Twitter Town Hall at the White House with Barack Obama Recap [Photos & Video]

July 7, 2011

3:24 pm

Yesterday, I attended the first ever Twitter Town Hall at the White House featuring President Barack Obama. The event was moderated by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and was well attended. I was extremely thankful and excited to attend the event. I even got to be the last person to shake the President’s hand as he departed the event.

At first glance, I, along with others, was skeptical whether the event would hold any substance, but I was impressed with some of the tough questions that were submitted and curated via Twitter and the @TownHall account and #AskObama hashtag. I was interested to see if real-time technology leveraged to make the event captivating to watch and attend, and I was pleased to see the variety of questions, 60,000 of which were tweeted over the course of several days and some of which were even submitted within just 5 to 10 minutes of being read live.

First Presidential “live” Tweet
The event was kicked off with a brief introduction of President Barack Obama by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. President Obama then moved to a silver Macbook Pro laptop on an official White House podium to make the first presidential live tweet from the White House (which I captured in this short video from the back row). In the tweet President Obama asked a question.  Answers to his question were addressed during the last ten minutes of the hour-long event.

Contrast of Old and New
So what made the event so interesting? It was the contrast of old and new. To see a couple of giant LCD screens stationed at both ends of the stage showing real-time topics, maps, and the live tweet questions was in stark contrast to the vintage painting of Mr. and Mrs. George Washington that were on either side of the stage, observing the event.

The Town Hall not only leveraged Twitter, but a few other technology companies too. The live webcast could be viewed on a special microsite that was created by Austin-based Mass Relevance; they also worked with Twitter on aggregating and filtering questions. Radian6, a Canada-based company acquired by, analyzed Twitter posts and conversations related to the event.

The Q&A
The questions asked via Twitter covered a range of topics. Some of the hottest were as follows:

  • Jobs (23%)
  • Budget (18%)
  • Taxes (18%)
  • Education (11%).

The more interesting questions from a technology innovation and entrepreneurial perspective were related to a question about Startup Visa. President Barack Obama seemed to support the idea of keeping smart entrepreneurs and developers in the United States rather then shipping them and their good ideas elsewhere.

There was also a questions about energy, and the President explained that the U.S. is making the biggest clean energy investments in history, which are on track for massive increase in market share in advanced car batteries and more. Finally, there was one question about small business, which we were able to capture in this short video – or you can watch the entire video of the town hall (below).

Overall, the event was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the real-time components from the Web made it like no other I have ever seen. It is also great to see the White House and the President of the United States make a little change in the way they communicate by embracing new technologies to create new experiences like this one. I didn’t dub Barack Obama the first Tech President for nothing.

I was able to also take some photos during event, and you can see those in the photo gallery (below) or on Flickr or Facebook. Click the image and it should show you the larger version of the photo.

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Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.

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