Sep 7, 2012 · 3 minutes

I've got to admit – I underestimated just how significant a presence the tech industry and startup community would have at the Democratic National Convention. And from what I heard, that presence was just as significant at the Republican convention.

As talk of building an "innovation economy" intensifies, it seems that both the political set and techies are waking up to their mutual challenges and opportunities, in a way that should benefit both.

From the ground in Charlotte this week, some clear tech themes emerged. These were the most important.

Emphasis on Innovation

As well as many informal discussions about the importance of innovation to the American economy – including the Huffington Post's "What Is Working" panel and a bunch of panels hosted by The Ppl that covered everything from gaming to government – former President Bill Clinton paid it special attention in his prime-time speech. Key takeaway line: "I want a [President] who believes with no doubt that we can build a new American Dream economy, driven by innovation and creativity, by education and – yes – by cooperation."

Emphasis on Education

One of the major policy issues for startups and tech giants alike is developing and educating talent for the future, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math (the so-called "STEM" fields). The education theme was a big feature of speeches by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Bill Clinton, and the President himself.

Patrick:

But those Orchard Gardens kids should not be left on their own. Those children are America's children, too, yours and mine. And among them are the future scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, artists, engineers, laborers and civic leaders we desperately need.
Clinton:
We know that investments in education and infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase growth. They increase good jobs, and they create new wealth for all the rest of us.
President Obama:
And together, I promise you – we can out-educate and out-compete any country on Earth. Help me recruit 100,000 math and science teachers in the next ten years, and improve early childhood education. Help give two million workers the chance to learn skills at their community college that will lead directly to a job. Help us work with colleges and universities to cut in half the growth of tuition costs over the next ten years. We can meet that goal together.
Startup Culture

A startup group led by EventFarm, HyperVocal, and Fighter Interactive made sure that convention attendees knew there is such a thing as a startup community in this country. The informal organization, called StartUp RockOn, hosted a big opening night party featuring The Roots, nightly VIP sessions in the late hours (including performances by Talib Kweli and ELEW), a startup challenge, and several meet-and-greet sessions. It was also involved in the aforementioned series of panels, which included discussions on innovation in journalism, innovation in digital media, government and startups, and innovation in gaming.

The Tech Presence

Google hosted a bunch of panels, staged Hangouts, demonstrated its self-driving car, and took up half a city block with a stack of colorful shipping crates converted into a giant working space and meeting zone.

Facebook hosted an "Apps & Drinks" meet-and-greet session with demonstrations from local startups, and a dinner-and-drinks session in a crowded restaurant.

(A local Charlotte magazine blogged more details of what Google and Facebook did in Charlotte, in case you're interested.)

Microsoft was on site giving demonstrations, participating in panels, and sponsoring startup events.

Twitter sat on panels and had something called a "#DNC2012 Nest" that I never actually saw.

Tumblr hosted a Wednesday night "watch party" with free drinks and tacos and tumbled both conventions.

Substantive Discussion Between the Startup Community and Politicians

This happened behind closed doors and at breakfasts I wasn't invited to, but I was assured it happened. (More on this in a post later today.)

Instagram

Party conventions are carefully orchestrated events that are primed for maximum visual impact for TV audiences. This year, those efforts were undercut somewhat by the thousands of attendees who recorded the week by Instagram, giving us a glimpse at what the convention looks like from behind the scenes. Here's an example courtesy of TrèsSugar.

Twitter

Even from Charlotte, it was clear that most of the discussion about the convention was actually happening in the form of tweets. It didn't matter how loud it got in the Time Warner Cable Arena, all the noise was on Twitter, and tweets-per-minute became one of the most important metrics of the convention. Some quick data:

  • 52,756 – the peak number of tweets per minute related to President Obama's speech
  • 9.5 million – total number of tweets related to the Democratic National Convention
  • 4 million – number of tweets about the convention on its final day
  • 4 million – total number of tweets about the Republican National Convention