One way that TED differs from the traditional tech conference is the total absence of people checking their email during the sessions and the lack of traffic in what the convention industry refers to as the "pre-function areas" outside the meeting room. While people at most conferences wander in an out of the sessions and the interesting conversations take place in the corridors, the TED talks are sufficiently engaging that no one wants to miss any of them. TED makes up for this by having long breaks between sessions - typically an hour, giving people plenty of time to talk about what they just heard.
For those who want to blog, Tweet, or email during the conference, or just grab a cappuccino and kibbitz, a number of areas have been set up inside and outside the building with comfortable furniture, WiFi, and large screen monitors. This year these areas were designated as Social Spaces with special theme for each one.
The idea originated when TED founder Richard Saul Wurman decided to enlarge his audience by selling seats in a "Simulcast Room" downstairs from the main meeting hall in Monterey. He charged the same price as seats in the main hall, so to make the experience palatable these were not ordinary meeting chairs, but ergonomically designed Steelcase Leap swivel chairs. Over the years the Simulcast Lounge added tables, lounge chairs, continuous refreshments, interactive exhibits, and even more large screen monitors until it became a popular place to hang out, even for people who had badges for the main hall. When the conference moved to Long Beach in 2009, everyone could now fit in one meeting room, so while the pref-function areas were outfitted with monitors and chairs, they were sparsely used during the conference. At the same time, the larger size of the new facility made it harder for TEDsters to find each other during the breaks. Hence, the advent of Social Spaces in 2010.
- The Hub - Intended as a Mecca for bloggers and Tweeters, the Hub had a large screen display, provided by Nokia, that showed what people on the Web were saying about TED. It also had an espresso bar, operated by Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, Inc. who imported baristas from their native Chicago to make what is arguable the best cappuccino ever served at TED. (None of that grande caramel half-decaf half-skim frappuccino stuff here!).
- Imaginarium - across the lobby from the Bub, the Imaginarium also had an Intelligentsia espresso bar, and the usual comfy chairs in front of flat screen monitors. It's unique feature, provided by GE, was a multimedia sculpture that recorded video clips from TED attendees
- The Intersection - This area had a live video link to TEDActive in Palm Springs, provided by AT&T. It also had the traditional Internet Café with tables of laptops for anyone who didn't bring their own.
- Book Cafe - this was the traditional bookstore where books by past and current TED speakers were on sale.
- The Playroom - up on the third floor, this space had beanbag chairs and beds where one could relax while watching TED. It also had a set of monitors (right) where people could watch the feeds from all eight cameras in the main hall.
- The Summit - perhaps the most underrated of the social spaces, this area was set up by Workspring, a unit of Steelcase, Inc. that operates a virtual conference room facility in Chicago. They set up a series of innovatively furnished conference rooms which one could reserve. There isn't usually much time to have formal meetings during TED, but I did bring my laptop up there during a break to do a VSee video conference and found it very comfortable.
- Eco Village - outside on the plaza
- Global Village - the hangout for the TED Fellows
- The Dome - had a spectacular, immersive interactive map display.
The social spaces were a welcome addition to TED. While they didn't really solve the problem of finding any particular individual in the crowd of 1500 people, you could sit or stand in and someone interesting was bound to come by. They also allowed some experimentation with different ways of watching and participating in the conference, from being hunched over a laptop to sprawling on a beanbag chair. And you can't beat that cappuccino!
More photos here.