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Digital Pros to Meet at the Democratic National Convention

BY Sarah Lai Stirland and Nick Judd | Tuesday, September 4 2012

Online communications pros at the Democratic National Convention this week might see Obama for America Digital Director Teddy Goff or chief digital strategist Joe Rospars, but everyone kind of already knows what they're up to: Trying to re-elect President Barack Obama by heading up one of the most closely watched digital operations in history.

Goff and Rospars are among dozens of digital Democrats who will be in Charlotte this week as Obama accepts his party's nomination for reelection. For Personal Democracy Plus subscribers, here's the start to a far longer list of people in Charlotte now who are worth meeting.

We did the same for the Republican National Convention last week, and that post is here.

Who would you add?


Christie George, director of New Media Ventures

George inhabits a unique niche that straddles the worlds of angel investing, technology, media, political organizing and progressive politics. As director of New Media Ventures, she's in charge of vetting sustainable business ideas with the specific aim of building a digital infrastructure that can make progressives and their ideas more effective and influential. Since its founding as a pilot project in early 2011 by a group of entrepreneurs, progressive activists and investors at the Democracy Alliance, the firm has invested in eight companies that range from National Field, which provides campaigns, causes and corporations with software to help them to manage large bodies of people mobilizing to achieve specific goals, to Upworthy, the left-leaning social media news site. Since its founding, the company has considered hundreds of business plans. Entrepreneurs with a progressive bent have to have more than an idea, George says. They actually have to have a prototype or working model that just needs some traction to gain enough momentum to move it onto a next stage of financing, whether it be from the corporate world or the world of foundations.

George is attending the Democratic National Convention to better understand how NMS might make the most of the talent and technology that will emerge from the 2012 election cycle.

"Next year is going to be really interesting in terms of technologists who have been working on the Obama campaign, and what folks are going to do, and whether we're going to see bunch of startups like National Field come out of that, or even just talent," she said. "I think there's a pretty robust talent pool that could be working in political technology afterwards, and this is the one moment for me to start thinking about what a post-election technology and human capital universe might look like."


Max Slavkin and Aaron Perry-Zucker, guerrilla progressive artists and activists

Slavkin and Zucker design things and strategize for non-profits for their day job at their company Big New Ideas while designing and writing Upworthy. The company itself grew out of the duo's 2008 project called Design for Obama. The project was born in Perry-Zucker's dorm room at the Rhode Island School of Design, when he saw an item in Design Observer that offered the domain name designforobama.org to anyone with a good idea for the domain. Perry-Zucker had been working on the Obama campaign and was inspired by Shepard Fairey's Obama poster. He and Slavkin pitched the idea of crowdsourcing poster art from designers online through a web site. Around 200 of the hundreds of posters that were submitted from all over the world eventually ended up in a coffee-table book published by Taschen, with filmmaker Spike Lee, Perry-Zucker, and Steven Heller, who is co-chair of the School of Visual Arts MFA Designer as Author Program, as co-authors.

Slavkin and Perry-Zucker are reviving DesignforObama.org this year with a new call for artists to submit poster art for the 2012 presidential cycle.

They're headed to the Democratic National Convention with the goal of putting on a pop-up show of many of those posters. They haven't asked anyone for permission to put them up, so it's not clear exactly where or when it's going to happen -- but that spontaneity and uncertainty is an integral element of the duo's modus operandi.


Talmage Cooley, founder and CEO of Democracy.com

Cooley was coy with us because he's been advised by his lawyers and media handlers to maintain a low profile before his company actually launches. But the basic idea behind the project in Cooley's own words is that it "is the first social network for politics, providing every candidate in every election with a free profile and every voter with a way to take quick online actions that make a big difference to the candidates they support."

Cooley is known as an activist and filmmaker, and was the founder of the Center to Prevent Youth Violence, a non-profit aimed at curtailing gun violence. The sheer range of his accomplishments in film and activism make him someone worth watching as he scales this new mountain.


Lauren Miller, digital director, Elizabeth Warren for Senate

Former Blue State Digital director of online communications Lauren Miller departed from the left-leaning digital communications giant in January to become digital director for Elizabeth Warren, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau architect and U.S. Senate hopeful. Among progressive online organizers, Miller is known as an email guru — but the Warren campaign has also branched out with her in charge of digital, joining Instagram and launching an Obama for America-style online counter-messaging effort. Now she's working for a candidate who, while setting up CFPB, built a team that went on to achieve some technology firsts — like launching the first federal fellowship program for technologists to work in government, something the White House picked up and ran with across agencies as part of its digital strategy. Incumbent Sen. Scott Brown won election for a lot of reasons, including an opponent who did quite a bit to make it easier for him to win. But his online team in 2010 stood out for its use of technology as well, leveraging simple tools like Google Docs as well as custom software built from the ground up in the course of the campaign. Miller just recently confirmed she'd be going to the convention, and will be one of several digital directors on hand who working in highly competitive races this year.

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Denmark, Finland, Norway, the United Kingdom and Sweden have come out on top of the Web Index, a ranking of the Web Foundation measuring the economic, social and political benefit that countries gain from the web. The United States is at number six. For the authors of the report accompanying the index, the results reflect how inequality has an impact on access to the web. "Nordic policy-makers have been quick to adopt and promote the free Internet - and open access to information - as a 21st century public good," the report states. " Others, as this year's findings show, need to move fast to catch up." The report attributes the Scandinavian countries' advantage to the countries' broader efforts to invest in public goods and establish a welfare and acting against " excess concentrations of wealth and power." With the lower inequality in those countries than in others, "the skills, means and freedoms to benefit from new technologies are widespread, which helps to explain why Scandinavian countries score highly on the political, social and economic impact of the Web GO

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