Civic technology

The Political Technology Conference Season Is Upon Us

I’m now blogging over at Corante as well…. Here’s my first opus, posted over there back in May:


Two years ago at the innaugural Personal Democracy Forum, Congressman Anthony Weiner stated on the opening panel that politicians wouldn’t care unless and until blogging caused mainstream media coverage that in turn affected mainstream consciousness. Meanwhile an IRC room set up for people in the audience scrolled flame on a giant projection screen behind him. The audience in the student auditorium at the New School in New York numbered less than 200.

This June, by contrast, more than 1000 people will gather for YearlyKos at The Riviera in Las Vegas, the innaugural national bloggers convention for the Daily Kos community. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and all of the major 2008 Democratic Presidential hopefuls will address the crowd– just to try to impress and be one with the bloggers. The political technophile conference circuit has come a long long way in two years.

We’re currently in the midst of a intense season of political technology conferences, and it’s a small enough community that many of us who are active in the sector would be liable to get a bit tired of seeing each other so often if we didn’t feel that what we were doing was so darn important… Most of these conferences are populated by a healthy mixture of vendors, programmers, staff of political organizations, media, and advertisers, and all– at least the ones that pervade my consciousness– have audiences that skew heavily towards the Progressive side of the aisle, but each conference has its own unique vibe and agenda. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s come and gone and what’s yet to come:

1) The New Organizing Institute’s Inaugural Training; Feb. 24th – Mar. 4th; NOI is a long-overdue effort by veterans of the 2004 Presidential cycle to expand the ranks of effective technology developers and users on the staff of Democratic political campaigns. Dean and Clark notwithstanding, literacy let alone leadership in application of political technology woefully underwhelms in Democratic political campaigns. Much luck, NOI.

2) PoliticsOnline, March 7-9; the original political technology conference, and the most Beltway-centric, is the most pure trade conference that the industry has, and consequently the least partisan, with a heavy focus on vendors, trends in online political media, new campaign tools, and FEC regulations; this year’s conference affirmed that practical powerful application of mobile and online video technologies have matured into a major force in time for the 2006 election cycle.

3) National Technology Conference (NTC); March 22-24; politics and discussion of politics were largely absent at last year’s NTC, the largest annual conference on non-profit technology, but this year online political advocacy and fundraising for political campaigns were major themes

4) The Organizer’s Forum; May 3-5; TOF held it’s twice-annual “Organizer Dialog” recently with a focus on communication technologies for organizing; substantive and attended by some of the most effective folks in organized Labor.

5) Personal Democracy Forum; May 15; energy and ambition were high at this year’s PDF, which feels less like a trade show and more like a movement and a community than Politics Online, due to its focus on leading edge trends and tools in for civic engagement and online advocacy; it still draws star power, however, with US Senators showing up and speaking in 2004 and 2005, and Elizabeth Edwards chatting up the audience about blogging this year; as much as the organizers made a concerted and authentic effort to balance the audience and speakers among all political factions this year, the Brooklyn Bridge seems to impede the influx of Conservatives as much as the Beltway sometimes seems to restrict the flow of integrity through the veins of our pols.

5) Netsquared; May 30-31; a star-studded cast of new technology leaders will address an equally start-studded and generally well-heeled audience of folks working on new technologies for politics, philanthropy, and social change; brand new in 2006, Netsquared has a big budget and all the bells and whistles; it has already succeeded in convening a great deal of power and capital to shine a light on technology-driven social change opportunities; expectations are high and I frankly don’t know what to expect; what happens at the conference and thereafter is, I hope, up to us!

6) YearlyKos; June 9-11; damn I hate when I’m involved with something great because I have the instinct that I therefore have to hedge on singing its praises… but enough of that– with the full disclosure that I’m on the Board for YearlyKos out of the way, THIS is the most interesting conference on this list, and it’s brand new this year. It’s a grand experiment in so many ways: a huge convention hotel on The Strip in Las Vegas; a pilgrimage by most all of the serious 2008 Democratic Presidential candidates to pay homage to the blogosphere; an emergent force in Democratic politics ( that heretofore existed only online now spawning offline meeting, greeting and scheming for the first time; the proximity to the November election; a bevy of mainstream media and documentary filmmakers filming the entire thing; and did I mention this entire friggin’ thing was conceived and organized ENTIRELY by VOLUNTEERS?!? Whatever actually happens at the conference aside (and it’s going to be pretty hot, by the way:, YearlyKos is itself the most profound experiment in online community organizing for offline activity that I’ve witnessed since the 2004 Dean and Clark Presidential campaigns.

7) Organizers’ Collaborative Grassroots Use of Technology Conference; June 17; the OC (yes, they should have trademarked it years ago) focuses on the bottom of the bottom of the market for technology– groups with little or no technology budget that are still inclined to use desktop software more often than not…. However, they have effectively begun to bridge to the newfangled world of hosted open-source content management systems (CMS) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Regardless of the ground they tread, people with real needs working on critical social change issues come to the OC and walk away with practical solutions and social ties that endure. Good for those of us with inclined to cruise with our head in the clouds on occasion. Much respect.

8) Democracy & Independence: Sharing News & Politics in a Connected World; June 29-July 1; Stephen Clift on this blog can do this one much more justice, but suffice it to say this will be a great event skewed towards citizen journalism and alternative media in politics and beyond.

9) Progressive Technology Project’s TechCamp; August 1-4; while not explicitly political, with TechCamp, PTP is setting out to help drive technology literacy and efficacy among community organizers for social change in poor communities and communities of color; a cursory glance around the room at every single one of the other conferences on this list if proof enough that PTP’s work can play an critical role in making political technology truly relevant and powerful throughout our society.

Other less technical upcoming events of note:

10) Inspiring America; June 28-30; technology of a different sort– this organization, spawned from one of the largest and most successful Democratic PACs (21st Century Democrats), gathers leaders and engages them in a rigorous process to “create and fulfill a compelling vision for America that ignites a new movement and unleashes the power and passion of the American people.” People-powered “technologies” that effectively self-organize and inspire people are employed here– the online expression of that will, I’m certain, follow.

11) Democracy Fest; July 14-16; Dean / Democracy For America citizens come together for their annual love-fest, and will include much chatter about online tools

Now that I’ve made myself into a human (with taxonomy), batten down the hatches, keep your frequent flier miles dry, and get out and enjoy these abundant opportunities to connect face to face with caring people doing remarkable work in the world. We’re lucky to have physical access to so much social capital, and I, for one, am committed that we put it to good use.


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