The Washington, D.C. area is boiling with action, but it’s not all about the upcoming quadrennial episode of mass hysteria. The region has become of all things, a national center–maybe the national center–for innovation in the social web.
I say this with some reluctance. I’m a lousy cheerleader and innately skeptical of any claims that carry the whiff of a chamber of commerce luncheon centerpiece.
Having said that, I believe there is something big and unexpectedly important going on in my home region, one not known for its forward thinking or brassy innovation. But D.C. 2.0 seems to be real.
Last week Twin Tech II, a party designed to bring together the Northern Virginia/D.C./Maryland tech community, drew 1,200 people, and a bunch of people were turned away. I’m not sure recent McCain rallies have had that many people. [To be fair, McCain rallies are not held in massive nightclubs with an open bar, so that may explain some of it. That may also be a good idea for the McCain campaign, but that's another story.]
Anyway, the Twin Tech meetup was really more about bringing two different tech cultures together: The Suits and the T-shirts, the Stalwarts and the Schemers, the Arrivistes and the Artistes, the Gold and the Geeks.
The people representing the Northern Virginia Technology Council, land of defense contractors and enterprise network firms, were actually wearing suits and ties, as if they’d just come from a sales presentation [they probably had]. One of the women looked like she could easily be a great grandmother. She looked like she was having a blast. I didn’t see her dance, but then I didn’t stay until the end.
Meanwhile the t-shirts–indie 2.0 entrepreneurs, programmers, designers, marketers and even some extremely talented, reasonably priced social media consultants heroically devoted to their clients–showed up in stylish eyewear, interesting hair on their face and heads, tiny tattoos and a sort of thriftshop-Urban Outfitters-Nordstrom Rack chic. The women looked great. The open bar was well patronized.
This dual-social-group thing helps explain, I think, why the Washington area can make a plausible claim as 2.0 Central. It’s an amazing mix of grown-ups, young people, and business conditions. Among the assets:
- The rich talent pool left in the wake of the AOL diaspora
- The 2.0 enterprise network builders and sellers in Northern Virginia and the many consultants, lawyers and financiers who follow in their wake
- Legions of print journalists making the migration to digital
- Political and non-profit social mediacrats–those eye-poppingly forward-leaning 2.Obamacists ™ are among us
- Academics, think-tankers and policy-heads who are leading the way on issues of web privacy, piracy, legalities and social impacts of all this stuff
- Established Washington PR and lobbying firms, scrambling to leverage social media at risk of falling terminally behind the new social marketing firms that “get it”
- Increasingly social-media-savvy publishers and broadcasters like The Washington Post, USA Today, National Geographic, Discovery, PBS and NPR
- Government agencies which, god help us, are beginning to use social media to reach their citizen clients
- The Smithsonian, National Gallery of Art and other world-class museums that have committed to the 2.0 thing
- And hundreds of 2.0 companies, from up-and-coming national names like Clearspring, Mixx, Vidget Labs, R2i, Freewebs and Hungry Machine to scrappy startups chasing money and a clue. Some of the latter are getting a boost from a D.C. based mini-2.Incubator, LaunchBox Digital.
It’s quite a confluence of people and factors–perhaps more than you’ll find elsewhere, even in Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley–and there’s plenty of energy and, I think, even money to go around. I have every reason to believe I’ll be able to stand behind that statement five years from now.
Which brings me to the next D.C. mega-event, Interact08, a conference that will put on stage many of the luminaries representing the groups described above. Ted Leonsis, paterfamilias of many tech startups in the area and the nation, will keynote. And none other than Marissa Mayer of Google will appear on a panel.
When Google sends Mayer across the country to appear on a panel, you know something is going on.
I don’t know if the crowd will surpass 1,200, but I’m told only 35 tickets ramain at $395. I’ll be blogging from Interact, and will dutifully report on developments.
Oh, I forgot [warning: metaphor incoming] Interact08 will be held in the Ronald Reagan Building. I’m telling you, this Washington 2.0 thing is getting serious.