I have returned from the Personal Democracy Forum conference in New York City, and am feeling particularly excited from the energy and enthusiasm that was prevalent throughout the event. I met some very interesting people and all of them “got” the concept of CampaignLever immediately. Of course, these are people doing work in this field already, and don’t necessarily represent my target audience of grassroots activist groups on a tiny budget.
Larry Lessig gave one of the first morning talks, titled “Free Culture, Free Politics.” His presentation was nearly as engaging as his famous Free Culture one (you have to watch this if you haven’t already). Lessig is thinking forward and addressing a lot of issues which need to be taken action on now in order to preserve an open culture in the future, as opposed to a controlled and proprietary one that we are currently heading toward.
Lessig made it very clear (and I applaud him for doing so) that supporting copyright is not an either/or issue; he is not against the concept of copyright. Rather, he argues that we need a more nuanced view on copyright where limitations in certain kinds of media or contexts is upheld. The most compelling example he gave were televised political debates, which some major networks are trying to control the distribution and third-party use of. He also pointed out that nearly all of the major democrat presidential candidates have come out in support of placing the presidential political debates in the public domain or otherwise not restricting the use of them. The main exception to this was Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has been disconcertingly silent on this issue. Lessig also pointed out that “fair use” rights only guarantee one the right to hire an attorney and slog through years of litigation when a copyright holder wishes to interpret fair use in light of their own interests.
Seth Godin gave a top-notch and entertaining presentation as well. Godin discussed how the old methods of marketing and advertising (i.e, buying eyeballs for large sums of money by interrupting people) is offering diminishing returns by the day, and that this also applies to political marketing. He gave a wonderful metaphor to demonstrate what’s wrong with the current process (I’m paraphrasing below):
How NOT to Get Married:
Go into a singles bar, walk up to the first potential mate you see and propose to them. If this fails, try another person, and so on.
Godin noted that political campaigns are doing effectively the same thing thing to voters, yelling their message to everyone they can interrupt, when rather what they need to do is to take things slower and start going on “dates” with people to build a relationship where permission is given to go on future dates and finally to get married (i.e, buy the product or vote for the candidate, volunteer with the campaign, etc).
So what could have been better? At the very end of the conference there was a panel discussion by the technology leaders of several presidential campaigns. This was boring as hell – all each person on the panel did was make inside references to the their work and processes and talk primarily to each other, not the audience. Nothing insightful came out of the panel as far as I could tell, and after a half hour or so I simply left to attend the post-conference cocktail party a bit early.
There was a good amount of professional networking going on during the breaks and afterwards, but I would have liked there to be more breaks to allow more of this kind of thing. The cocktail party afterwards was overcrowded and extremely loud. In my estimation, there were upwards of 300+ people in attendance (Update: the official conference count was over 800!).
Overall, though, this conference was definitely a worthwhile event, and reasonably convenient to me, being on the East Coast. I’m certainly planning to attend the next one, and hope to have a compelling, working product to demo and share with the attendees.