Will the Twin Tech Towns Find Common Ground?

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

In Washington politics, of course, we have the two-party system.

In Washington technology, we have new and old.

It's an election year, so it's not hard to guess which of those divided Washington worlds is trying to come together.

In the new tech crowd are the social media types who live on Facebook and MySpace, build applications for the Web and, in some cases, have created companies that are generating tons of Internet buzz and even quite a bit of money. In the old tech crowd are the system integrators, database builders and technology service companies that rely on the government for business.

The two communities certainly have never had the hostility that the Republicans and Democrats have had. Rather, they've operated in two different universes, a theme illustrated recently by two major events held on the same night and at the same time by the two different communities.

The gatherings -- one hosted by the Northern Virginia Technology Council in McLean and another by a loosely connected number of groups at a hip District club -- were featured in Tech Post.

Since the column was published, the local technology community has been abuzz searching for ways to introduce Mr. Facebook to Mr. Government Enterprise, exchange business cards and maybe even do a little business together.

Peter Corbett, who runs a local Web consulting company called iStrategy Labs, has been one of the cheerleaders of this effort. He called NVTC to see if the powerful business group would be interested in reaching out to the social media crowd. It was. And on Thursday, at District club Local 16, more than 400 people from both the local Web 2.0 scene and the more established technology companies that dot the Beltway are registered to come together to mingle.

"There didn't seem to be too much crossover between the two crowds," Corbett said. "This new media community in D.C. has a lot to learn from the veterans out in Northern Virginia, but they also bring a ton of talent and passion to this area."

A big question is how many of the veterans -- the more established crowd -- will show up at Local 16. Who will be able to break away from their jobs or families to hang with a group of twenty-somethings? A look at the guest list shows a huge turnout -- but not many, yet, from old tech. The plan for the party makes clear there's a desire out there to connect old tech and new tech. But will this party be a first step toward doing that, or will it illuminate even more how far apart the two communities are?

In any event, the gathering has been attracting attention. Three other old tech organizations -- the D.C. Technology Council, the D.C. Economic Partnership and the Greater Baltimore Technology Council -- are backing the event. And in true Web form, a noted technology writer who has been on a "user-generated book tour" will stop by to say a few words. Sarah Lacy, a BusinessWeek columnist who recently wrote a book about the new media scene, "Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good," writes about start-ups and venture capital in Silicon Valley.

On his blog, Corbett wrote that he has two goals for the party. First, "I want business to get done: find talent, find funding, meet a partner/a client/an advisor," he wrote. Second, he added, "I want people to start talking about creating an technology lab in the heart of DC that will support entrepreneurs who are building the next iteration of the web."

Corbett said the local new media scene, which was just percolating when he arrived in the area in 2004, has taken off. And that community itself is split -- very broadly -- into a few categories. There are Web 2.0 companies that have become real businesses -- firms such as the big widget maker Clearspring of McLean, Webs of Silver Spring and LivingSocial of the District. There are the evangelists for the local Web 2.0 scene, the bloggers and the programmers.

Equally as interesting are the people active in social media but operating under the radar. "A lot of the other folks are night and weekend basement and condo type things," Corbett said. "While they're working for the Booz Allen Hamiltons of the world and the AOLs and the Accentures, they're trying to build the next best Clearspring."

Meanwhile, a player from the old tech community has been working with a few guys from the new tech community to create a company to energize hiring and business across Washington's entire technology scene.

The company, called Crossmine, is a jobs database for the area that soaks up listings from hundreds of start-ups as well as more established companies like the government contractor SRA International. It's the brainchild of a old-time entrepreneur in the area named Bob Nelson, though its roster also includes Barg Upender, who's hard at work building a local Web development firm called Intridea.

"I came up with the idea of going to all the Web sites of all the high-tech companies in Washington and mining the jobs out of them and putting it into a central directory on the Web," Nelson said. Nelson has had a window into the process as an adviser to the Reston firm Clarabridge, which does this type of service for big companies.

"In Washington in particular we are highly underserved in the number of entrepreneurial companies we have relative to the knowledge workers, PhDs and research facilities we have," he said. "And part of the reason is the region isn't as networked among entrepreneurs as it needs to be."

Crossmine is just in a testing phase, culling and mashing up data from the jobs site SimplyHired to provide a snapshot of who's hiring in the Washington region. It has raised $100,000 from two well-known venture capitalists and entrepreneurs: Jim Rutt, former chief executive of Network Solutions, and Tom Spahr, one of the early people at McLean tech giant MicroStrategy.

Crossmine is looking for more money.

But it's still decided to sponsor this Thursday's old tech/new tech party.

By Zachary Goldfarb  |  July 11, 2008; 10:29 AM ET  | Category:  TechPost
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Nice article. I'd refer to my Doers v. Talkers article to drive the point home between the two types in the newer crowd, but I'm biased.

Alot of important people are not building the companies but offering expertise, cheerleading and advice to those who are doing the evening and weekend thing to create the technologies.

Posted by: Aaron Brazell | July 11, 2008 2:06 PM

We are really looking forward to this event. There has been a lot of talk lately distinguishing these two "separate" communities. What's nice is we all really share the same goal, create an environment within this area that can foster long term growth for the technology community here.

Shawn Busteed

Posted by: Shawn Busteed | July 11, 2008 2:16 PM

I just want to point out that there is already a blending of the DC, VA and MD technology crowds that the Washington Post sends people to called Social Matchbox (www.socialmatchbox.com). This upcoming event is one that we're a part of too, but it isn't the first and it won't be the last. The last two events were held at TeqCorner in Tysons Corner and were very well attended with close to 200 people and 30+ startup and interactive firms presenting to the group. That's in addition to networking.

But that isn't the only time these groups come together. The event that helped pay for this one also brought these crowds together, it was called WidgetDevCamp. Another event that brings these crowds together is BarCamp, and it happened last October. Another one is coming up in either September or October (location TBD).

Others groups (which are different from un-conferences like BarCamp and WidgetDevCamp) like NextDC, the DC Make Meetup, HacDC, and the Web 2.0 (etc.) meetup are also popular mixers that draw in very diverse crowds from around the metro (and from across startup vs. companies that stuck around after the last bubble). NextDC is a study group. Make and HacDC are techie groups. Web 2.0 Meetup attendees just like to know who's who and what the latest buzz is all about.

The biggest challenge that these groups face is finding locations that can accomodate large crowds of people without breaking the bank. This presents a challenge to the startup community because startup companies can't throw their limited resources around for everyone's event every month.

For a long running history of DC area tech events you might want to visit DCTechEvents.com. For jobs that reach across the DC, VA, MD startup and interactive firm community you may want to check out Jobmatchbox.com.

It is good to see that the Washington Post has started to notice that there is something going on outside of web 2.0 celebrity spottings like the Mashable event. There are quite a few local web 2.0 celebrities.

Posted by: The Jobmatcbox Team | July 11, 2008 2:24 PM

Great article and looking forward to the event. I certainly agree with Peter that a number of early stage social media companies are operating well under the radar. Even at the university level, student/alumni groups like GW Web Ventures (http://gwwebventures.com) are increasingly looking to connect with the greater technology community. Events like Twin Tech Party are exactly what this area needs to bring people out of the woodwork and into the discussion.

Sam Blum

Posted by: Sam Blum | July 11, 2008 2:59 PM

Very much looking forward to this event. Like Bob from Jobmatchbox pointed out, this is far from the first event of its kind (Netpreneur, for instance), but what stands out is that this "new media" / web product oriented crowd has grown enough to be sizable and recognizable as its own community.

The one question is what bringing the communities' awareness of one another will actually accomplish. Will it help the old school companies to adhere to more standards and produce better enterprise applications? Will business owners from both sides find a larger talent pool (in each other's employees)?

I hope that relationships form so that better technologies can be used and thus clients can be better served or better apps can be built. I just hope that people can see past that the old school "doesn't get it" and the new school "is a bunch of kids without a business model." There's a lot of education that needs to happen in both communities that just isn't right now.

I don't necessarily see anything big happening yet. Certainly not with one event. But this is a great start and I'm glad it's getting some attention.

Jared Goralnick

Posted by: Jared Goralnick | July 11, 2008 4:59 PM

My experience has been that there is a wide gulf between the new tech crowd and the old tech (?) crowd. A lot of the old tech crowd does not seem to understand or trust the new media tools and businesses.

It's frustrating because there are mutual benefits to be had. The old tech crowd needs to learn why new tech is good and how to embrace the tools of the LinkedIn/Facebook/Web 2.0 generation. On the other hand, the old tech crowd has business experience and relationships that would really help the new tech crowd. The divide needs a bridge.

Danny Allen

Posted by: Danny Allen | July 11, 2008 5:32 PM

the local groups are segmented into logical constituencies. designers, developers, pr, technology and so on. things like SXSW get all the families together.

I think its interesting how useful we all are to each other. You might only ever go to the AIGA meetups because you are a designer, then you go to Refresh DC for the first time and meet some web developers, then you attend a social media club and meet a PR guy. the 3 of them then go on to greatness.

Posted by: Jesse Thomas | July 12, 2008 10:07 AM

This is starting to remind me of the split 10 years ago between traditional and digital media. The old guard didn't "get" the new and were so soft and plump they denied and derided the change as long as they could (to their detriment).

Also then, as now, there was a lot of press hype and foolish overinvestment in bad new ideas, which only gave the old guard courage and ammunition to resist.

The new wound up owning the old last time, and will do so again.

After the 2.0 bubble pops it will become all the more obvious that the cultural transformation driven by social media is massive, accelerating and irresistible. Solid businesses will be built around these new realities.

My money's on the rising crowd.

Literally. I tossed some bucks into the free-drinks kitty for next week.

But the old guard's invited to the bar too! Let's talk.


Posted by: Craig Stoltz | July 12, 2008 1:11 PM

As someone that has had feet in both sectors, it strikes me that the two camps are called old tech (system integrators, gov't tech contractors ...) and new tech (web 2.0, digital media ...).

I think that systems integrators and government tech contractors should already be developing expertise in and integrating new technologies (social media, digital media ...) into their offerings.

It's just that they apply technologies others have created as opposed to being the original creators of the technology.

Perhaps the camps should be "tech applicators" and "tech creators".

Either way, I look forward to the event!

(Emerging Growth Tech podcasts)

Posted by: Blake Glenn | July 12, 2008 10:19 PM


Thanks for being the catalyst for these 2 like minded groups to come together. Peter Corbett has taken a smart step with this event.

I try to attend all the new media events in DC but I guess i am going to miss this one as I am 8500 miles away in Hyderabad Indis on vacation.

Please blog and Twitter about it in glory.

Shashi Bellamonda at Network Solutions

Posted by: Shashi Bellamkonda | July 14, 2008 8:42 PM

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