Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Declaration of Internet Freedom Bus Tour Visits St. Louis

So last night the founder of Reddit was in town and gave an epic talk on freedom on the Internet.  Where were you?

A little background: Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, has been campaigning for Internet freedom in the Declaration of Internet Freedom Bus Tour: From Denver to Danville.  Internet freedom has recently come under fire in the US from the proposed SOPA and PIPA acts.  The Bus Tour is intended to visit a number of cities, including sites of the presidential and vice-presidential debates, to talk to people about the importance of a free and unrestricted Internet.

The Bus Tour’s visit to St. Louis was hosted by StartLouis: The St. Louis Startup Circle; and BuildGuildSTL, at the T-REx Incubator in Downtown St. Louis. The Bus did a tour of small local businesses that grew from the Internet before coming to the talk at the T-REx.  

Erik Martin, general manager of Reddit, kicked it off with a slideshow of the Internet Bus Tour so far.  “One of the things we wanted to do on this tour was get as many people as possible to physically sign this beautiful document of Declaration of Internet Freedom. It might be the first magic marker signed document in the Library of Congress,” joked Martin.

Martin and Ohanian talked about all the people they’ve met on the tour so far -- each and every one of whom has a story about how a free and open Internet has improved their lives.   

“The Silicon Valley myth -- the idea that this kind of innovation is only happening there, needs to go away,” said Ohanian, when discussing the vibrant startup communities in Boulder, Colorado, and other cities.

Alexis Ohanian went off on a short tangent in the middle of the night.  “Does St. Louis have an official song? A jam,” Ohanian asked the crowd.  “Nelly!” came the reply.

So that’s how over 100 people mangled the chorus to “It’s Getting Hot in Here” to a poor woman on speakerphone, whose only crime was supporting Internet freedom -- she was a donor to Reddit's crowdfunded campaign to pay for part of Declaration of Internet Freedom Bus Tour, and won a “drunkdial” from the Reddit team.  

Martin and Ohanian talked about their next idea as well -- Geek Day, a scheduled “flash mob” where geeks representing every district in the country would set appointments and go see their state senators and representatives in Washington, to talk about issues important to the tech/geek/startup communities across the country.

“You should have every politician representing you in DC on speed dial. Because they work for you,” said Ohanian.  He then told us about how a group of school kids in Nebraska peer pressured him into actually making that call, when Ohanian made that statement to those students.  There’s an app for that, apparently.

After the talk, everyone was invited to Urban Chestnut Brewery, where Ohanian and Martin sampled St. Louis microbrews and played the locally-created iPhone game, Circle of Death, a drinking game designed by IDC Projects.

The Bus Tour left this morning for their next stop, Louisville, Kentucky.  But not before having breakfast at St. Louis landmark Uncle Bill’s Pancake House.  I’m curious to find out what stories about St. Louis the reddit team will tell at their subsequent stops.  Because we’re doing some cool stuff here in town with our startup community and our tech community.  

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