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Last Week’s San Mateo County Democratic Tech & Politics Event Recap

Normally, I’d do a better job of writing about these events from last week, but it was a pretty crazy week. Anyway, my apologies for lateness to those who couldn’t attend the event and wanted to read the synopses here. The Technology, Politics & Innovation Panel set up by San Mateo County Democratic Party leaders Andrew Byrnes and Daniel Yost, was well organized. It was nice to see more local people who work in this area.

Tuesday’s event in Menlo Park featured six panelists: Peter Leyden, Michelle Kraus, Perla Ni, David Chiu, Josh Becker and Dave Pine. Peter gave a nice presentation about how he and the New Politics Institute are working in Congress to get more people up to speed on technology. He spoke about how ad revenue is gradually shifting over and how campaigns are benefitting from placing Google ads, for example.

Michelle formerly ran Digital Campaigns, she has participated in The Huffington Post and she has an organization called Technology and Politics in Menlo Park. She gave an interesting example of producing a low cost video ad opposing Prop. 90 in the last CA statewide election and how they were able to reach over 300,000 page views a day and capture 2 points during the election from that campaign.

Perla Ni spoke about how Voterwatch makes Congressional videos searchable and how difficult it is to make change on the Hill in terms of opening up these videos to the public, how long it takes to get access to the video transcripts and how cumbersome it is to find real information about what is discussed. She spoke about reaching out to blogs to draw attention to this issue. David Chiu co-founded Grassroots.org along with Perla, who recently founded Voterwatch.org. David addressed how often this field changes in terms of technology being used in campaigns. He talked about how important data and message are in campaigns.

Josh Becker formerly worked as a press secretary in Washington. His focus is on how we get people to use tech tools locally in campaigns, and he spoke about getting the “smart, entrepreneurial people” in Silicon Valley together to make substantive change. Then Dave Pine spoke as “Mr. Local.” A former General Counsel for Handspring, he’s now running for local office. He spoke about how technology is changing things for local elections in terms of managing contacts and voter data, YouTube videos, eVites, and Cafe Press. He mentioned the Burliingame Voice as an example of a local blog that gets some good discussion.

After their presentations, we had a lengthy Q&A discussion and then we discussed more local political engagement issues. There was some talk about whether positive or negative campaigning will make more of an impact in this election. I concur with what David Chiu said which is essentially that both will happen, but I’ll take it further and say I think the media will still focus on the negative things like the YouTube videos making fun of candidates, but that the positive things like the social networking will even it out. (I’ll admit it – I thought the sites like MySpace and Facebook were just representative of meaningless stats at first, but I’m beginning to believe that they may actually affect how some people learn about candidates and how they vote.)

There was some exciting talk about how young people (“Gen X”) are voting more now and the correlation between that data and use of the Internet in politics. Then we discussed getting a San Mateo County blog going. I typed furiously and got most of the meeting into notes, so if anyone wants the full transcript, I’d be happy to send it out by email.