A Conference Makes Learning Free (and Sexy) – New York Times

By STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM    September 24, 2010

ONCE a year, there is a mass migration of the intelligentsia to Long Beach, Calif.

There, inside the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, a block from the Pacific Ocean, they gather for four days to share ideas and score gift bags at the TED Conference. Sold out a year in advance, the conference has scholars, scientists, musicians as speakers. They are boldface names: Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, Jane Goodall. And as for any A-list party, an invitation is required.

The price to get in: $6,000.

Unable to meet the growing demand for access to TED, its organizers decided to democratize. They imagined a new conference that was TED but not TED, organized by local groups like schools, businesses, neighborhoods, even friends — at an unTED-like price: free.

And so last year the TED principals introduced a new concept called TEDx. They encouraged would-be organizers to apply for free licenses, and hoped for the best.

“It wasn’t clear at all that it would work,” said Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, which takes its name from the conference’s original areas of focus: technology, entertainment and design. He figured the inaugural year would bring 10 to 30 TEDx events, primarily in the United States.

To his surprise, there were 278 events last year in places as near as New Jersey and Florida, and as far as Estonia and China. There was TEDxKibera, held in one of Africa’s largest shantytowns in Nairobi, Kenya. And there was TEDxNASA, which had space-themed lectures.

Already this year there have been 531 TEDx events. Another nearly 750 are to take place this year and beyond.

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