Shedding light on life after dark

Howard Dean's Web Guru Dishes at The Harvard Club: We Were Onto Something



    Getty Images
    "Not only are we going to New Hampshire ... we're going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we're going to California and Texas and New York! And we're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan. And then we're going to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House, Yeeeeeaaaaaargh!" —Howard Dean's Iowa concession speech, 2004

    The wild and crazy folks behind the PDF Conference (that's Personal Democracy Forum, not something you'd view on your Adobe Reader) are in town this week to talk about the ever-evolving world of social media and it's effects on politics.

    They're also here to do some hobnobbing, which is exactly what was going down at last night's kickoff cocktail party at The Harvard Club.

    Assembled underneath the vaulted ceilings and gentlemanly portraits adorning the Shorenstein Center's second floor library, new media gurus like Meetup founder Scott Heiferman, New York State Senate CIO Andrew Hoppin and New York Times magazine scribe Clay Shirky shmoozed it up over hot topics like open source technology, government 2.0 and transparency.

    Imagine Facebook, but with more booze. Helping facilitate all these, well, social connections was Nicco Mele, an adjunct faculty member at Harvard's Kennedy School and a cofounder of DC-based Internet consultancy firm EchoDitto.

    Mele first cut his teeth in the world of Internet activism while working as the Dean Campaign's Technical Director way back in 2003, and knew he was onto something good.

    "I remember when I joined the Dean campaign very early on and the New York Times would write an article saying, 'John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and five other presidential candidates...,'" Mele reflected over a vodka soda, laughing about the campaign's humble beginnings.

    "Howard Dean was polling below Al Sharpton, but you know I went to one of our meet ups and hundreds of people were there for Howard Dean, and that's when I realized something was happening -- that there was an energy that the mainstream media and political establishment had missed."

    The energy lead Mele to co-found D.C.-based political web campaign company Echo Ditto and he's been advising brands, companies, and organizations -- like environmentally-friendly household goods 7th Generation, socially-responsible mutual fund PAX and Green Peace -- ever since.

    But has mainstream media caught up with social media since those heady Dean days?

    "Not by a long shot. Look, it's not mass. Nothing about social media is mass. It's many to many, one to one, it's my friends and family. You can't reach large numbers of people through it. It's fundamentally different," he definitively said, then offered this example: "You know what it is? The Internet is much more analogous to the telephone than it is to TV or newspapers. Everyone has an email account and they use it to talk to their mother."