This past weekend I was pleased to attend the Personal Democracy Forum, hosted by PersonalDemocracy.com and TechPresident.com, and sponsored by Google, among others. I'd like to declare the PdF and its adjoining unConference a success! On a personal level, I enjoyed myself thoroughly and stayed for every minute, both days. I want to thank the conference organizers, especially Josh Levy, for the wonderful time, and a big thank you to Google for the Google Scholarship which payed my way to the conference.
Here are some of the reasons I loved the conference:
A Melody of Tech and Politics Expertise Nothing's worse than a conference of homogeny. The difference between a good conference and a good networking session is that at a conference you learn stuff, and you can't learn stuff from people just like you.
PdF was all about technology's role in politics, so the spectrum of folks attending was already stacked for the better. I have background in both, now, and would consider my humble expertise to lie somewhere in the middle of the two ("user engagement in new media with a business strategy?"), so I was surrounded by more niche experts on all sides.
One of the best illustrations of this was towards the end of the unConference, when I introduced my college buddy Andrew Slack to my new tech buddy Tara Hunt. Here were two people, incredibly experienced at engaging folks online, and experts in their fields; and they didn't know a thing about the other and what the other did (though, ironically, both had been hired by Mozes at one point). Watching them interact and exchange ideas was a lot of fun.
On a less personal note, conference sessions were led by folks mostly "known" in the politics side of things, and the closing panel on Friday was a great peek into the inner-workings of '08 presidential campaigns. My complaint here was that discussion was slightly too-inside-baseball and didn't focus on the technological at all. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the balance and highlights included Scott Heiferman's demo of Meetup, and I was stuck by his reflections on everything he learned since the '04 elections when Meetup first blew-up. His best quote was "The Revolution Will Not Be on YouTube" and I really loved his notion that fundamental, important changes would still happen when real people meet face to face and work together.
Conference Stars: Good Cool-to-Tool Ratio You definitely want "star power" at a conference, but you don't want the too-good-for-you rock-stars or the "tools." The PdF had many stars in attendance, and they were mostly the cool ones. Craig Newmark had to be the one with the best star-to-cool ratio, seeing that I was in the bathroom line twice with him (something he pointed out was "almost romantic," and then joked that he can't kid like that in SF). Craig was most visible browsing the halls and attending sessions "just like the rest of us." At the end of the day mixer, I saw him wandering around poking his head into conversations, not just waiting for the "little people" like me to say hello.
The "tools" of the conference were mostly political and tech bloggers who haven't really done that much incredible, other than amass a large readership on the web due to inflammatory writings, or over-inflated attributions in the development of web technology. It's a real shame these folks think they're important, because it definitely got in the way at one session in particular about Race and Identity. A number of bloggers in the crowd dominated, and I felt like shouting, "Hey professional bloggers! I don't care about your inside baseball! I want a real discussion that's not about you!"
The unConference was Super Sweet Saturday's unConference (a BarCamp, of sorts) was a blast. The sessions ranged from "How to get 2 million views on your YouTube video" (hosted by my friend Andrew Slack) to "Bringing your Online Movement Offline." In true unConference style, two areas were set-up in ad-hoc fashion to support additional sessions. Networking was un-frantic yet plentiful, and my best connections were made on this day.
Lastly, I love that this conference was in New York City. Tech has its center in other parts of the Country, and politics certainly has its own capital, but the two combined have a wonderful home in this City.
If you want to read more coverage of the PdF, visit these links: