The Twin Tech Towns Come Together
Here's Zach Goldfarb's weekly update on the local technology scene.
It was a melting pot of the Washington technology community.
They came out--hundreds of them--from all sides: venture capitalists, Web developers, government contractors, online marketing pros, consultants and bloggers.
The goal of the "Twin Tech Party" was to bring together the area's two tech towns -- the old tech consisting of government contractors and Beltway bandits and the new tech consisting of social media players -- under one roof. (In this case, they filled virtually every corner of Local 16, a spacious bar on U Street in the District.)
There's no question that the goal was accomplished. The name tags on people's chests read: Booz Allen Hamilton, LivingSocial, Clearspring, Core Capital, PNC Bank, Leverpoint, WilmerHale, Ozmosis. Here's what those companies focus on, respectively: government consulting, Web 2.0 development, online widgets, venture capital, retail banking, enterprise software, law, online health.
There was a question, however, of how much one side was talking to the other. On Local 16's first floor, a scattered set of people in suits, ties removed, were talking. These were the old tech people. Up on the second floor deck, the new media people mingled. That's an oversimplification, but the separation was clear as like-minded folks talked to like-minded folks.
That said, it was a step toward bringing these towns together. Bobbie Kilberg, head of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, which represents many old tech companies, shook hands with Elias Shams, founder of District-based Web search company Searchles. "Those guys are going to be the next Google," an onlooker said, referring to the company, Searchles.
By the entrance to Local 16, three product demonstrations were set up. One was for Zippyjobs, a campus jobs site. Another was for the MIT Enterprise Forum, a business group associated with the university. Jean-Luc Park, a venture capitalist with Bethesda-based Calvert Group, was giving a presentation about it. A third was for Deliv, a new online food delivery service. Sharing a table with evDeliv was a collection of items labeled a "Beer Pong Kit."
The party was the brainchild of NVTC and a motley crew of new media types. It came three weeks and one day after two big parties were held at the same time on the same night for the NVTC and for the new media community, symbolizing the gulf between Washington's two tech towns. Sponsors for Thursday's party included NVTC, a developer group known as Widget DevCamp, Social Times, Potomac TechWire, among others.
"It's about time they got together," said Limor Schafman of Arlington technology consultancy Keystone Tech Group, who has worked with new media firms such as Red Aphid and government contractors such as Scia Solutions. "I think particularly the NVTC group has a lot to learn from the Web 2.0 crowd."
When they arrived, "each side was kind of shocked by each other," Schafman said. "They didn't see there was a common language."
Shana Glickfield, who works in public affairs but also runs the D.C. Concierge (an advice site for going out in the District), said that when she was talking to Peter Corbett of iStrategy Labs, one of the hosts of the event, they thought about using different name tags for old tech and new tech. "You can put us in the same basket but you can't make us mingle," she said jokingly. The idea was nixed.
Regardless of what it was doing for mingling old tech and new tech, the party seemed to do a little mingling when it came to one of Washington's other big divisions: politics. Glickfield introduced her friend Marco Nunez, a former John McCain staffer, as "the token Republican" of the social media crowd. After all, Washington's social media community largely overlaps with the "netroots," the liberal activists who have found a big voice online in recent years.
Robert Neelbauer, who runs tech job company StaffMagnet, noted that the social media community is divided itself between PR types, bloggers and personalities, and hardcore developers who tend to skip networking events such as Thursday's and instead meet up for geeky programming sessions, meeting regularly to discuss PHP at the offices of Greenpeace or Ruby on Rails at George Mason University.
Neelbauer said among the social media types, there's a race to be the star of the community, the person who brings together venture capitalists and startups in the same way that Michael Arrington does in Silicon Valley at his site, TechCrunch. "It' like a race for mayor of Techville," he said. "You have people who want to be the connect, the influentials, much like in Malcolm Gladwell's 'Tipping Point.'"
Art Swift, the new communications guy at NVTC, was proud of the event, and said the old-fashioned organization is definitely planning on ensuring that it won't be an "isolated" happening.
"I've only been here five weeks and I've been able to co-create a party," he said. "We're re-examining how we do things [at the NVTC]. We don't need to plan everything six months in advance. It's a testament to the social media community how fast they got things out."
Another testament to the social media community was on display downstairs at Local 16. Sarah Lacy, a popular writer and a big personality in the Silicon Valley scene, was visiting as part of her "user generated book tour" to promote her recent tome about the Web 2.0 era, "Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good."
Lacy said that when a she was planning her tour--where she visits events based on requests she gets from fans--she said Washington was the first stop because it had an enthusiastic community that sent her messages in droves urging her to visit. Boston's tech scene, she said, is dead. New York's ebbs and flows. Washington's, she said, is on its way up.
After the event, naturally, she wrote about her visit on Twitter, the minute-by-minute blogging site. Excerpts of her posts, at 1:45 p.m. Friday:
sarahcuda Had loads of fun in dc but if it's this hot this early i'm glad i'm not sticking around!! Off to nyc (where maybe it's a degree cooler?) about 6 hours ago from txt
sarahcuda still buzzing from the great night with everyone in DC and can't sleep. watching golden girls in my hotel room. from web
sarahcuda Amazing night in DC!! Thanks to all the people who bought books! about 14 hours ago from txt
sarahcuda once again: http://twintech.eventbrite.... I have about 30 books left to sell and sign in DC so bring $20 if you want one! about 22 hours ago from web
* Aaron Brazell has written up his encounter with Sarah Lacy:
"Last night at the Twin Tech Party in DC, Sarah Lacy of Business Week and I had a chance to meet for the first time. What transpired has been spun unbelievably out of control by attendees of the party. Phrases like 'Battle of the Titans', the 'Apology of the Century' and labels of me being her "arch-nemesis" have been bandied around."
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