Tech & The District » Internet Tech the way we see it: insights and musings on technology PR, policy and the District, from H&K’s D.C. Tech Team. Thu, 04 Aug 2011 15:06:44 +0000 en hourly 1 Redefining Innovation Tue, 01 Mar 2011 15:00:00 +0000 Ben Breit We tend to correlate innovation with factors that directly impact our economy: products invented, jobs created, money generated, etc. So when the MIT Technology Review released its annual list of the 50 Most Innovative Companies last week, few were surprised at the inclusion of usual suspects such as Google, IBM and Apple.

Still this year’s list is noteworthy in that it challenges us to develop our notion of what is truly innovative. If I were to tell you of a company that has earned no money, created no jobs, and is run mostly by part-time volunteers, you might not rush to put them it in the same breath as those aforementioned behemoths. Yet Ushahidi, an open source platform run out of Kenya, finds itself on MIT’s list while traditional and innovative giants like Verizon and Nintendo find themselves – at least for this year – on the outside looking in.

Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, spawned in the wake of the infamous and devastating post-election violence that ravaged Kenya in early 2008. Users could text or tweet to report incidents of violence they had personally witnessed. At Ushahidi headquarters, those communications translated to interactive maps tracking areas of the country where the violence was most prevalent. In turn, perpetrators were brought to justice and lives were saved.

Since then, Ushahidi has served a prominent role in disaster relief, most notably in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Survivors in need of immediate assistance utilized the platform to inform first responders where to direct relief. Since then, it’s branched out to other Third World countries to map instances of government oppression, voter fraud and tracking UN Aid effectiveness.

With every decisive international event that prominently features Ushahidi, we’re seeing first-hand that there are metrics other than earnings and jobs that define innovation. For Ushahidi, it’s lives saved. And you can’t put a price on that.

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The Technology Industry: Paving the Way to Recovery Fri, 11 Feb 2011 19:53:09 +0000 Ben Breit This week, I had the pleasure of attending The Atlantic’s digital town hall on “Finding Work, Finding Our Way: Building the Economy & Jobs of the Future” at the Newseum. Those of us in attendance were treated to enlightening interviews and discussions with a “who’s who” of D.C. power brokers and thought leaders. We witnessed a lively debate on America’s place in the global economy – and how to get back to our pre-crisis level of prosperity.

Leading off was the main headliner, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Undeniably brilliant and fascinatingly complex, it’s intriguing to see him in person. Perhaps no man or woman in the country (outside of President Obama) is under more pressure than Geithner, and it’s evident when you see him speak. Every word he says is so carefully measured, as if he’s constantly thinking “one careless word could send the markets back into a tailspin.” Geithner acknowledged the uphill climb he’s responsible for leading– after all, eight million jobs were lost at the onset of the recession, only a million of which have returned. He was also realistic about the immediate prospects of struggling industries such as housing and construction, after effects of the “trauma” of the crisis.

But the industry leading the way through the recovery?: hi-tech. Secretary Geithner explained America’s technology companies are innovating at higher rates than ever – a bright spot in an otherwise bleak economy. And he said the industry isn’t outsourcing jobs at nearly the same rate as others. The top engineers in the world still gravitate here, he said – a trend that is helping the U.S. mitigate the effects of the recession. Geithner left us all with a greater understanding of our current economic status and provided a road map to spur further growth.

Reserved. Discreet. Apathetic. None of these words describe FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. He’s emerged as one of the more high profile members of the Obama Administration. The President’s State of the Union pledge to bring wireless broadband to 98% of the American population has put Genachowski firmly in the spotlight, while his pro-net neutrality stand has earned him equally populated legions of loyal fans – and heated rivals.

The always engaging Genachowski repeatedly stressed the importance of bringing high-speed internet to rural areas normally slow to adopt advanced technology. Genachowski said internet access is critical to farmers who rely on it to sell their produce and follow weather patterns. Businesses are rapidly fleeing small towns where high-speed wireless is unavailable.

Moderator Judy Woodruff of PBS asked how the U.S. stacks up against the world in wireless technology. Genachowski’s answer was to the point: “not well.” He reaffirmed his commitment to pushing 4G throughout the country in support of the “apps economy” – something he sees as a major growth factor. Genachowski was eager to discuss the tablet rise, predicting tablets will soon replace textbooks in high school and college classrooms throughout the country. As someone who not too long ago was lugging 40 lb backpacks from class to class, all I can say is “amen.”

While Geithner and Genachowski were hard acts to top, the ensuing participants offered some interesting insights. Senator Orrin Hatch (likely facing a conservative primary challenge) answered the question “is it possible to insert Tea Party rhetoric into every answer no matter the question?” with a definitive yes. He topped it off by recalling a conversation with “my good friend Jeff Zuckerberg from Facebook.” Maybe they’re not as close as he thought…

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell gave an impressive outline of ways state governments can engage with China. I was also intrigued by the manner in which states are engaging in intense competition for relocating businesses. McDonnell and North Carolina Governor Beverly Purdue in particular appear to be in the swing of a friendly business recruitment rivalry.

For me, the highlight of the event came in one of the panel discussions, courtesy of Safi Bahcall, CEO of Synta Pharmaceuticals – a successful startup focusing on cancer medication. He spoke in reference to Woodruff’s earlier satellite Q&A with students from the University of Miami (Ohio) and University of North Carolina. Literally every student who had secured a job for next year was on his or her way to a financial firm. Bahcall commented, “you know what I want to see some of these kids say? ‘I want to cure cancer.’ I’m pretty sure the world doesn’t need another hedge fund manager.”

And that’s the message I took from Finding Work, Finding Our Way. The current economic picture may be somber at best, but no country has more resources to dig its way out than the United States. It’s a matter of aiming big, not small. Bunt singles are nice, but its home run hitters like Chairman Genachowski and Safi Bahcall who will truly put runs on the board.

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Google Teaches Your Mom How to Use the Internet Wed, 15 Dec 2010 16:08:11 +0000 Ben Breit

Here in the Nation’s Capitol, we tend focus a lot on our differences. Democrat vs. Republican; native vs. transplant, city dweller vs. suburbanite; and of course, Shanahan vs. Haynesworth. Thankfully, our friends at Google have reminded us that there is one quality that unites us: we all have an older relative who is clueless about technology – and counts on us to walk him or her through every nominal task.

I certainly can relate. I’ll never forget the day I taught my uncle that it was indeed possible to email multiple people at once (the poor guy had been forwarding the same message to his friends individually). My roommate figured out a way to access his parents’ computers from afar so he wouldn’t have to walk them through instructions over the phone anymore.

Google’s new Teach Parents Tech operation aims to put an end to this. This creative initiative allows you to send customized videos to your less tech-savvy relatives on subjects ranging from ranging from copying and pasting to unsubscribing to newsletters.

Yes, some of the videos are slightly self-promotional. For example, the “how to shorten a long URL” video utilizes rather than the more widely utilized And if this is meant for tech beginners, they probably don’t need to be taught how to create their own blogs. Still, I found it to be an a unique and effective educational tool – as well as a time saver for people like me.

Has anyone else utilized Teach Parents Tech yet? What are your thoughts?

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Americans Spend More Time On Social Networks Than Checking Email Wed, 11 Aug 2010 20:11:54 +0000 Lauren Wilson A recent Nielson study, What Americans Do Online: Social Media And Games Dominate Activity, found some interesting statistics on Americans’ Internet usage. The percentage of time the average person in the U.S. spends on social networking Web sites has increased by 43 percent, while the time spent checking email decreased by 28 percent. Playing games online and watching videos or movies are the only other areas of Internet usage with significant increases.

When looking at mobile Internet usage, the scene is a little different. Email accounts for 41.6 percent of time mobile phones are online. My guess is that some of this difference has to do with screen size. I find it a lot easier to read an email on my mobile phone than to surf a social networking site.

How does your Internet use compare, both on your personal computer and on your mobile device? Do you find these statistics a little bit of a surprise as I did? This study has been popular on a variety of blogs this week, so check out what Mashable and GigaOM have to say as well.

By Sara Hiller (Tech Intern)

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On the Agenda Mon, 29 Mar 2010 15:27:54 +0000 Lindsay Campbell March came in like a lamb and with this rainy weather, it is certainly going out like a lion. But with April right around the corner and a fresh calendar month to fill up with events, we have a list of some of DC’s hottest tech events posted right here.

Check out these below to close out March with and to get you through the first two weeks of April. Stay tuned for more upcoming tech events in the DC area! See you there!

·         March 30thMobile Outlook 2010

·         March 30thNational Press Club – Blogging Basics

·         March 31stFuture of the Internet IV –Panelists include Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Kim Hart, editor of Hillicon Valley and past “Tech in 5” guest.

·         March 31st#L2 Tweet Up 

·         April 2ndiPad Eve Happy Hour

·         April 14th – Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation examines the national broadband plan

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Privacy and the Terminator Wed, 17 Mar 2010 21:58:42 +0000 duncanburns

Great piece today by Steve Lohr in the NY Times (A1, above the fold) on How Privacy Vanishes online. Though the concept of digital litter and eroding privacy expectations have been around for a while, and are perhaps fodder for some of our more technology-phobic friends, family and colleagues, the story points to what I think is likely to be a big new battleground in DC. At what point should the government step in online and protect us from ourselves?

They already do to some extent with other forms of content/communication like films and games with rating systems and phone lines with do not call registries, but in some ways these are incoming rather than outgoing communications where we are voluntarily (phishing aside) for the most part divulging what used to be considered personal and private.

Where should the FTC, Congress or states draw the line on what’s acceptable – balancing individual freedom to share with protecting those individuals in spite of themselves? Having been a victim of banking fraud, I personally don’t want anyone guessing my social security number, but perhaps I’m already at risk given what I’ve put out there.

It’s going to be interesting to see how new tech dynamos work with government to find that balance. I’m sure it’ll be a full and frank discussion to borrow some diplomatic speak, but perhaps the discussion in itself will help educate a broader swath of people about the risks of some of what they’re putting online.

For companies in this space, start communicating your point of view now if you aren’t already, and talk about the options you’re giving your customers, and the ways you’re protecting them. Given the Whac-A-Mole style of politics at time, I’m not sure how much longer online companies are going to be able to get away with an approach of “ask for forgiveness not permission” when it comes to privacy. Though Google and Facebook are two prominent examples of firms dealing with these issues, they won’t be the last and at least they’ve built up enough trust, brand recognition and goodwill to make adjustments without too much damage. Can we say that about most companies grappling with these issues?

Perhaps we all just need to go off the grid like John Connor…? 

Is this what we can expect if we share too much online?

Is this what we can expect if we share too much online?

]]> 1 VeriSign Celebrates dot-com in Style Wed, 17 Mar 2010 14:08:35 +0000 Chad Torbin

I was fortunate enough to score an invite to VeriSign’s impressive 25th anniversary bash of the .com domain at the Ronald Reagan Building yesterday. The event featured an extraordinary line-up of speakers including Bill Clinton, Fareed Zakaria, Reed Hundt, Mo Rocca and tech journo superstars Kevin Maney and Kara Swisher.  While my favorite part of the day was when Kara Swisher jokingly referred to Google in 20 years as the next potential SkyNet – better known as the company that created the Terminators – the topics of the day surely focused on the dot-com boom both past and present.

While the event featured two stellar panels, I found Kevin Maney’s morning panel discussion with Rod Beckstrom (H&K client), Robert Atkinson, Rocca and Hundt particularly interesting. Clinton always steals the show, but for the benefit of tech I thought I’d talk to one of the threads that came out of the panel. Hundt brought up the idea of the Internet as this generation’s “common medium for humanity.” While my parents’ generation had the television, my generation is glued to the Internet. And why not? According to Mark McLaughlin, president and chief executive of VeriSign, today we have close to 85 million names registered.

But make no mistake of Beckstrom’s role and ability as President and CEO of ICANN to make the Internet work for everyone. His quest to expand the number of top level domain names is central to Hundt’s closing argument: “We haven’t yet wrapped the whole world in the common language of dotcom-ism,” he said. “It’s an important thing to do.”

A classy celebration of dot-com is just the beginning. Here’s looking forward to the next 25 years and a hope that folks like Hundt, Beckstrom and all the other entrepreneurs out there can continue to focus on upholding the values that unite our common humanity.

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FTC Updates Endorsement Regs to Address Social Media Tue, 06 Oct 2009 15:44:56 +0000 Vanessa Truskey Today the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recognized the growing influence of social media on the consumer by introducing new regulations aimed at bloggers who review products and provide testimonials.  According to the New York Times, these bloggers must now disclose any connection with advertisers, including if they’ve received free products or payment from the advertisers whose products they are reviewing.  This will also apply to celebrities.  Ad Age reports that violators could be fined up to $11,000 and could be held liable for false statements, including those made on Twitter or Facebook.

This seems to be a huge win for the consumer:  no more misleading reviews from bloggers whom they consider to be objective third parties.  And while it may plug a revenue stream bloggers came to rely on, in a way, it’s a win for them as well.  It is recognition of their growing influence, something many bloggers have fought for and struck out on their own to prove.

 Tech & The District readers should know that we’ve been abiding by this disclosure regulation since the inception of this blog.  (I’m sad to report we are not flooded with free products or payments for our statements – but that’s why we’ve been objective all along.)   I’m proud to work for a company that has outlined such clear, mutually-agreed-upon social media principles which included right from the beginning a full disclosure of our client links.  You can read all H&K guidelines here – the same guidelines which received kudos from ZDNet’s Sam Diaz  just last week. 

It will be interesting to see how the FTC enforces these new regulations.  In the interest of continuing our disclosures, we did host Sam Diaz for lunch while he was at the Washington Post, but we made him work for that lunch, so it doesn’t count as payment, right?  Just shows the importance of openness and transparency when working on the web.

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On the Agenda Tue, 29 Sep 2009 20:59:22 +0000 Lindsay Campbell September 29, 2009 – PRSA Webinar – Digital Marketing: The Shift of Advertising and the Creative Renaissance

September 29, 2009 – Health 2.0 – Discussing the use of Web 2.0 at the FDA and in local Healthcare

September 29, 2009 – GrowSmartBiz Conference with Wired’s Chris Anderson

September 30, 2009 – DC Media Makers Meetup

September 30, 2009 – Climate Legislation in the U.S. Senate: Will there Be a Bill this Year?  What Will it Look Like?

October 1, 2009 – ZapForum DC: SOA & EA Networking Event

October 8, 2009 – Energy and Natural Resources Hearing

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Antitrust in a Web 2.0 World Thu, 30 Jul 2009 20:17:01 +0000 Vanessa Truskey Here is a follow up post on antitrust from our guest blogger Mitchell Derman, vice president in H&K’s Corporate Practice.  If you need a refresher, you can read Mitch’s original blog post by clicking here.


Antitrust in a Web 2.0 World

This past June, I posted a blog entry about antitrust and its relationship with the technology sector.  I had raised the question about whether or not the current antitrust laws could meet the dynamic challenges of a Web 2.0 world.  Well, the legal and policy pundits now have their first real opportunity with Microsoft’s and Yahoo’s announcement yesterday about a shared search deal.

Needless to say, but a truly interesting development with Yahoo fending off Microsoft’s acquisition attempts last year.  Now, Yahoo – an Internet pioneer – essentially is getting out of the search business and focusing more on content – a risky, yet bold move.  And, Microsoft, after years of attempts to counter Google’s market leadership in search appears to have a winner with Bing.

From an antitrust perspective, the central issue is: Can two companies partner to create more competition in search advertising.  Google really needs to be careful in how it positions itself; how it shapes a pro-competitive message when it is the dominant player in search advertising is indeed a challenge.  Only time will tell.

For more insights on the Yahoo/Microsoft deal, read Rob Pegoraro’s piece in today’s Washington Post.

Note: H&K does work for Yahoo! and Microsoft in various locations around the world.

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