The Open-Source Right

A plaque outside the Capitol Hill Club—usually a members only venue—states a requirement of appropriate dress, defined in the bylaws as, at the very least, a jacket and a sports shirt.

A plaque outside the Capitol Hill Club—usually a members only venue—states a requirement of appropriate dress, defined in the bylaws as, at the very least, a jacket and a sports shirt. But with the party hoping to spark an online "revolution," Republicans opened the doors today to anyone with an idea, dress code—and ideology—be damned.The GOP Tech Summit, announced only a week ago, was originally planned for the headquarters of the Republican National Committee. But with nearly 300 participants registered, a last-minute shift to the club next door, the social home of Republican politicians, was required."Republicans by nature are conservative," said Saul Anuzis, the co-chair of the RNC's transition team and the event's emcee. They are slow, he explained, wanting to control and understand technologies in an era where waiting too long means being stuck in obsolescence. "There's a lot of people worried about this."He estimated that in addition the 300 in attendance, at any given time another 300 to 500 people were chatting, e-mailing and tweeting their input online, meaning thousands around the country were able to participate.So as techies discussed the campaign potentials of crowd-sourcing and open-source technologies, they were participating in an event that was itself open-source—where even Democrats were following along online (and only an out-of-line few were blocked from the website) and consultants known for their liberal slant came to offer their services.Anuzis, an active blogger himself, said some Republicans were to hesitant to use technologies developed by the left. Rebels use Kalashnikovs because they still shoot after you've dropped them in the mud, he said. In a revolution, you use the best tools you can.All participants were offered two minutes at the podium to offer their ideas, which ranged from specific iPhone apps to elaborate new social networking technologies. Many noted that technology alone could not fix the party's problems: technology just carries a new message or brand that the party also needs to find.Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich celebrated the participatory nature of the event: "Because we actually share the values of the American people—unlike our friends on the left—we can actually reach out and work with them collaboratively."Each generation, he noted, has its specific communication tools, from the press that printed the Federalist Papers to the television that carried JFK to office. Today's technology, though, is the first to offer true two-way communication, allowing true, large-scale self-government for the first time.After Obama's online presence arguably helped carry him to the White House, Republicans have been been ramping up their online presence. Congressmen have been on a tech binge over the past few weeks, with many congressmen, even butt-of-Internet-jokes John McCain, tweeting away from work. But as usage has spiked, so have Twitter faux pas. One Virginian state senator tweeted about an impending power shift, thereby allowing Democrats to end the coup. The wi-fi network at the tech summit could symbolize the party's technology woes, as it sagged under the weight of so many users, cutting out entirely at times.Anuzis said that within hours of his proposal of this event, new RNC chair Michael Steele had approved it. Annoucements were made within days.Steele himself stopped by before lunch and emphasized the importance of technology in coming campaigns. At one point he brandished a cell phone and said that by 2010, the entire campaign should be just a thumb-click away. While Obama rose to online dominance this cycle, he said, the Democrats have only set the floor of what's possible: "So get busy thinking about how we take the elevator up."Other prominent speakers included congressmen Mike Pence (Ind.-6) and John Culberson (Tex.-7), both active users of social media.With so many voices, the event sometimes had an air of hucksterism. Vendors doled out business cards and peddled cure-all software, guaranteeing that it would provide a 5-point bounce. One attendee with a background in software development wondered privately if the beltway consultants throwing out these ideas truly understood the challenges of developing effective, powerful social-networking software. What the party needed, she said, was to hire a Chief Technology Officer out of the private sphere—as well as corporate professionals to lead a re-branding campaign. In essence, she wanted less open-sourcing, more expertise.But Anuzis saw the high levels of participation—and the attendant maelstorm of ideas—as a sign of success. The ideas and the names of their presenters will be turned over to the event's Ning social-network page, publically accessible from anywhere. This will open the conversation even wider. But Anuzis hopes the ideas can be boiled down to working groups, and that more tightly focused events can be held on a quarterly basis."Our challenge is to harness the energy and excitement from around the country," he said. "from my perspective this was a huge success."

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