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Aggregating the old and rewarding the new at Disruptathon

To many of us, social media are a fairly predictable part of our lives. We know which platforms we like and how we like to use them, adding up to pretty smooth sailing with few surprises (except for the perpetual hubbub surrounding Facebook redesigns). But at Tuesday’s Disruptathon Social Media in Washington, D.C., the focus was on movers and shakers of social media who are coming up with innovative ways to “disrupt the status quo,” said event organizer Pete Erickson.

Erickson created Disruptathon in 2009 after being inspired by the work of¬†Clayton Christensen and his ideas about disruptive innovation. It’s about asking, “What are the disruptive opportunities; who’s really got their finger on the pulse?” Erickson said. Disruptathon has held 11 events, with themes including health care and mobile technology.

Presentations from 19 social media companies were kept to a strict two-minute limit, and conference attendees used a borrowed Apple iPod touch or their iPhone to download the Disruptathon application and score each company. Scoring categories included Best Presentation and Most Disruptive Potential. There was a “Like” button with a comment field in which attendees could express their approval of a presentation’s je ne sais quoi.

The largest category of the night seemed to suggest that what the social media landscape needs most is a way to organize all existing social media, with myriad apps and services that aggregate the flood of information. Trendspottr pulls trending topics from various platforms and can project the viral future of a certain topic. Awesomize allows a user to manage all personal and professional profiles from one place. Local Response uses aggregated check-ins to deliver mobile advertising in real time. Pixable collects photos from across the Web to let a user see friends’ images in one spot.

With the pervasiveness of social media, these companies are smart to adopt the philosophy of “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Trying to replace Facebook or Twitter probably won’t lead to much success, but giving people a way to access data from all of their accounts could be a winning strategy.

The one exception to that rule turned out to be the resounding winner of the night.¬†Votizen emerged as something rather unique in the social media space: a tool to connect voters with one another and their elected officials. To access the site, users must take a pledge to vote before they can sign up and access their voting record. Users can access information about candidates and write letters to their representatives, for which they can request signatures from other users. Votizen took home first place in every category at Disruptathon, eliciting cheers from the audience when CEO David Binetti said his mission is to “disrupt … the political system of this country.” It might have helped Binetti’s cause that he was speaking before an audience in the nation’s capital, where the importance of the political process is felt more strongly than elsewhere in the country. But it seems the time has come when people are no longer asking what their app can do for them, but what that app can do for their country.