With apologies to AOL and Frank Gruber, few big tech hits have come out of Washington DC. Which is strange, because on paper, DC has those “ingredients” for a high-tech ecosystem that so-called experts love to tout.
It has money, it has universities, it has AOL which could theoretically spin smart coders off, it has a big, honking, recession-proof customer right there in the form of the government. And there are a ton of smart tech people in the city. On the book tour for Sarah’s last book, nearly 400 people came to the DC event where she did a signing—a record on the 15-city tour.
But for all these attributes, DC has struggled to define its tech scene as more than just AOL. That may be changing. There is a cadre of smart, young techies pulled in by the Obama campaign and its social-media-can-win-elections-after-all aftermath. A lot of those people are spinning into companies that hope to use SMS, Twitter and other basic social media tactics to do more than just win elections—to change the world.
What’s interesting about this world is how much of a mirror image it is to Silicon Valley. It’s about trying to take tools created here and use them in innovative ways. And it’s not about getting rich—many of the most innovative techies in DC are starting non-profits. Increasingly, DC techies aren’t trying to be another Silicon Valley—they are creating their own ecosystem that’s in tune with why people move to DC and what DC has that no other place has.
Today, more than 90% of large companies use open source technology, and yet the largest software companies in the world are still proprietary vendors. Might we see something similar with social media? Taking out the handful of obvious winners like Facebook and Twitter, will the social impact—the change in how we donate money, talk to friends, live life and participate in government—be ultimately greater than the returns to shareholders?
We asked Scott Goodstein of Revolution Messaging—one of these digital do-gooders– to be our guest this week on Why Is This News? to talk about these trends. Sarah met Goodstein on a recent trip with the State Department to Colombia, where she also met other impressive digital do-gooders like Josh Nesbit from FrontlineSMS Medic and Maria Theresa Kumar of Voto Latino. Goodstein recently finished building a hate-crime alert system for the NAACP.
He called in tell us why DC matters – from a seedy hotel in Vegas. Oh, the glamour of being a Washington insider. . .