Tom Foremski, Mike at TechDirt, and Dan Farber reported on the Tech Policy Summit this morning with some laments. They cheered the high-level speakers and the big media names involved as moderators, but they wondered why there weren't more techies at the Silicon Valley event.
First off, the organizer, Natalie Fonseca writes at her blog: "With over 280 people registered and a capacity of 300 attendees, we were very pleased with the level of interest we received in planning this event."
As well noted here, I was loosely involved in the conference as one of several "advisors". That basically meant that I provided my two cents a year ago about the viability of a tech policy event in the Valley and then gave my thoughts from time to time on the program. So there. I am biased -- but from a detached, hopefully objective perspective.
First off, the impact of Sunday's weather on the event can't be diminished. It basically was close to impossible to get to San Jose from the East Coast unless you were extremely motivated. This had to have a big hit on who showed.
And, those who registered from Silicon Valley and didn't make the drive down the 101 for one or both days apparently got stuck in the industry vortex that makes ADD the rule, and reflection, the exception.
But, all those tactical points aside, the question should be asked why large segments of Silicon Valley are seemingly detached from Washington and policy that many didn't put a portion of the energy into getting into this conference that is expended finagling their way into a TechCrunch party. Thoughts....
Just because you are wearing a tie doesn't mean that you aren't a techie. The geek set needs to get over itself and realize that government affairs folks that work for Big, Important technology companies that comprise the lion share of Valley market cap look more like lawyers than Web programmers. Many of these same people have been working in the industry for more than a decade and have a strong holistic knowledge of the sector. Many of these same people were at the Tech Policy Summit.
Tech Policy 1.0 exists, but there is no new beta version. I was among the gang that helped get the big industry lobbying group TechNet launched and running a decade a go. While other trade groups existed, TechNet filled a vacuum in the Valley for homegrown, CEO-driven policy leadership. For at least three years after that, TechNet drove headlines in the Valley as executives pushed big policy initiatives and Silicon Valley was the hot place to be for visiting policymakers.
Ten years later, TechNet is still CEO driven, but, like other trade groups, is based in DC and for the vast majority of the year is more of a behind-the-scenes player in getting important policy matters done and driving political fundraising for the industry. That is, finger nails are getting dirty, successes are had, but the work isn't tremendously sexy or easily translatable to a Valley audience.
This is a problem.
If the Valley is a source of constant innovation and churn, how we go about shaping and leading policy should be, too. I've ranted on this before, but, it's one small example that not one of the major industry trade groups even has a blog.
In Valley terms, this effectively cedes thought leadership to folks with big social media voices who speak with authority, but, frankly, often have little clue about how the policy process really works (or doesn't). And, more and more, the traditional media picks up these sources as drivers of their stories. This all just adds to the cacophony of competing "industry" voices on policy matters that makes it even harder for legislators to translate. And they thought they had it tough with 23 different trade groups.
Instead of creating noise, we need to harness the energy of social media. There needs to be a new beta hybrid version of the old way of doing policy work and the new way of communicating across audiences by creating community and collaboration.
People are too busy trying to get bought by Google to notice that they might get screwed. This is an oldie, but goodie but has even stronger resonance in today's more boot-strapped Web 2.0 era. Companies are just trying to hit their monetization numbers to please their board at the next quarterly meeting. Big picture policy issues simply aren't on their radar enough to meet face to face with a Congressman who might stamp out their business model with a bill drafted by a competitive force. (Think privacy, video policy, content regulation, etc.)
This is completely understandable, btw. It's the nature of the game. And, it's also human nature. But, it also means that the wake-up call will be made pretty soon and those who are ready to answer it might gain some competitive advantage of their own.
(BTW, since the incentive is stronger for the start-ups, those in the green tech space aren't waiting around for direction).
The older kids need to help the younger kids. We can't expect busy start-ups and other new influential forces in the Valley to figure all this out by osmosis alone. The big companies and established industry groups need to make a focused effort to educate and integrate them into, at least, a two-way conversation about policy priorities and actions.
The bottom line is that tech policy has matured, but by its nature the industry, itself, has a large segment of it driven by a constant state of immaturity. This is a healthy thing for business. But, the divide must be acknowledged and bridged, to create effective policy.
Once this is done, future Tech Policy Summits should be a vibrant mix of suits, geeks, ivory-tower types, and, micro-celebrity A-list bloggers.
What do you think? How would you shape future events like this?