Should TED Ban Marketing Pitches? Google Glass Talk Was Pure Promotion

Sergey Brin’s Google Glass presentation at last week’s TED2013 conference came off as little more than a product pitch. Wearing his “Google Glass” throughout the presentation, Brin begins by noting that “when we (Brin and Larry Page) started Google 15 years ago, my vision was that information would come to you as you need it. You wouldn’t have to search query at all.”

The implication to all in attendance at TED2013 was clear: Google Glass delivers on the lofty Google vision.  Is that the right approach for the TED Conferences?

Non-Profit For Whom?

TED bill itself as “a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.” In TED presentations and videos, seen by millions, these ideas range from unlocking new opportunities to improving global health, stopping the spread of violence, combatting global warming and crafting new ways to support the arts in the 21st Century. TED talks can be moving, inspiring, provocative, informative. Brin’s presentation, however, could also be classified as marketing. 

Google Glass is Google’s much-hyped voice-activated eyewear headset. As ReadWrite has documented, Google has been aggressively promoting Google Glass for the past year. In April, Google debuted “Project Glass” on Google Plus. That same month, Brin promoted the devices at a charity event for fighting blindness. In May, Google generated significant buzz at Google I/O when it streamed video from a skydiver wearing the device. Just last month, Google launched the #ifihadglass campaign, a contest to determine who will win the chance to be among the very first to buy Google Glass - for $1,500.   

Brin’s TED presentation included more of the same, going so far as to mock smartphones and even smartphone users: 

Is the future of connection just people walking around hunched up, looking down, rubbing a featureless piece of glass? It’s kind of emasculating. Is this what you’re meant to do with your body?

While many pundits were quick to pounce on Brin’s use of the word ‘emasculating,’ the question not asked was whether TED should have allowed his talk at all. For its part, TED seems to have no problem with Google’s pitch. Brin was joined onstage by TED’s “curator,” Chris Anderson. Anderson’s question was effectively the stuff of late-night informercials: “How much and when?” 

Though Google Glass is not yet available for purchase, the TED site links directly  to a nearly year-old Google video that starkly promotes the technology - along with the benefits of Google Maps and Google+. “Check out how Glass works,” TED states.  If the video is to be believed, Google Glass works really, really well. Until the product is available, however, we'll have to take Google's word for it.

While Google’s augmented-reality glasses do seem potentially revolutionary, there is a danger that such obviously self-serving presentations from large corporations could ultimately hurt the TED brand. 

Changing The World - At $1,500 A Pop

The TED blog site does include a link to an external post decrying the potential privacy violations of Google Glass. This is likely not enough to overcome the perception that TED has essentially provided a seal of approval for the product. 

According to the non-profit TED

The goal of the foundation is to foster the spread of great ideas. 

An idea can be created out of nothing except an inspired imagination.

An idea weighs nothing.

It can be transferred across the world at the speed of light for virtually zero cost.

It seems difficult to equate that goal with what, intended or not, serves as a commercial for an upcoming Google product, priced at $1,500 - a princely sum for much of the world.

NOTE: TED has not yet posted the video of Sergey Brin’s Google Glass presentation. 

 

Lead image from the Google Glass video.