November 8, 2008

Web 2.0 Summit Day 3: Political roundtable, Al Gore

Web 2.0 Summit wrapped up its fifth annual tech conference with a bang this afternoon, with former Vice President (and former Next President of the United States) Al Gore giving a stirring talk. Above is one of several dozen photos I shot of Gore.

I spent most of the day taking photos — here’s the 160-photo Flickr set. Meantime, here are a few notes I scribbled down in my notebook from a fascinating day:

• Brilliant theme for the conference: “Web Meets World.” Time to bring the Web 2.0 phenomenon down from the clouds to the ground. The conference did that, mostly.

• Probably the most entertaining political roundtable I’ve ever seen, with the witticisms coming fast and furious, took place at Web 2.0 Friday with Arianna Huffington, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and former Howard Dean and John Edwards political advisor Joe Trippi. Some Trippi-isms from today: “Remember Sarah Palin? I call her the Trojan moose of the Republican Party.” … He suggested a few days ago that Obama created a site to implement his reform agenda; a similar site,, just launched. … “I think the president will have even more power and Congress less, and God help those who stand in the way.” … And my favorite: “In 1992 it was, ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ Today it’s, “It’s the network, stupid.” The Internet, that is. … He said the three major factors that led to Obama’s victory were: 1. money, and the ability of the Internet to create a huge network of grassroots supporters; 2. organization, and the ability of the Internet for supporters to organize in support of his candidacy; 3. grassroots media, particularly the ability of supporters to create viral videos to extend his message. “This is civic engagement on a level we’ve never seen before.”

• Ariana Huffington: “The Internet has killed Karl Rove politics.”

• Mayor Gavin Newsom reports that, outside of the presidential candidates, he has more Facebook supporters than any other politician. True? Not sure. As of tonight, he has 11,929 followers/supporters, and he’s now a “Facebook fanatic” after not knowing what Facebook was just a year or two ago.

• Newsom on the social media capabilities of the crowd in 2008: “We’re in a reality TV series 24/7. … It’s a new world and not going away. … You’re on the record 24 hours a day. Get over it. … Authenticity, we all like it, unless it’s authenticity we don’t like.” As in the YouTube video of Newsom badly singing I Left My Heart in San Francisco, the top result for the mayor on YouTube.


• You may have seen Elon Musk with Leslie Stahl on a recent edition of 60 Minutes talking about his new Silicon Valley-based car company, Tesla Motors, which just suffered a round of layoffs. Musk, who brought one of his new cars to the curb outside the show, said the company’s idea was to create a car “faster than a Ferrari and more efficient than a Prius.” The cars travel 250 miles without the need for a recharge. Funny moment when Battelle, trying to sound like a Track and Driver writer, asked: “How many cylinders?” “Zero,” came the quick response. The beauties cost $109,000 and will come down in price to $100,000 next year; only 1,500 are being produced (I think). Remember, Musk reminded us, at the turn of the 1900s only rich people bought cars while everyone else still rode horses, so that high initial price point is a time-honored tradition.

• Did you know the last successful new car startup was Jeep in 1941? So says Musk.

• I wish John or Tim had a one-on-one conversation with Kevin Rose of Digg on the couch instead of a solo presentation at the lectern.

• Tremendous presentation by my longtime friend Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices, about the Chinese government’s crackdown on speech. Conducting a search query on for Tiananmen Square will get you an antiseptic picture of the square but nothing about the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. She told me over lunch, and again during her talk, that acts of censorship — in Chinese chat rooms, forums and blog posting services — are “largely being done by the private sector” at the behest of the Chinese government. Companies that refuse to go along would lose their business license.

• I’ve seen and met Al Gore on a number of occasions, including some alleged stalking incidents in 2006. Gore was in rare form tonight, rousing the crowd to two standing ovations. He underscored the point that the polar ice cap over the North Pole has been there for 3 million years — but — it’s expected to disappear completely for the first time during the summer months in about five years because of climate change. This is real, and it’s serious, people.

• Said Gore: “This is an apocalyptic signal from the planet itself. … We are now poised to completely disrupt the planetary equilibrium in a way that threatens civilization itself.”

• Videos of the sessions, including Gore’s talk, will be available at the site in a week or two.

• From the New York Times Bits blog: Al Gore on Finding a Real Purpose for Web 2.0.

“The purpose, I would urge all of you — as many of you as are willing
to take it up — is to bring about a higher level of consciousness about
our planet and the imminent danger and opportunity we face because of
the radical transformation in the relationship between human beings and
the Earth,” Mr. Gore said Friday evening at the Web 2.0 Summit in San

In other words, Web 2.0 should be used to fight global warming. …

• One suggestion for next year: One of the aspects of conferences like Web 2.0 I think can be improved is how to continue the discussion after a quick 5- to 20-minute session ends. I understand that not all speakers are keen to stick around after their talk. But some are. The MIT Media Lab has a great solution: Diving Deeper tables. After a session ends, the speakers come out to mingle with audience members who want to continue the discussion and trade ideas. It’s a brilliant technique and deserves to be emulated by conferences willing to innovate.JD Lasica, founder of, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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