I wasn’t able to make it out to Gnomedex, unfortunately. Fortunately, I’ve been able to catch some of it through the streaming feed provided by the conference.
I found it very interesting several weeks ago when I first heard that John Edwards would be a keynote speaker at the event. It really demonstrates the lengths that political candidates — especially Democrats — seem willing to go to press their presidential campaigns among bloggers and high-tech influentials.
Edwards himself has been trying to put himself in the forefront of the technology informed politicians going back a couple of years ago when he first began podcasting.
Chris Pirillo introduced the former Senator mostly by begging the crowd to be civil.
I wonder if Edwards knew what he was getting into. Edwards decided to go with more of a discussion than a speech (which is the format of the conference generally). The first commenter started simply enough by saying he was glad that Edwards’ wife was doing better (she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of the last election). The second stumped Edwards by asking if he had ever read the book "Wisdom of Crowds" and thought of using it for political decisions.
The third questioner launched into a profanity-laced tirade that began with his declaration that he was a third generation "red diaper baby" — Edwards made clear that he didn’t know what that was and was told it meant the questioner was a communist. The gist of the guy’s question was why won’t Democrats fight more aggressively. Not your typical event for a presidential candidate!
The next guy effectively asked why politicians seem so fake.
Another person asked what he thought about taxing Internet traffic. Edwards said he hadn’t thought enough about the issue to know what he thought about that one.
A number of folks were concerned about the Patriot Act and monitoring Internet activities.
Repeated efforts were made to steer the conversations back to tech issues, with moderate success.
At one point Edwards hinted he might be willing to allow a blogger to follow him all the time on the campaign trail to allow voters to see the real candidate, unpolished. He did express his hope that he could sleep without being followed, but suggested it might be worth allowing everything else to be seen. Frankly, I’m skeptical of such an arrangement — how do you have strategy meetings if the world hears the whole internal debate? But I do think there’s room to allow more coverage of campaigns by bloggers in a less varnished way.
Overall, Edwards did a decent job of fielding the questions and comments, though I wonder frankly how much benefit his appearance had either for his campaign or for the conference. It certainly created a little buzz for both, but I just don’t see it as being much more than that.