In the Puget Sound, tech company startups by Microsoft alumni are as ubiquitous as dog parks, bad drivers and Subarus sporting “Save Darfur Now” bumper stickers. It might seem unlikely, then, that one more venture would create more than a small splash in a vast ocean of creative talent.
Yet the launch of Crowdverb (crowdverb.com) by three members of the Redmond software giant’s digital diaspora—Cyrus Krohn, Todd Herman and Sally Poliak—is making a big splash. In a technology services marketplace dominated by a liberal culture, Crowdverb is created to offer clients with values and objectives on the right side of politics specialized services in the area of mobilization.
According to Crowdverb’s founders, their technique for mobilization begins with collecting and analyzing data to answer what they see as the critically important question for organizations seeking to mobilize people to action: “What is the crowd doing, and what can that crowd do for you?”
I sat down with Krohn, Poliak and Herman shortly before the group formally unveiled their enterprise to an audience of several hundred Republicans and conservatives at the annual Roanoke Conference in Ocean Shores, Wash. In their fledgling Bellevue office—nestled within the perimeter of the Eastside tech corridor, a global nexus for innovations in digital technology—they described a convergence of skills and interests among their team and a path that brought them to the point of investing their talents in the new firm.
Krohn and Herman’s individual paths have intersected for years, criss-crossing the Microsoft campus, with each taking a turn running digital strategy for the Republican National Committee. Poliak and Krohn’s kindred interest in being on the vanguard edge of mobilization to achieve public affairs goals collided at the inaugural Roanoke Conference. Listening to the events leading to Crowdverb’s inception, it seemed to me that the announcement that the three were joining forces was only the most recent phase in a process of convergence that had been going on for quite some time, the completing of a circle. The circle could not have been joined a moment too soon.
If battles over issues will increasingly be waged with information, and the ability to mobilize action using technology will be a deciding factor in who wins those battles, Crowdverb seems to offer something unique for businesses and causes interested in smaller government, fiscal responsibility and maintaining American strength.
To date, much of the right’s experimentation with new technology has been confined to distributing bits of information through social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, in effect creating the equivalent of wildfires raging across the political landscape.
The left, however, has invested unreasonable resources into the development of tools that enable more than crude pyromania, but can achieve coordinated mobilization as has been seen in the somewhat ineffective Occupy Wall Street actions, but also in the earth-shaking Arab Spring revolts that toppled regimes last year.
Not even one week old, the company already boasts of signing American Crossroads as a client, an early indication that powerful political interests aligned with the Republican cause are seeing immense value in the contents of Crowdverb’s ‘black box.’
Poliak—herself a veteran of strategic communications—suggested that the paradigm shift has made traditional ideas about activism somewhat obsolete. Picking an activist out of a line-up is not as simple as it once was, and the forms of activism are as diverse as the number of media available to activists.
Poliak believes that Crowdverb’s methods provide a powerful way to append the evolving concept of “what an activist is, and what it take to get a digital activist to do more.”