“Boy was I ever important,” New York Times columnist David Carr declared during his Internet Week keynote. That’s when the newspapers’ presses – located one floor below — would come to life after he had submitted an important scoop, “and you would feel the rumble in your butt,” Carr said.
Now, the once all-powerful cabal of media gatekeepers and its machinery has surrendered to the hordes of startups and content-producing barbarians of the digital age. Even as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg used this annual festival of 250 events to revel in his city surpassing Boston as a haven for tech entrepreneurs and announce the new Made in NY Digital Jobs Map, it all went down in the shadow of that social media behemoth in Menlo Park, California and its impending Initial Public Offering.
It was entirely appropriate to watch Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ring Nasdaq’s Wall Street bell by remote control on Friday from the comfort of his headquarters’ courtyard on the other end of the country. Mayor Bloomberg may have seen it fit to parade a young entrepreneur who had moved to Silicon Valley only to return to New York City’s “Silicon Alley” four months later as proof of the city’s economic resurgence, but even the grizzled reporters in the front row saw past this ruse. A CEO barely out of his teens who had hightailed it back home after such a short West Coast rite of initiation proved nothing.
Certainly, there is much to trumpet in the tech renaissance of a city that has still yet to properly recover from the 2008 economic crisis. But this week also saw Forbes call out Seattle as the best city for tech jobs, thanks to the huge demand for employees with skills in the science, technology, engineering and math fields (STEM). New York, by comparison, ranks #33 on the Forbes list. Bloomberg has moved quickly to address this, by striking deals with top-flight universities such as Cornell and Israel’s Technion Institute, which will partner for a new higher education facility in Roosevelt Island. Washington state’s colleges, by comparison, are not producing enough homegrown talent to meet regional demand.
Maybe it was my own conditioning as a product of the Columbia Journalism School and former NBC News journalist that convinced me we had to use Internet Week as a selling opportunity for our own graduate degree program, and just-announced digital media bootcamp. This was especially true when a few self-important digital media execs passed by our booth and wondered aloud whether there was a tech industry in Seattle, or “I thought the University of Washington was in D.C.” We have to fight for relevance in region teeming with brand-name institutions, even as business and political leaders here wonder aloud about their own.
“So you’re here to steal our ideas,” my General Assembly tour guide half-joked when I explained why I wanted to tour their campus, part-incubator, part casual college for entrepreneurs. I was actually looking for a way to establish an east coast partner for some our Seattle-flavored “TED meets graduate school” seminar series. But I realized immediately that this was a non-starter.
We finally broke through that Big Apple brusqueness when we co-hosted a happy hour in the SoHo neighborhood in partnership with Seattle social media guru Shauna Causey and her new company, Decide.com. First, I shared my takeaways from Internet Week. A recent declaration by an IBM executive reveals that we’re drowning in data, producing 5 billion gigabytes from the beginning of human history until 2003. In 2011, we produced that same amount of information every two days; in 2013, it’ll be every 10 minutes. So it was entirely appropriate that Mashable founder Pete Cashmore emphasized that “brand is incredibly important” as a way to differentiate in the chaos of too much content. Increasingly, we’re finding insightful ways to measure all of this Big Data, as first day keynoter Billy Beane did for the Oakland A’s (and then inspired Brad Pitt to play him in Moneyball).
Shauna then really hit the mark by sharing her hard-won victories implementing social media strategies at Comcast and Nordstrom. Suddenly, people were paying attention to us – by the end of the evening a few were even wondering aloud about whether they should move to Seattle. It could have been the open bar, but I like to think that by then, maybe they had realized that we have some ideas worth stealing too.
Hanson Hosein is the Director of the Master of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington. On June 12th, the MCDM is offering a one-day digital media workshop in storytelling, marketing, analytics and law in South Lake Union: registration.
[an edited version of this story was originally posted to GeekWire]