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Web 2.0 Expo & Knowledge As Power

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With 10,000 people at Web 2.0 Expo, a curtain was pulled back to reveal the room adjoining the echo chamber.  With more people than Techcrunch subscribers, you had to ask, "who are these people?"  Oh, right, our markets and communities.  People of the web, perhaps with more zeal or entrepreneurial interest than people who "get their news from the web."  The diversity was really refreshing although after helping out on both the Socialtext and SuiteTwo booths, it was exhausting.

My keynote panel seemed to go well, here’s a five minute video clip.  We announced that VisiblePath is joining SuiteTwo to go beyond wikis, blogs and RSS into Social Networking for the Enterprise.  In a breakout panel we had a chance to explore it further, but the interesting part was the participation from Cisco and P&G, two leading companies that are pragmatically adopting best-of-breed social software.  Both of them agreed with the need for further standards in this area, such as Amo.

Thanks mostly to the effort of Tara Hunt and Chris Messina, Web2Open was a success.  My favorite session was learning about KnowledgeAsPower, something that wouldn’t have made its way to the big stage, trying to apply Web 2.0 to a real problem in politics.  How elected representatives interface with their constituency.

Sarah Schacht noticed a significant disconnect from the policies made just miles away between New Hampshire and Vermont.  Vermont has a greater number of representatives to citizens and potentially as a result was able to develop some better health care legislation in touch with citizen needs.  In the pre-progressive era (1890s) we had the highest voting rates in US history, between 90-94% of eligible voters did.  Largely because elected officials were closer to their constituents.  Town halls were actually held in town halls, or even barber shops.  The Civil Rights movement was borne of this era.

Today the population relative to elected officials has grown, and technology has become more of a problem than a solution.  The media has decreased their role in helping communicate on state issues to constituents. The best help for a citizen who wants to engage on a given issue is the website of a legislative body, but they are just official factual messages that have a 48 hour lag from staffers to website.  So they created a site for the State of Washington that lets a citizen subscribe to a specific issue or bill they are interested in and participate by sending Legislators email.

But the other problem is your average politician is consumed with email.  They use Outlook, and only have 1.5 staffers to help manage 800-1,300 demails per day.  With 90-120 day legislative sessions and lobbyists consuming time — their outbound communication is limited to once or twice per session — via newsletters, mass emails and town hall meetings.  She demoed their potential solution for the first time.  Citizens send email through a slightly structured web interface.  The legislator gets a dashboard for their email, with a row for each bill, enabling them to scan relative interest in different issues, number of emails pro/con and the ability to respond directly to different emergent groups.  I shared Politicopia with the session, which could be a great complement to their effort.

Sometimes we get caught up in the hype of cool social tools and forget that what we are doing is providing alternatives to email for social interaction, armed with backlinks, pings and feeds.  And the real value is when you can apply them to solving a specific problem. 

While my personal interests tend to draw me to such projects, if it wasn’t for Web 2.0 Expo trying a hybrid open source business model with Web2Open, I wouldn’t have found it or a way to contribute.  One person told me that a session by a guy who runs a comic book store was the best he saw in the event overall.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if it became a feeder for the big stage.

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