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Publicyte is Microsoft’s corporate blog where technology, entrepreneurial principles, and pop culture inform us about innovation in the public sector and civic progress.
Publicyte is published by the Microsoft Office of Civic Innovation in Washington, DC. Our goal is to provide inspiring opinion and commentary about how the entrepreneurial spirit of America is changing government, politics, education, health, and the not-for-profit space. We’re tech-savvy but our material is written for a general audience. We hope to inspire the next generation of American entrepreneurs, makers, thinkers, and creatives to leverage innovation to change our country for the better.
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Today I am pleased to announce that the charity fashion show series Geek 2 Chic that I produce for Microsoft in partnership with Bloomingdale's is coming to San Francisco. Geek 2 Chic: SF will take place from 6-9pm on Wednesday, May 15, on the second level of Bloomingdale's Westfield San Francisco Centre. More details including registration information are available here.
Our Geek 2 Chic: SF emcee will be VentureBeat writer Jolie O'Dell, who has personal reasons for getting involved: “I write a lot about how learning technology can help underserved and at-risk kids,” Jolie told me. “Simply knowing that building your own company is a career option – a fact that many tech entrepreneurs take for granted – can be life-changing for these young people. I’m so happy that I can put my love of fashion towards a great cause."
Geek 2 Chic events transform young, successful science and technology professionals from big brands, startup companies, and government and academia into fashion models for one night to raise funds for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a national 501©3 organization that works with educators to engage at-risk high school students in learning, introduce them to business concepts, and help them launch their own businesses.
I started Geek 2 Chic way back in Fall fashion season 2010 as a creative way to highlight Microsoft's outreach to the tech communities in cities where we have offices, particularly via our BizSpark program for early-stage startups, and also our corporate citizenship and partnerships with nonprofits such as NFTE. Since that initial show, I've produced three shows near my home office in Washington DC at Bloomingdale's Chevy Chase, and one show each in Chicago (Fall 2011) and Los Angeles (Spring 2012), at Bloomingdale's Michigan Ave and Bloomingdale's Santa Monica Place, respectively. Each show featured some of the best-known young tech leaders in the region. Previous emcees have been NBC4 local anchor Angie Goff in Washington DC, Julia Allison in Chicago, and Shira Lazar in LA.
Our upcoming San Francisco show will be no different. Besides Jolie O'Dell calling the show, founders, authors, academics, digital monster creators (seriously), and geeks working for big tech brands like Facebook, Square, and Instagram, attendees can expect 27 outstanding young techies to strut the catwalk in Bloomingdale's fashions for one night only to raise funds for NFTE. A full model list is at the end of this post. Importantly, 100% of ticket sales go directly to the cause, as well as 10% of Bloomies sales to attendees who turn in their receipts.
NFTE is a national partner in Microsoft's YouthSpark program, a collection of initiatives in the U.S. and around the world which empower youth to reach for more opportunity and change their world. “NFTE Bay Area is excited to be working with Microsoft both nationally and locally here in the Bay Area,” Krista Katsantonis, Executive Director of NFTE Bay Area, related to me. “We are also thrilled to be the beneficiary of the Geek 2 Chic partnership. As we work with Microsoft to integrate robust technology tools and learning into our award-winning entrepreneurship education program, we will be able to better utilize our global network of resourced and supporters to empower NFTE students to create their own paths to success."
Following tradition, the final model in the Geek 2 Chic: SF show will be an award-winning recent NFTE graduate. This year's honoree is 18-year-old Josh Siapno, the founder of Courteesy, a business which designs and creates one-of-a-kind bow ties from salvages vintage men's neckties.
Geek 2 Chic: SF tickets are $35 for general admission, but an upgrade to $85 VIP admission includes event seating along the catwalk, guaranteed access to an exclusive after party, and a VIP swag bag with goodies inside from Microsoft, Square, and more. Admission to the Third Wave Fashion-sponsored after party is list-only at Bubble Lounge (714 Montgomery Street in San Francisco) featuring music by DJ Hawthorne from 9-11pm.
I'm really pleased to be working with New York-based fashion-tech research and consulting company Third Wave Fashion on this event. I met the fine ladies of TWF at the Hearst Fashion Hack event we both sponsored during NY Fashion Week. “As a company whose sole purpose is to help people merge the worlds of fashion and technology, it’s a pleasure for us to see two companies as diverse as Microsoft and Bloomingdale’s come together in this way. We’re happy to see the world we live in strutting down the runway,” the founder of Third Wave Fashion Liza Kindred told me. (Liza will also model in the show.)
Here's the full list of models and affiliations:
Aaron Ginn, StumbleUpon Ambar Munoz, Weather Underground Amy Schapiro, Code 2040 Brian Solis, Altimeter Group Christina Gagnier, Gagnier Margossian Dan Toffey, Instagram Delyn Simons, Mashery Drew Hylbert, Opower Elizabeth Stark, Stanford Faryl Ury, Square Gary Wu, LucasFilm Heather Meeker, Meeker Quinn Hillary Hartley, NIC Ivannia De Alba, Facebook Jacob Mullins, ExitRound Jason Putorti, Causes Jason Throckmorton, LaunchSquad Jay Nath, City of San Francisco Josh Siapno, Courteesy Kevin Whittlesey, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine Liza Kindred, Third Wave Fashion Lukas Biewald, Crowdflower Maria Ogneva, Yammer Peter Revett Dixon, ThreatMetrix Sarah Ware, Markerly Sarah Austin, Pop17 Tracy Sun, Poshmark
In entrepreneurship, the idea of a "lean startup" has caught on like a firestorm. Inspired by Eric Ries' book of the same name, lessons about doing more with less and launching "minimum viable products" are being consumed by founders in Silicon Valley and around the world.
Now these lean principles have entered pop culture to some degree and are popping up in some unusual places, even in more traditional industries like book publishing and government (the latter of whose budgets you may not associate the word "lean" with). The modern reality of government spending, however, is one in which employees who specialize in being more agile and adaptive to changing external conditions, doing more with less, and launching things before they are fully baked is being rewarded.
This new reality is reflected in the Microsoft Federal Executive Forum event entitled "Real Impact for a Lean & Modern Public Sector," being held today at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just outside Washington, DC. The event will be attended by over 100 Federal executives in addition to Microsoft employees and business partners such as NetApp, Dell, and Accenture, and focus on IT topics as diverse as social software, big data, and cybersecurity.
The event will be keynoted by Greg Myers, the VP of Federal for Microsoft.
I can't give away the great content that will be presented to Forum attendees, but what I can do is pose the question, How does one even begin to think about what "lean government" means? To many, this may still be a somewhat radical concept. Or perhaps you understand the basic concepts but aren't sure they apply to your particular line of business.
Imagine that your government agency, or your city or county perhaps, is a startup. You have your mission(s) and employees, but for the most part, you don't yet have things like buildings, computers, and the like. The tech stuff. Where would you begin thinking about how to fulfill your mission if you didn't have an organizational legacy? Here are a few thoughts.
It probably wouldn't surprise you to know that the government owns a lot of infrastructure, including buildings. A lot of buildings. About 14,000 extra buildings owned by the Federal government alone, which they are currently trying to sell. The government also owns all matter of other infrastructure -- vans, cars, all kinds of things.
Startups don't tend to own lots of things. When they start, employees typically work in a highly mobile fashion, using laptops and smartphones, from whereever they can. A successful startup may graduate from working at home and in coffeeshops to working in a co-working space or a startup incubator, to then finally lease some of their own private business offices.
A lean government would have to own offices and buildings of course, but would embrace telework, mobile work, and other flexible approaches that take advantage of cloud, mobile, and social technologies and also allow for a flexible lifestyle, while also perhaps saving money. Imagine if a local government had many non-public-facing workers work from home or wherever they want one day a week, and on that day they turn off the lights, the heat/air, power down computers, and so on?
Despite their general proliferation, a typical citizen interacting with the government doesn't use apps. To pay student loans, you go to a website. To get tax forms, you download a PDF document. You get the idea. There's no question that governments are innovating and making their information more accessible and interactive, but a lot of the reasons we do things the way we do when we interact with the government is because of legacy systems (e.g., there's no particular reason paying taxes needs to look like a Form 1040 that you pick up at a local library or download in PDF format).
And yet, a host of government agencies and startup companies working in the public sector space are experimenting with and deploying apps.Take for example, the new eBriefing app from MetroStar Systems in Virginia. It's a secure digital publishing solution for enterprises, with which you can build a briefing book and publish it to an internal bookstore. Ask yourself: Would a startup company have employees lug around giant three-ring binders to brief their CEO?
Government employees communicate in all the ways you would expect -- scheduled in-person meetings, phone calls at designated times, 24/7 email. So do the people at most any large organization. But startup companies operate a bit differently. Organized meetings give way to spontaneous conversations. Email gives way to IM. Their goal tends to be having very agile communications that obtain answers as quickly as possible and involve the fewest obstructions possible.
How can that type of startup communications thinking be applied to governments? Enterprise social media like Yammer gets you a long way toward that goal -- It can be made secure and definitively tied to an employees' identity. Users can upload documents, talk in a secure environment, and even use it from their mobile devices. Conversations on a platform like Yammer can be much more open and fluid than the same conversation occurring via an email thread, and it's also easier to follow.
But even the very popular Yammer has its limits. That's where unified communications software like Microsoft's Lync comes in. Lync is secure and tied to enterprise identities, and it can seemingly do anything: IM, phone conference calls, video conferences, desktop sharing, and what we call "presence" - the notion that based on a "red light-green light" toggle next to someone's name/photo, other employees can tell if someone is available, busy, away, and other statuses. I used Lync to give a webinar yesterday, where I spoke over the phone while sharing Powerpoint slides on my desktop with the group, and they were able to IM with each other during the presentation.
These three examples aren't exhaustive, but they are scenarios describing how "lean startup" thinking can be applied to governments. Governments will never literally operate like startup companies, nor should they. But the lessons of lean startup thinking can in many ways be applied to public sector missions when creative thinking, some modest risk taking, and the latest technologies come together into a mission plan.
If you're reading this, you're probably not at Microsoft's Federal Executive Forum. That's okay. On April 24-25, Microsoft is co-sponsoring (along with American City & County) the Lean Government Virtual Summit -- Enabling Modern, Mobile, and Efficient Government. You can get more details about it and register to attend here.
On 9/11, I was a grad student at UC-Irvine in California. I found out about the terrorist attacks from a professor on the elevator on the way up to my laboratory. I hadn't watched TV that morning before heading to school. And remember, I was on the west coast, so at that time I was a couple hours behind the story. When I got to the lab, my labmate MIchelle and my advisor Tony were trying to get on CNN.com - they couldn't. Everything was jammed. Tony and I took a monitor I was using to videotape (on VHS!) fruit fly behavior from the back room, moved it onto a table in the main lab, and rigged up an antenna made out of a metal coat hanger so we could watch the news. I think we had that monitor on NBC for about a week straight. We worked a little but mainly just stared at the TV.
I don't even remember if I had a cell phone then. If I did, I sure don't remember really using it. It was probably a basic Nokia model that made calls. I know it wasn't a Blackberry or anything of the kind - I didn't get one of those until I was living in Washington, DC years later - around 2008 or so. During 9/11, there were no apps, no social media, no mobile communications, nothing really that enabled regular people to take photos of something and share them in anything close to real time.
Yesterday, I was on a conference call around 3pm EST and I got a text from a family member in Boston. I grew up in Massachusetts and a lot of my family lives in Boston area. Turns out, two of my family members went to watch the Marathon yesterday. One of them runs marathons, and was supposed to be in the race, but for an injury about six months ago. He would have finished just a bit faster than the time on the clocks when the bombs went off, if he had been running full speed.
I stopped working after that conference call, got some junk food, and flipped between about seven different news channels. I mostly watched Fox Business and MSNBC and CNN because they seemed to have the best video and breaking news and interviewees. I heard CBS was great, too. I watched them this morning. Norah O'Donnell was in Boston near the scene, seemingly on the verge of tears for two hours. I can't blame her.
I didn't have my Twitter feed on 9/11, and neither did anyone else. I didn't have Facebook either (it didn't exist yet; Zuckerberg was in middle school or so), nor anything else that we today call social media. But yesterday I did, and I tweeted. I tweeted a lot.
Social media has gotten me a bit jaded lately, but I have to admit that I'd forgotten how many people cling to it for information about loved ones and loved things. I follow a lot of very solid people and sources on Twitter and Facebook, and combined with TV coverage, I sent about 20 tweets with heavily curated and interesting news and quotes during the afternoon and early evening. I got 200-300 retweets and comments or so. My friend Tommy asked me last night why people reach out to each other with social media during a crisis. I replied that people always reach out to each other in a crisis no matter what; it's human nature. Social media scales human nature.
Technology played a big role in telling the story of the Boston Marathon bombing. The mainstream media, of course, broke news but also argued with itself in real time, the White House used Flickr to officially show that President Obama was meeting with homeland security advisers, and short video service Vine seems to have found purpose in tragedy. My Facebook feed was nothing but Boston. Somebody set up a public Google Doc so people could offer their Boston homes to those who needed a place to stay. Boston.com used their "viral video" site to post the most horrific and accurate video I've seen of what happened; it's all over TV this morning. The Reddit community is curating everything here.
The last thing I tweeted before I heard about the explosions in Boston was a link to "Photos from the MTV Music Awards photo booth." I feel a little silly. But at least now because of innovative startup companies and new social media creations, I have the ability to look a little silly in hindsight. A decade or so ago, I couldn't do anything but watch a rigged up TV in my lab and be quiet in my thoughts.
“All we do is take and process massive amounts of information and use it to do things more effectively,” says Michael Flowers, head of New York City's Office of Policy and Strategic Planning (OPSP) in a weekend New York Times story called The Mayor's Geek Squad.
And data they have.
NYC knows that it takes an average of 546 seconds for NYPD to respond to a crime in progress, that it has 1,985 public drinking fountains in its parks, that its sanitation department picks up 12,000 tons of trash every day, and that an average of 100,156 parking tickets are given out per week. It knows this because of "big data," the hot catch-all term in government and business alike to describe adept number-crunching to better understand phenomena and solve problems.
In New York, such problems that can be tackled with data range from the mundane to the critical to the touchy. Among the mundane, NYC-based Foursquare recently hosted a hackathon in which one product, "Nasdrunk," matched Nasdaq stock exchange closing values with the level of location-based check-ins at NYC bars. Hackathons producing apps with a shelf life of a week or two are seemingly a dime a dozen these days.
But cities such as New York are more mission-focused on putting out proverbial fires and serving their citizens. For example, the New York Times relates how the OPSP used relatively obscure city data and geo-spatial intelligence to identify illegal cooking oil-dumpers:
Last fall, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection wanted, finally, to crack down on restaurants that were illegally dumping cooking oil into sewers in their neighborhoods — congealed yellow grease is responsible, the department says, for more than half of New York’s clogged drains. The question, of course, was how to find the culprits?
The antiquated answer would have been to have the health department send inspectors to restaurants on blocks with backed-up sewers and hope by chance to catch a busboy pouring the contents of a deep fryer into the street.
[The OPSP] dug up data from the Business Integrity Commission, an obscure city agency that among other tasks certifies that all local restaurants have a carting service to haul away their grease. With a few quick calculations, comparing restaurants that did not have a carter with geo-spatial data on the sewers, the team was able to hand inspectors a list of statistically likely suspects.
Other applications of big data, like the NYPD's use of it to guide who it stops-and-frisks, are more controversial. And yet still other challenges - like clearing the 9,662 trees that fell during Hurricane Sandy - are things virtually no one would complain about applying open data and new techniques too.
Open government and physical space
It strikes me that the best and most interesting uses of the one terabyte of data that flows through the OPSP every day, and its equivalent at other entities, usually have to do with the physical spaces of real life.
Meaning: When a new app takes one kind of digital data, mashes it up with other digital data, and then tells you something somewhat interesting yet not very applicable in physical space (i.e., what exactly would one do with the knowledge that there may be a weak correlation between stock prices and happy hour start times?), it doesn't tend to solve real-world problems, and thus it doesn't tend to form the basis of a long-term solution or startup company, and is therefore unlikely to have a long shelf life.
Conversely, an application of open data like tracking cooking oil dumpers and enforcing local laws is just about the opposite of sexy, but it's also extraordinarily important at a hyperlocal level. Think of parallel applications to everything from parking to noise complains to traffic to 911 calls. "What we're really running here is an office of New Yorkology," Flowers told the Times.
San Francisco is now Skillville
Across the country, San Francisco is the seat of American ingenuity in the digital space, and is no stranger to open government, big data, and innovative approaches. I recently had the opportunity to have coffee with Jay Nath, Mayor Lee's Chief Innovation Officer. He approaches "innovation" very broadly, not just considering digital and social technologies, big data analyses, and apps contests, but also - in the vein of Alec Ross' work on innovation in the State Department - in the form of taking creative approaches to solving basic problems.
One thing Jay and I discussed was Living Innovation Zones, which the city sees as an extension of what it's already been doing with open data. If it can open data for public usage, what else can it "open" for use? What if all the rooftops in the Financial District were "open" for solar panel hacking? What if portions of the Tenderloin were designated as "innovative street furniture zones," where citizens could experiment in a Furniture Hack of sorts and beautify the city and change super-hyperlocal dynamics (you see this in NYC a bit along Broadway, with zones of lawn furniture).
Granted, some of these assets are owned or controlled by entities other than the city; my impression is that some applications of Living Innovation Zones would require public-private partnerships, donations, or other arrangements. The larger point is that Nath and the City of SF are thinking outside-the-box on improving the city, and striving to take open approaches to government far beyond open data.
Skillville is another example of solving a real national and local problem - citizens out of work, underemployed, or in need of new job skills - with a creative approach. Here, people looking for jobs and opportunity can work on "micro-jobs" with local government and are rewarded through a bit of gamification with badges from which more benefits can be derived.
As they state on their Knight News Challenge page:
Skillville aligns the resources of city government, job seekers and local employers to overcome challenges for all three groups. Cities get an infusion of new skills and creativity on projects, job seekers gain meaningful work experience, making them more competitive in the job market, and businesses get a filtered pool of candidates who have validated skills. By increasing collaboration between citizens, local government and private businesses, everyone wins.
Another example of public-private partnerships for civic innovation. And another example of a tech-savvy but not tech-centric approach to civic innovation. While online/digital tools are certainly applied to Skillville, a large proportion of the activity occurs in real-life among regular people.
Living in "whine country"
Applying creative approaches and big data to hyperlocal challenges sometimes results in quirky discoveries. For example, back in NYC, the OPSP recently discovered that "a significant percentage of 311 complaints derived from certain neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan — an area they now refer to jokingly as 'whine country.'"
It's not immediately obvious to me what the usefulness of such information about "whine country" is, but one thing that's probably true is that it'll take people with interdisciplinary training and broad interests to figure out the how and why of it all. Michael Flowers worked in the Manhattan DA's office, did tours at law firm Williams & Connolly, the U.S. Senate, and in Iraq before finding his way to the OPSP.
Jay Nath's career is a little more IT-focused, but he has previous private sector experience building things at an Internet company and before that he was a Pricewaterhousecoopers consultant who took a year off to wander through Nepal, India, and Thailand. The aforementioned Alec Ross spent a year of college in Bologna, Italy, participated in Teach for America, and co-founded the global nonprofit One Economy before joining the State Department at the start of the Obama Administration.
Now if someone could just explain the data showing that it's snowing today in Washington, DC, when we're supposed to be in Spring.
Update 1: Slightly different take on SF vs. NYC at TechPresident here.
Frankly, I never know what to say in such talks when you’re given a time slot and a description of the conference, but no particular directions about what to focus on. So my general rule is, say something interesting, useful, and/or memorable.
I decided to start with a clip from The Merv Griffin Show, because, truly, who do 20-somethings identify more with than him?
Seriously though, I found a really cool old clip of Merv Griffin interviewing a young Michael Crichton about his 1983 book, Electronic Life. Back then, computers in the home were new, remember, so he wrote a whole book about cool stuff you could do with them (this is about a decade before Jurassic Park when he was still “experimental”).
Here’s the clip. Toward the end, Merv asks Michael a final question: What should you know before you go and buy a computer? Shortening his full answer, Michael Crichton says, Have some idea of what you want to do with it.
I think the same concept, having an idea of what you want to do with it, applies to social media too, and technology in general.
Asking a question like, Is using Twitter good for my local business? is the wrong order-of-operations, in my opinion, because the answer depends on a number of unstated parameters. These include: What is your mission? Who is your audience? What is the narrative you want told? Only then can you decide what media might apply to your challenge.
You can think of the decision process as a simplified diagram like the following:
In my view, understanding your goal or mission is the #1 most important thing you need to do in such a scenario. Are you selling retail products? Improving brand engagement? Responding to a crisis? Attacking a competitor? Various answers to these questions set you down certain paths.
Same with audience. Is your audience retail consumers? People who love your brand? People who hate your brand who you wish to convert? The mainstream media? Senior citizens? Teenagers? Similarly to mission, clarifying your audience sets you down certain paths, and not on others.
Finally, narrative. Is this sales? Marketing? A PR gimic? A public alert message? Some stories are better told in certain mediums.
That was my first big point. My second was that, once you have a lot of that straight in your mind, how do you look at social media as an option? There are so many different kinds of social media, and so many things now that aren’t really social media but are close enough to social media to be considered social media that it can all be confusing to managers and vice presidents who may tend to be middle- to late-stage technology adopters, with reports who are in charge of digital outreach and undoubtedly quicker to adopt and experiment.
In a 2009 paper with Dr. Linton Wells of the National Defense University, I wrote about four “quadrants” of social media along two axes. One axis graphs the Familiarity with Participants, and the other is the Directional Focus of your messages. Each lies along a spectrum, but for these purposes we simplified each into a binary: For the first, “Known” and “Unknown”; for the second, “Internal” and “External.”
It looks like this:
Simple, right? Okay, let’s fill in the four quadrants with “four fundamental ways to think about social media” alluded to in the title.
Taking the bottom left quadrant first, let’s look at how social media can help when your misson is internally-focused, i.e., within a small group or within a vertical, organization, or company, and where the participants or the kinds of participants (full-time employees, people with Top Secret clearance, people living in a certain dormitory) are basically known.
Here are a few quick examples:
As I wrote about in Social Software and National Security: An Initial Net Assessment, Company Command and Intelink are good examples of this kind of social media. Intelink is essentially a social framework for Intelligence Community (CIA, DIA, etc.) professionals to share text, video, audio, and photos on platforms that look like Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, and more. On the backend, it’s connected to your identity as an employee and controls your access to things; if you have a Secret clearance for example, you can look at Secret but not Top Secret wiki entries, and so forth. The idea here is to streamline how the IC collects and analyzes and distributes its intelligence products. You can learn more in this helpful video:
Company Command is something similar, except that it was built with an even more specific audience in mind: only people who are ranked as Captain in the U.S. Army, who have a particular level of command and responsibility, yet are young enough and spread out all over the world enough that it was actually very difficult for them to get in touch with each other outside their formal chain-of-command and share tips, and so forth.
Yammer (now owned by Microsoft) is a generalized framework for having such conversations inside a group/organization/enterprise — now with lots more features!
Let’s move to the second quadrant — where for the most part participants are familiar, but the focus is on sharing outside your core group, and with others in other verticals, divisions, agencies, companies, etc.
One example of this is Govloop, originally started on the Ning social media platform by Dept. of Homeland Security IT employee Steve Ressler years ago as a way to — what else? — get in touch with other IT people across his disparate organization and other agencies where people work on similar problems, like the Dept. of Defense and the Dept. of State, perhaps (the government doesn’t always communicate well internally, suffice it to say). Now, Govloop is an independent company bringing together government employees and those who work closely with them, and it has spawned events and related activities beyond social media, but with the same mission.
STAR-TIDES (yes, that’s a military-style acronym: Sharing To Accelerate Research — Transformative Innovation for Development and Emergency Support) is a somewhat-similar idea to Govloop, in that it started as an email list incubated within the Dept. of Defense to connect people within the government and external to it who have skills relevant to emergency situations like hurricane disasters (think: Red Cross, Microsoft, independent inventors working on say solar cooking devices).
Moving on to the third quadrant, when participants are largely unknown, but the focus is internal — the desire to receive information and help your own organization.
Here are two brief examples. One, a 50-person startup based in San Francisco called Crowdflower, headed by CEO Lukas Biewald, takes on large crowdsourcing jobs for big clients (think: U.S. government, Fortune 500 companies). If a company wants to know, say, the price of every box of cereal in every supermarket in California, classified by address, size, and which shelf it’s on, Crowdflower would take a job like that and crowdsource it to a large number of people who each take on a small task (say, cereals in Irvine, CA), and then report back; a lot of how that is coordinated and executed is via social media in different ways.
A different example is the White House’s “We the People” website, in which individual citizens can propose large things (legalizing pot, building a Death Star, you get the idea) and then vote on them. If a petition gets 100,000 votes (it used to be 25,000), the White House has pledged to officially respond.
And finally, the fourth quadrant, where participants are largely unknown to the originator, and the focus is mainly on external sharing.
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away when large corporations barely deigned to use social media, a Comcast customer service rep named Frank Eliason (who now works for Citi) thought it might be useful to actually respond to people complaining about Comcast on Twitter — providing them useful information about local power outages, why service trucks were running late, and the like. He had good instincts: Comcast put him in charge of a unit that grew into well over a dozen people staffing the Twitterverse 24/7.
And at long last, this brings us to Old Spice. Look at the video below. Now back to me. Now back at the video. Now back to me.
Sadly, the man in the video is not me. He is, however, incredibly handsome baritone actor Isaiah Mustafa, who played a campy character in Old Spice men’s body wash television commercials. And what’s interesting about the commercials is not just that they’re great commercials (they are), nor that they were also posted on YouTube, where they got a lot more views (just the one video above has 40+ million views on YouTube), but that they made the commercials and character truly interactive and social.
In a long series of videos, Isaiah (in character) replied personally to lots of social media participants who tweeted comments at the Old Spice brand. These were both famous people (Kevin Rose, entrepreneur, and Ellen DeGeneres, both shown blow, and just regular people).
The commercials were good as-is, but the social media engagement, personalization, and frankly, vulnerability, made this marketing campaign truly epic and unforgettable.
So there you have it — four fundamental ways to look at social media.
Mayor Vincent Gray was there. So was Rep. Darrell Issa. And entrepreneur and investor Steve Case. No, not some event in Washington, DC, but rather the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas this past week, talking about all things DC and startup.
There’s a lot of talk about a new wave of small tech startups in Washington, DC these days, and the recent launch of the 1776 startup accelerator space in a building across from the Washington Post has brought that excitement to a fever pitch. And it is exciting, with startups ranging from enterprise and cybersecurity types (Mercury Continuity, a continuity of communications company) to consumer technology (Hinge, a dating app), to fashion (SNOBSWAP, an upscale clothing marketplace) getting some investor love and media attention.
So when I saw that Washington Life magazine’s annual Young and the Guest List for 2013 came out, I was curious to see what tech folks made the list. After all, you might predict that some new people had popped onto their radar.
The Young and the Guest List, or YGL, is touted as “A guide to Washington’s most influential 40-and-under young leaders.”
Are you...on the list?
Full disclosure: I’m on the list. It’s a nice honor. So okay, I work for Microsoft, there’s one tech person on the list. Who else? Well, Jesse Suskin from Google’s communications and public affairs shop made it; he has a background in Republican campaign and staff positions, including a stint in the White House.
And then, well, there’s…um… hmm.
I can’t find any other people from big tech companies on the list. Perhaps they’re hidden deeply among all the Members of Congress, baseball and football players, restaurant and bar owners, and White House staffers, but I can’t find anyone from the Apple’s, IBM’s, Oracle’s and Salesforce’s of the world. I can’t even find anyone from Facebook. Twitter. Tesla. Square. Reddit. Yahoo. Anyone.
Well, it’s not like tech’s YGL forces have waned. I went back and quickly checked last year’s YGL from 2012. Not many tech people on there, either. No totally brotastic people from Twitter and the like (there was one from Facebook but he’s since moved to San Francisco). Not even someone like Adam Sharp, who not only used to work for a Senator and at CSPAN but now runs Twitter’s team that acts as “ambassadors” to important government officials and staffers, and also effectively controls the flow of information between Twitter’s databases and the political pundits and professionals who want to know how many tweeple participated in a Twitter roundtable with President Obama, or how many people tweeted with positive sentiment during a political debate, or which way people on Twitter are saying they voted in a national election.
So, if not someone like Adam Sharp and if not larger organizations like Twitter, than surely, some of the hot young startups with their slightly younger founders?
Well, there are a few of them, but less than you might expect. Evan Burfield, co-founder of the aforementioned 1776 startup accelerator is a veteran of the list and still on it, as are Frank Gruber and Jen Consalvo who run the TechCocktail media company, and Shana Glickfield, a partner in the Beekeeper Group, a tech-savvy public affairs consultancy, and a couple of the co-founders of LivingSocial. Blake Hall the CEO of Troopswap is another returning veteran, as is Navroop Mitter, the CEO of Gryphn. Steve Ressler and Goldy Kamali, founders of government news/media companies Govloop and Fedscoop, respectively too. And who can forget Macon Phillips, the now long-time head of digital strategy and new media for the Obama Administration? In different ways, these are all tech/startup community leaders; no surprises here.
But new, up-and-coming people in the tech and tech/startup space? I could only find three.
One is Matthew Corgan, the CEO of Hotpads.com, a real estate site. Another is Justin Herman, currently the director of Federal social media policy and programs at GSA. And finally, Laura O’Shaughnessy, the CEO of SocialCode, a consultancy to help advertisers leverage Facebook and Twitter better.
That’s it. That’s all I could find. So for all the angel investing and meetups with 1,000 attendees and sojourns to SXSW and mainstream media attention, effectively zero of the founders of new, hot DC-based startups made the list of “Washington’s most influential 40-and-under young leaders.”
Is DC Tech irrelevant to DC society?
This isn’t a criticism of Washington Life’s list. The list is what the list is. And actually, I was kind of impressed with the fact that while the list grew a little (to 300, I believe), but the magazine simultaneously removed quite a number of people I know personally from the list between 2012 and 2013. So, some care on their end was definitely taken with choosing the names.
No, this is not a critique of Washington Life. Perhaps it is a tiny critique of the DC startup community. It’s easy to criticize any given person on the YGL, but overall it’s fairly representative of the most visible young people in the area and the young people most likely to be known in other major cities and therefore the young people most likely to be considered “ambassadors” abroad. It’s also a fairly good indicator of the people you’re likely to find at a Sundance Film Festival, a CES or SXSW, a Summit Series event, a Davos, or a NY Fashion Week (for what it’s worth).
Correlated with that, the tech and tech/startup folks I named above also tend to be those people. Evan Burfield was just with the Mayor in Austin. Peter Corbett, a longtime member of the list, was just in Davos. I was recently at New York Fashion Week helping to run a hackathon. We all have day jobs, but we also tend to take on larger roles of “ambassadors” (for lack of a better term), representatives, storytellers, wider networkers. Next year, I’d love to see some up and coming people from Acceleprise, The Fort, 1776, or other places emerge as the start of a generation of even younger leaders and genuinely start to displace us with new voices and opportunities and leadership.