Saturday, April 16, 2011

TED - How it can close the Digital Divide and Democratize Ideas worth Spreading

TED (stands for 'Technology Entertainment Design') is one of the best nonprofit organizations in the world. Its mission: spreading ideas - really good ideas. TED arranges conferences in different parts of the worlds where remarkable speakers and innovators share their thoughts. The best thing is even if you don't have time and  money to attend those conferences you can listen to those 'TEDTalks' online, free of charge whenever you want(there is even a shared list of TEDTalks available here). They have even extended their reach through different initiatives such as TEDx events(designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level), TED Open Translation Project(TEDTalks beyond the English-speaking world by offering subtitles, interactive transcripts and the ability for any talk to be translated by volunteers worldwide),TED Books(imprint of short nonfiction works designed for digital distribution), TED Conversations(discussions in on different issues) etc. This is truly an outstanding accomplishment!

TED has potential to change the world in a big way. TED can democratize the process of Innovation and provide new meaning in millions of lives around the world. I dream of a day when an inquisitive mind in the poorest village of  a developing country will have access to TEDTalks. Motivated by an inspiring speech she will do some experiment(may be just mind experiment) and suggest a solution to a major problem facing us. TED will share those incremental innovations with Businesses, Nonprofits and Governments. Someone will find value in those ideas and try it in a big way and thus those ideas will become the 'Next Practice'. The talented, poor village girl will be able to contribute and get recognition which is unthinkable today. I envision TED as a Global Hub for Innovation. The democratization of Innovation and open exploration of different perspectives(people from developed and developing countries can provide rich perspectives which can accelerate Innovation) are absolutely necessary for a sustainable future world and TED can make that happen.

Next consider a different perspective altogether. There is no lack of good ideas - but they don't reach the tipping point. What is lacking is the promotion of those ideas among masses and creation of a meaningful social transformation. Consider the case of Healthy Lifestyle - we have great ideas around this. But many people do not have right information or there is no social drive to follow this. Healthy or Green Lifestyle practices can dramatically improve our lives but what is frustrating to see is the lack of execution. I believe people are not inherently lazy, stupid or selfish  but they need leadership, engagement and tangible motivation to drive a change. Most of the media has miserably failed to guide and engage society. You need examples? Let me start with TV. Serials and Soaps - everyone is conspiring to harm others - this is 'mind pollution', if you always see the world through negative lens how can you expect people to behave friendly and trust each other? Movies - another major source of 'mind pollution' - Violence,destruction and hatred. Newspapers and New channels - noise of Stock performance(buy this, sell that) discussions(by so called 'Technical Specialists') to help the Financial Services industry to make money. Sorry I missed out another Big Item - 'Reality Shows'  -tremendous wastage of your time. I think most people in the world do not have a choice today to see programs around meaningful discussions, Infotainments and opportunity for mass engagements to drive the change. I think most of the people can differentiate good from bad and there is an opportunity, an unmet need for providing good content through different distribution channels(TV, Cinema, Live Discussion etc.).

Let's consider one more issue before I discuss some proposals. This is the issue of 'Digital Divide' - 'Havs' and 'Have-nots' of Internet era. Many people in the world still do not have access to High Speed Internet or even computers. It is true even in developed countries such as USA but is more prominent problems in Developing countries such as India. In India many people even can't read or write(I am not talking about English literacy, there are millions of people who can't read/write in any language) and access to High Speed Internet is a distant dream for them. How can we access these population and help them to make informed decisions? Teaching them How to Read and write - good idea but we have not have enough resources(time, money, people) to reduce adult literacy. Increasing Internet Access in poor villages- again good idea but it needs time and money(need government subsidy support as many poor do not have money to pay for the service). Why don't we try things which are already available? We have movie halls, we have TVs we have convention theaters(even if in some primitive form) even in the remotest places. And instead of written material why can't we provide the audio-visual content in local languages(which everyone can understand making it very appealing).

Here are some of my proposals for a sustainable TED revolution around the world. TED ideas are still limited to very small group of people who can access in some form(Paid conferences, Online through High Speed Internet etc.). We need to scale up the access around the world through different delivery channels. This needs considerable resource(money, people etc.) and TED can arrange that by changing the Business model to some extent. TED can partner with different TV channels, Movie distribution houses, Cable operators, Local Non-profits to deliver the content in the form of small TV Programs(sponsored by Ads), short films dubbed in local languages(multiple TED Talks on similar themes), On Demand TED Talks(paid cable content), TED Talks recordings in Non-profit conferences etc. As told before we have a unmet market need for good content around the world and if distributed(in right language, in right place and in right form) and promoted properly it will be well-accepted.

Skeptics will say that we already have Discovery channel and other Infotainment channels available globally, and they have not been very successful in capturing the market share. Most people still see Politics, Soap or Reality Show when they watch TV or they prefer an Action thriller when they try Video-on-demand. My take is that they have not perfected the content delivery and promotion piece to keep viewers engaged. The programs need to be planned around themes/serial format(not just some 30 minute random Informational programs), they need to be more interactive(for viewer participation and engagement) and they need to be customized based on viewers socioeconomic demographies(one Indian village farmer may not be interested on modern art in Europe but may be very interested in Solar Energy solutions). They have other delivery issues - the content is not delivered in local languages and the format is created towards more elite audience(assumes some familiarity with the terms, issues etc.). Also the convergence is missing - we do not have uniform collaborative interface between web, TV, Movie, OnDemand video and other delivery channels. People love to see results and they love collaboration. If after seeing a program on Healthy Living they can collaborate(through remarks, live conversations, meetups) and really see improved results(by competing with their peers they also able to reduce the bodyweight etc.) they will be more engaged and that will be the tipping point of this revolution.

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