TechPost: Washington's Twin Tech Towns

Here's Zach Goldfarb's weekly update on the local technology scene.

In a way, the timing could not have been more perfect.

On Wednesday night, from about six to nine, the local technology community came out in full force -- but in two very different places.

On a tony street in McLean, at the home of business leader Bobbie Kilberg, local technology executives gathered for the Northern Virginia Technology Council's "Hot Ticket Party," an annual celebration of companies generating the "hottest buzz" or having the "hottest management team."

Ten miles away, hundreds of players in the local social media scene -- people who spend their lives on Facebook, MySpace and other Web crazes -- packed the third floor of the Connecticut Avenue club MCCXXIII-Spank to drink, exchange business cards and mingle with a few visiting Web celebrities.

It was striking -- there was almost no overlap between the two parties, the people who attended, the companies that were represented. In essence, it was the two sides of the Washington technology coin. On one side were the established technology companies, many of them serving the government and business customers -- and on the other were the young start-ups hoping to make it big in a Web 2.0 world.

Though many attendees of the NVTC affair donned tropical attire, it was decidedly a more formal event, with many silver-haired executives running their second or third technology company.

By contrast, at MCCXXIII, it looked like any old night out on the bar scene. Many of these people were regulars on the social media beat, people who had gone out on a limb to form their own Web companies, worked as the Web gurus at companies around town, blogged everyday or just liked to Facebook-poke and Twitter-tweet.

I showed up at the NVTC event in McLean around 5:30. I parked myself -- didn't use the valet -- though I couldn't help but notice four consecutive BMWs parked near the house. My first visit was with Kilberg, who has long headed the NVTC.

"The gathering here is to celebrate entrepreneurship. We have a lot of young and exciting entrepreneurial companies," she told me. "It shows you the spirit of young companies is going to grow here."

Indeed, executives at the party run extraordinarily sophisticated technology companies, the kind that powers along Washington's economy, even if understanding exactly what they do is not an easy thing.

Tonight, a few judges were to select winning companies for "hottest buzz" or "hottest bootstrap" (paying one's own way in forming a company) and a few other categories.

I talked to David Coxe, a top executive of Criterion Systems, a candidate for hottest bootstrap. He said his Tysons Corner firm's major clients were in the government, particularly the intelligence community.

"The solutions we typically bring to the market are involving service-oriented architecture, high-end data fusion, and security," he said.

Okay, sounds important. Next.

I talked to Kevin Shahbazi, who runs Avocado Security of Fairfax.

"We convert video surveillance to business intelligence graphs and charts," he said.

What I took from these conversations and a few others is that the companies by and large represented at the NVTC party were very typical Washington firms -- serving businesses and the government. They might be important generators of economic activity, but sure feel remote from what's hip in technology these days. One big exception: The winner of "Hottest Buzz" award: Clearspring, a McLean firm that makes Web widgets.

I soon zoomed down to MCCXXIII to get to the social media party. The party had as guests well-known Web guys Gary Vaynerchuk and Robert Scoble and was hosted by a few local active social media groups.

MCCXXIII's third floor has a pretty unique flair -- what with the beds, adorned with silver platters, serving as couches.

In one corner, the folks from iStrategy Labs, a social media consulting company, were holding on-camera interviews with attendees.

It became clear at the party that the local social media community is growing fast and has enthusiastic members who are bound to evangelize on behalf of their companies and their community.

I visited with Doug March of McLean start-up Mixx, a community news-sharing site that's gotten quite a bit of attention. He told me that his company had just launched a section of the site where organizations can create networks around news topics and customize the look of the networks with logos and such.

He came to the party, he said, to spread that news as well as "to spread social media ... I'm all about spreading the social word."

No one was more enthusiastic than Shana Glickfield, also known as the blogger D.C. Concierge, a project she runs outside of her usual work for a public affairs firm.

Glickfield said "I started getting involved in the networking scene ... [and] I found such an amazing, supportive community."

She continued, "We get together a lot in person and online ... Everybody takes really good care of each other ... That's why I like to stay connected and see who else turns up an event ... There's always someone with a new startup and a new idea I'm excited to hear about."

Come back Monday for video interviews from both events.

By Zachary Goldfarb  |  June 27, 2008; 11:45 AM ET  | Category:  TechPost
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Nice article. Who were the NVTC winners? Who else did you interview?

Posted by: Sam | June 30, 2008 9:19 AM

Thanks for coming out, Zack. I wish you would have jumped in to be interviewed, as I know folks would have been interested to hear what you think about the fusion of tech and politics here in DC. We shot about 40 interviews on the subject that night, and here's a link to a post with the resulting video synopsis:

Peter Corbett

Posted by: Peter Corbett | June 30, 2008 10:10 AM

Shana's right - the PR/marketing/social media network here in DC is thriving, friendly, and (for the most part) generous. It's nice having colleagues that are worth your precious free time.

Posted by: Qui Diaz | June 30, 2008 12:42 PM

Hi Zach. I wish you had taken the time to figure out what the event was really about.

As one of the organizers of the event, I was glad to have such a diverse crowd pack the house. We had internet entrepreneurs, social media regulars, hill staffers, academics and political operatives all in one room. How often does that happen in DC?

You could not have been more wrong in your post. Despite your attempt to draw a tired contrast, we made a conscious effort to -combine- those two "scenes" that you tried to hard to separate. I was wearing a suit and tie, having just come from interviewing Members of Congress and one FCC Commissioner along with Mr. Scoble. There were plenty of other "suits" in the crowd. You just didn't bother to look.

What we did Wednesday was a first for Washington, and we hope it won't be the last time it happens. Maybe next time you'll stay long enough to figure out what it was really about and join the conversation.

Andrew Feinberg

Posted by: Andrew Feinberg | June 30, 2008 12:53 PM

I am really not sure I understand the "anger" in Andrews comment above. Being a local blogger, I am always happy to see any attention in the mainstream media, especially the local Washington Post.
For a long time many of us questioned how come our burgeoning tech scene was not being covered by the Post. Then we got a bit upset when instead of just coverage the Post wrote about the event and gave editorial comments that were not very flattering of some local companies.

With this post, I was happy to see Zach giving an overview of what he saw. Its not like he was supposed to meet "Depthroat" there and get the scoop on the Watergate break-in for a monumental breaking story.

Zach noted his time at the NVTC event and then his time at the Scoble/Gary V event and even went so far to say

"It became clear at the party that the local social media community is growing fast and has enthusiastic members who are bound to evangelize on behalf of their companies and their community."

I for one was happy to see this statement as opposed to ones we have seen in the past. It was a great event, and Andrew you should be happy what you accomplished in a short amount of time. It drew a great crowd of very diverse people who enjoyed the conversation with new friends and old.

But in the end, this is a post of the weekly technology scene in the area and I think Zach did a good job of portraying it in a good light.

Jimmy Gardner

Posted by: Jimmy | June 30, 2008 2:06 PM

I'm not sure about the angry comments by Andrew as well. I'm confident that he doesn't speak for the rest of us. Thanks for attending Zach and I just checked out the video and thought it was great. There are definitely two separate communities that I think could benefit each other but for now these two groups will continue to grow.

I know the younger crowd that was jammed (a little over jammed) into the venue last week is growing rapidly and we will see more events like this in the future. Hopefully we see some overlap sometime soon. I'm just not sure how soon that will be.

Thanks a million for covering the event Zach!

Nick O'Neill

Posted by: Nick O'Neill | June 30, 2008 3:11 PM

Both of them are great. I attended the NVTC last year. Not this year though. MCCXXIII-Spank is only one block from our office. So, most of our people ended up going to MCCXXIII-Spank party. It was more fun and the crowd were younger. It was also more related to our social media space

Posted by: Natalia Yassmini | June 30, 2008 3:15 PM

Zach, welcome and thanks for coming...

While much of the crowd was the regular Social Media scene, Scoble was here to see how New Media (blogging, podcasting, video, etc) is changing the face of politics, so the flavor was just a little different. We had people ranging from New Media Jim (Jim Long, camera man for NBC) to S Dawn Jones (Chief Hill Correspondent, Talk Radio News) to Josh Connolly (Deputy Chief of Staff for Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-OR) to a variety of other political staffers, consultants, etc.

In smaller proportions, you have people like myself who are developers working to build some of the new things out there. Clearspring had people there too... probably one of the few groups to be in both worlds.

This wasn't just a group of talkers and evangelists, it was decision makers and doers too. Hopefully, both worlds can see where the other is needed...

Posted by: Keith Casey | June 30, 2008 3:20 PM

Hi Zach,

I am happy you and Kim Hart are covering the local DC tech/ social media community. I would take your analogy a little further and maybe there is a multi party system right now. Its only because with Web 2.0 there is a resurgence of innovation and new media communication. As time passes by the overlap will increase and there will be a merge of the various groups.

On a perosnal front you never know what to wear at an event. When i wear a jacket everyone else is in Jeans and a T shirt and if you wear that then chances are everyone is formally dressed. maybe its me :)

Anyway I echo Shana's sentiment that people in the DC community are very helpful to each other and I am always enthusiastic to go to local events.

Nice meeting you at the Event organized by Andrew Feinberg.


Posted by: Shashi Bellamkonda | June 30, 2008 4:03 PM

I'm flattered that our social media event pulls enough rank to be listed side-by-side with the NVTC, which I've always considered to be a great established organization. The interested thing isn't that a bunch of social media people threw a party and a lot of people showed up. What I valued about the event is that the social media, politics, and policy spaces intersected in so many different ways last week. We might not be a formal organization with membership dues, but our potential to work together in innovative ways is strong. I'm looking forward to putting some of that potential to work in the weeks and months ahead. Thanks for hanging out with us, Zach!

Posted by: Julie Germany | June 30, 2008 4:08 PM

There is strength in numbers; and after being steadily active in DC's social media community for a while, it's a thrill to see DC's social media network continue to emerge with such a collaborative outlook. I liked how Shana summarized this characteristic.

More advocacy groups, more nonprofits, and more local let alone national campaigns are adopting social tech with measurable success. I see clever, team-building uses of social tech by the Red Cross, by Senate campaigns, and so much more.

Thanks Zach for observing and interviewing those in this community. Results of these social intersections -- whether monetized or service-driven or politically based -- will continue and at a fast rate.

There is strength in numbers and social media in this town will only continue to make its mark.

Jill Foster

DC Media Makers, Co-founder

Posted by: Jill Foster | June 30, 2008 5:13 PM

I agree with Zach that there really is a clear bifurcation of the two communities. Just look at the venues and personalities like Zach mentioned, the MSM coverage like Jimmy mentioned, the clothes like Shashi mentioned, the organized presence in the community as Julie mentioned... But I agree that hopefully that division will fade as the traditional NoVa tech companies come to embrace more of the local social media people and tools. I plan to continue to enjoy our thriving DC scene in the meanwhile and maybe even cross over to that other tech town every once in a while!

Posted by: Shana Glickfield | June 30, 2008 5:24 PM

Thanks so much for covering both of these events, Zach. I'm one of the few who on any night of the week could be in either of those crowds, and I'm happy to see that there's beginning to be some overlap (though I see it more in the GBTC than the NVTC).

I think the parties were rooted in very different things -- catching some celebs and politicos versus "celebrating entrepreneurship" -- but that many of the people at the 1223 event could very easily have fit in with shirt and tie at the formal event. What scares me a little is how out of place some of the other folks might have been at 1223 in discussing the current state of the web...

It will be interesting to see how these two scenes continue to develop in the coming I think they have a lot to gain from one another. There's certainly vitality in both scenes...and talking to one another will really help to foster some good things for this scene.

Jared Goralnick

Posted by: Jared Goralnick | June 30, 2008 6:55 PM

@Jared on that subject, I reached out to NVTC today to talk about how we can begin merging these two worlds. There is a lot of value to be unlocked by these crowds mingling. More to come.

Peter Corbett

Posted by: Peter Corbett | June 30, 2008 8:00 PM

I attended the Spank party for Robert Scoble and Gary Vaynerchuk because I wanted to hang out with Robert and Gary.

I really must remind the reader that this is what the gathering was, a small get-together that mushroomed into a big event.

Unlike the Pulver Breakfasts or PodCamps, this gathering started as the ultimate cult-of-personality fest -- even I popped there to meet THE Robert Scoble -- and to meet folks I have known online, on Twitter, on Facebook, and in the blogosphere, for almost ten years!

Then it became an amazing schmooze-fest! I not only got to meet the Scobleizer and Mr. Wine Library TV but I met a dozen people I had only known virtually online!

I am very pleased to see things like this happen spontaneously in DC. It was fun, playful, generous, and I got to connect to people I had met a couple weeks prior at Geoff Livingston's BlogPotomac such as the amazing and enthusiastic Shana Glickfield.

I must rush to mention that there were very few PR and marketing folks. There was the lovely Rachelle Lacroix from Fleishman-Hillard and a couple others -- this was a group of people who were hard core geeks and nerds and programmers and developers and all the most choice horse meat in the world of entrepreneurs and programmers.

I may have read the crowd wrong, but we were all there for an audience with A-list blogger Robert Scoble and A-list video blogger, Gary Vaynerchuk.

I am still giddy that Gary Vaynerchuk recognized me from across the room and that Robert Scoble bragged to his friends that we had finally met after knowing each other online for close to 8 years.

I hope there are more of these!

Chris Abraham, Abraham Harrison

Posted by: Chris Abraham | June 30, 2008 8:01 PM

As someone who's been in both worlds, I have to say your synopsis is accurate. There's a chasm between the traditional tech types of Northern Virginia - the integrators, the government contractors, the systems folks vs. the social media and internet application people.

But I think the chasm is beginning to close and it is no longer an intentionally segregated mentality. The older tech crowd is increasingly recognizing the accomplishments and drive of their younger counterparts. Frankly, events like this make it so because they bring more notoriety.

Kudos to Andrew and Nick for putting it together.

Posted by: Jonathan Trenn | July 2, 2008 3:03 PM

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