening: 5 things that inspired us to rebuild TED.com


In June 2006, we posted our first 6 TED Talk videos for free online, with no idea what would happen next. We hoped that the talks would find a small, devoted audience. A small, devoted, slightly geeky audience that would enjoy what were, essentially, taped lectures.

But by the end of that year, it was clear our community wanted more than we’d ever imagined. We launched a new website, and indeed re-built our organization around the idea of serving ideas to the world via free online video. But our ever-expanding community of fans wasn’t content to just watch the talks; they wanted to participate. And over time, they told us they wanted to translate the talks; they wanted to hold TED-like events in their own communities; they wanted to help us reach kids and schools. We listened. And, following our philosophy of radical openness, launched TEDx, TED-Ed, the Open Translation Project… Seven years, 100+ languages and 1,600 TED Talks later, we’re still listening. And what we’re hearing is that our community and their media habits have evolved. Web design, technology and devices have all changed dramatically since we launched our now-vintage 2006-era website. And while we loved the existing TED.com the way you love a classic car or your first computer, it was time to evolve it.

So we set out a year ago to rebuild TED.com from the ground up to elegantly suit the needs of a global, mobile, devoted TED audience.It was a thrilling decision, but one that gave us pause. Where to start? The answer, of course, was with our own community. Over the years, we’d collected a lengthy but clear wish list for a new TED.com, and so many of you – speakers, conference attendees, TEDx organizers, Fellows, translators, partners, video viewers – have been willing to lend us your advice and your ears as we rose to the challenge.

Here are the 5 learnings that inspired us to rebuild TED.com

+ You want better video (especially on your phone).

TED Talks have always been available on multiple platforms (from iTunes to YouTube; NetFlix to airplane seats). But that’s not enough anymore. You move frequently between your devices and you expect high-res video to travel with you. The new TED.com is built following responsive design practices, and looks great on screens of all sizes, allowing you to watch seamlessly and joyfully across smartphones, tablets, TVs, game consuls and whatever device comes next…

+ You are busy, and TED Talks need to fit into your life.

When you see a talk you like, but don’t have time to watch, you want features like Save For Later, personal playlists, and a Pause function that lets you switch devices mid-talk and pick up where you left off. You also want a way to skim the transcript of a talk for great quotes you remember. And by the way, you watch TED Talks at work; so if we could prevent them from auto-playing and embarrassing you with the sound of the opening titles, you’d appreciate it. (We did. You’re welcome.)

+ You speak languages other than English.

The TED audience is global, and our new site will better support non-English-speaking users with as well as users who prefer to use subtitles. Our talks are subtitled by volunteers into more than 100 languages (there are more than 40,000 translations in total).

+ When a talk inspires you, you want to do something about it.

It may be the thing we heard most clearly and consistently from our users: When they love a talk, it’s not enough to just watch it. They want to do something. Not only did they want action steps, they wanted jumping-off points for further research, and other ways to feed their curiosity. We’re working to create deeper ways to engage users with talks, speakers and ideas, by discussing, learning more, or taking action.

+ You want to know what happens after a talk ends.

Some of the talks on TED.com were filmed 7, 8, 10, even 30 years ago. They represent a particular moment in time, as if it were captured in amber. But after a talk, the speaker — and idea — continues to evolve. The new TED.com will create a framework in which talks can be updated and ultimately linked to one another. These features won’t be visible in the earliest stages, but are essential to the vision of a new TED.com.

We’re so grateful to everyone who offered opinions, and look forward to debuting the features and functionality we’ve built to match your idea of what a TED experience can be.

It’s a thrilling time at TED, and I hope you’ll join us on this creative journey. Please join the beta and let us know how it strikes you. We are listening….

hello_juneJune Cohen is the Executive Producer of TED Media. She knows the words to a surprising number of show tunes.