A TED responsibility

Chris Anderson of TED

The TED conference has given me a huge responsibility. They’ve handed me one of a small handful of press badges (as I understand it fewer than 10 are handed out every year). Regular tickets are $6,000 each and the conference was sold out more than a year ago (next year’s TED is already sold out).

They do put a major restraint on the press covering the event: no filming, or recording of sessions. Another restraint? No computers in the main session unless you want to sit in the back row. OK, I can live with that. So I doubt you’ll see a view of TED like I got of Chris Anderson, TED’s curator, in photo above, while he spoke at LeWeb.

But, really, this isn’t an event that generates news (except when last year Bill Gates released a bunch of mosquitos). If you’ve ever watched a TED Talk you’ll know that this isn’t about news, but is about expanding your mind. Coming up with new ideas. Hearing from people who are changing the world and being challenged to do the same with your own life.

In fact, they’ve asked me to not bring my computer or phones to the main sessions and just absorb the TED experience (Chris Anderson, the guy who runs TED, spoke at LeWeb a year ago and walked into the audience and told them all to close their laptops and listen, he really believes that we can’t learn if we’re multi-tasking and paying attention to email). As you might expect I’m thrilled at being asked to do this and I’m even going to report my time at the conference as vacation so that I won’t feel pressured to take care of Rackspace business while I’m there).

But when people invite you to a conference that costs everyone else $6,000 they are laying a huge responsibility to that person.

The question is, what’s the responsibility?

For me, I’m going to try to get as many interviews as I can outside of the main room. That’s one way of delivering value to you. But that’s just the baseline of the kind of responsibility that I’m feeling going into this. Can I step up my game this year? Can I improve the world my children are growing up in? That’s a little closer to the weight I feel through this gift.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, when I was first on musician Peter Himmelman’s show a couple of years ago I told him I try to live every day like a TED conference or a FOO Camp (O’Reilly’s famous conference where they invite a bunch of geeks to camp out over a weekend). I’ve been very fortunate to have had tons of great people in front of my camera lens (my off-the-cuff work is on YouTube, my pro work with Rocky Barbanica as cameraguy and producer is on building43).

That’s why I’m so excited and why I feel a ton of responsibility going into this event and I’ll try to bring you into the event as much as possible.

One thing, watch Chris Anderson’s Twitter account. He runs TED and is an inspiring figure in my life. He and his team has laid a heavy responsibility in front of me. How should I handle it? Here’s the schedule, who would you like me most to interview?


Why if you miss Siri you’ll miss the future of the Web


Siri is the most useful thing I’ve seen so far this year.

But after playing with it, getting an interview with its CEO (video here on building43) it’s even more important for you to pay attention to.

It is the best example of what the web will be.

Let’s go back.

Web 1994 was the “get me a domain and a page” era.
Web 2000 was the “make my page(s) interactive and put people on it” era.
Web 2010 is the “get rid of pages and glue APIs and people together” era.

Siri is the best example. First, it’s not a website. It’s an application you put on your phone (today iPhone, soon others like Android and Blackberry). Second, it isn’t a search engine, those are so 1998. It’s a system that assists you in your life.

Why is it so different?

Because on the back end they’ve stitched together a sizeable group of APIs from services like Opentable to Flightstats. With more coming soon.

Before it was common only for a couple of APIs to be joined together, here they have dozens. The system figures out which ones need to be used based on what you’re asking for.

That’s the other thing. You ask it to do stuff like “find me a pizza place near me” or “tell me the weather in Chicago this weekend.” With your voice or by typing commands.

Why is this really new and important? Don’t get confused by the awesome voice recognition engine that figures out your speech and what you want with pretty good accuracy. No, that’s not the really cool thing, although Microsoft and other companies have been working on natural language search for many years now and have been failing to come up with anything as useful as Siri.

No, the real secret sauce and huge impact on the future of the web is in the back end of this thing. A few months back the engineers at Siri gave me a secret look at how they stitch the APIs into the system. They’ve built a GUI that helps them hook up the APIs from, say, a new source like Foursquare, into the language recognition engine.

I just asked Siri “who checked into the Half Moon Bay Ritz?”

Now you and I know that we could look at Foursquare to find that answer, but Siri didn’t know the answer and brought me results from Bing. Very unsatisfying.

But the team now could hook up Foursquare’s APIs and make this question answerable.

Siri has developed a new programming language and GUI for the API web. This is huge, although it’s too bad that it’s so early and so hidden. We can’t help Siri’s developers out (if we could, maybe we could add Foursquare’s APIs tonight) and we can’t think of ways to make systems like Foursquare that would have APIs better designed to talk with a system like Siri’s.

I hope everyone takes a look at the video, it really shows the magic of this system, which is getting a lot of great reviews around the web. Most of the bloggers I’ve seen are slobbering over it, deservedly so.

This is the future of the web. How can we get there faster?