The people of TED.com

Posted by on Jan 14, 2014 in Process, Release updates, User experience

Many people come to TED.com just to watch a talk. Many are repeat viewers, who want to leave comments and participate in conversations. Others who come to TED.com have an even deeper connection to the TED community — they’ve attended a conference (perhaps even multiples), they organize a TEDx event, are one of the thousands of volunteer translators who bring TED Talks into 103 languages, are a part of our TED Fellows program, or are a TED speaker.

The fact that so many different types of people visit TED.com presents a challenge for someone like me — the user experience architect tasked with creating profile pages for the new TED.com. Because people come to the site for different reasons, they want different things from their profile and expect different information to be highlighted there. Talk viewers want to interact with a global community of curious minds. TED attendees want to connect with people who attended the same conference they did. TEDx organizers want to plug into the TEDx community. Translators want to see what talks they’ve translated. And TED speakers want the most up-to-date bio possible.

Complicating this even more: many TED.com visitors fall into multiple communities. A translator may be a TEDx organizer, a speaker may be a TED Fellow. The combinations are pretty much endless. Because our old site grew up over time, we never consolidated profiles  – one person could have multiple profile pages sprinkled throughout the site. This caused confusion, and made it very difficult to see if a person wore multiple TED hats.

For the new TED.com, we determined quickly that it would make a lot more sense for each person to have a single TED.com profile. But that raised two problems: how to fit all of a person’s information into one profile  and still make it digestible, and how to make sure a person viewing a profile was getting the most relevant information about that TED community member.

Our solution was to develop what we’re calling “faceted profiles,” with each facet of a person’s TED involvement appearing in a menu on the left side of the screen. (It’s at the top of the screen on a mobile device. And by the way, doing this required unifying our data about users on the backend, which was a serious undertaking.) We also created a series of badges that live at the top of profile pages to identify what roles that person has at TED. So when you’re looking at a speaker profile for example, you can easily see all the other roles that person may have at TED. But this is only half the solution: directing people to the appropriate profile facet completes the experience.


So, how do we do that? Well, we have to make an assumption based on where you are when you opt to visit a TED profile. If you’re watching a talk and click on a speaker’s name, we make the assumption that you probably want to see this person’s speaker profile, above the information about the TEDx event they organize. If you’re watching a translated talk and you click on the translator’s name, we assume you’re probably interested in seeing their translator profile first and foremost, so that is the facet you’ll land on first. Likewise, if you’re reviewing an upcoming TEDx event and click on the organizer’s name, the TEDx organizer facet of their profile will pop up first. Everything is there, but it’s prioritized so that the experience is less overwhelming than if we’d tried to cram all that information on one page.

As TED evolves, there may be many more types of TED profiles. (Just a few years ago, for example, we didn’t even have TED Fellows or TEDx organizers.) This faceted approach will allow us to keep adding profile types without overwhelming the user experience.

Some other things we’re doing to make the TED.com experience better for all the types of people who use the site:

  • A much simpler, unified experience for logging in or signing up for TED.com, including improved Facebook integration and lost password retrieval.
  • A more powerful, easy-to-navigate settings area where people can control things like their profile picture, notifications settings, newsletter subscriptions, and privacy settings.
  • A much more personalized TED dashboard experience including:
    • A talks area where you can get to all talks you’ve saved, favorited, watched, not-yet-watched, playlists you’ve curated, and recommendations based on past viewing experiences.
    • A conversations area where you can see all conversations you’ve started, all comments you’ve left (with responses), as well as recommended conversations for you to participate in.
    • An area where TEDx organizers can see the status of their license(s), nearby events, events they’re attending or have attended, organizers who are nearby, and a quick link to useful resources for organizers.
    • An area where translators can see new talks available for subtitling or review, track their work in progress or completed, quick-link to useful resources, and connect with their collaborators, coordinators, and other nearby translators.
    • An area where conference attendees can manage their itinerary, conference activities, badge and payment options, communication preferences, and view past conference information. 


The bottom line for each and every user: All your TED stuff will be in one place. No matter where you are on the site, simply click — or tap! — your avatar to get to your profile, settings, and all the personalized content available to you. We’re also significantly improving the way you find people on TED.com, as well. Search will be more powerful and accurate, with filters related to your specific search query.

This is exciting. But besides being a lot more attractive, easier to read and mobile-friendly, the ability to navigate between profile facets for a single person has, I think, a very democratizing effect. We’re showing individuals in a multi-dimensional way (without forcing them to navigate around the site) and we’re also showing all our TED community members in a very similar format, reducing any sense of implied hierarchy. I love that this is manifest in the new profile format.

TED profiles will be rolled out over the coming weeks as we get closer to our full public launch. In the meantime, if you haven’t created one for yourself, sign-up or log-in to get started!



Michael McWatters is UX Architect for TED. He’s better when he gets to nap.