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TED – Defining Words

I recently joined the community based around the TED conference [1]. The TED conference is expensive ($6000US) and has a long waiting list (the 2009 conference is sold out) so it seems quite unlikely that I will ever attend one. But signing up to the web site is easy and might offer some benefit.

optional words to define yourself as a TED member

One thing that interested me was that part of the sign-up process requests that you select up to 10 words from the list above to describe yourself. Some of the words seem almost mandatory for anyone who is interested in what TED has to offer (I find it difficult to imagine someone declaring that they are not an “activist” or a “change agent” while wanting to be involved with TED in any way). The range of words also seems quite strange, there are some professions mixed with educational status, marital status, and religion. The way it is laid out would tend to encourage people to make a decision as to which aspects of their life are more important, is career, marital status, or religion more important?

Given the nature of TED I’m wondering whether the intentionally did a bad job of that part of the site design to encourage people to think about these issues.

It seems to me that a better way of doing this would be to provide a few suggestions and allow people to fill in text fields with their own values. Even defining marital status can require many choices and there is no limit to the number of religions and careers. If you try to make a comprehensive list then you will end up doing what British Airways did with their frequent flyer membership application page [2]. Even disregarding the choices of spelling (EG Admiral vs Admiraal and Brig Gen vs Brig General vs Brigadier General) the British Airways list is unreasonably long, and I doubt that anyone who deserves the title “Her Magesty” or “His Holyness” is going to be interested in frequent flyer points.

Also I wonder which of the entries in the TED list would be most commonly accepted by the free software community. It seems that activist and technologist would be quite popular.

Here is the list in text form for those who can’t get the picture above:

Activist, Agnostic, Architect, Artist, Atheist, Athlete, Blogger, Brainstormer, Buddhist, Business adviser, Business leader, Business mentor, Care taker, Change Agent, Christian, Clergy, Concerned citizen, Connector, Consultant, Designer, Doctor, Educator/Teacher, Engineer, Entrepreneur, Environmentalist, Event planner, Explorer, Filmmaker, Finance professional, Foodie, Gay, Global soul, Hindu, Idea generator, Industrialist, Inventor, Investor, Jewish, Job-seeker, Journalist, Lawyer, Life mentor, Marketer, Musician, Muslim, Parent, Performer, Philanthropist, Photographer, Policy maker, Potential employer, Producer, Project manager, Promoter, Public servant, Real Estate professional, Sales specialist, Scientist, Single, Social entrepreneur, Startup, Student, Technologist, Web guru, World traveler, and Writer/Editor.

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