Reddit Co-Founder’s Documentary, “Silicon Prairie” Reviewed

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Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder of the “Internet’s front page,” Reddit.com, wants to spread his enthusiasm for the web to the entire U.S. Congress. Silicon Prairie is a policymaker-facing documentary, profiling salt-of-the-earth Internet entrepreneurs strewn across the nation’s heartland.

In response to the massive online protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act, much of the language out of the Internet community was reactionary and generically fearful. Ohanian’s  delightfully inspiring 30-minute documentary presents a fresh look at why we should be cautious about regulating the Internet, wrapped in stories of neighborly faces that will likely appeal to audiences beyond the coastal tech bubbles.

“Every representative needs to know that they live in a digital district,” Ohanian tells me after the Consumer Electronics Show premier.

Following Ohanian and a motley crew of web successes on a pro-Internet bus tour, the Nimblebot-produced film does an admirable job of profiling just how pervasive the effects of the web economy have been to pockets of recession-hit America.

Naithan Jones, founder of high-end meats seller, Aglocal, regales the crew about the high-stakes gamble he made to start his business. After breaking the news to his wife that he wanted dive into startup life, he came home one day with his house completely empty, “I sold everything on Craigslist so you can start paying for developers,” his wife told him.

Silicon Prairie plays on America’s love of meritocratic David vs. Goliath business struggles. “How does a guy in a basement compete with the likes of an EA,” says Ben Vu of Omaha, Nebraska-based gaming company Sky.vu, about video game giant, Electronic Arts. Vu, who plans to double his 29-strong workforce by the end of the year, has managed to score a movie deal for his breakout success, Battle Bears. No surprise, he credits the Internet for giving him expansive reach outside the typical tech hubs.

For as inspiring and admirably simple as Silicon Prairie is, its treatment of the Stop Online Piracy Act is dangerously shallow. In a mere 30 seconds, it rushed through the very complex bill and online response, which will likely leave thoughtful viewers understandably skeptical.

Still, the message is clear for policymakers: proceed with caution. “When you think about policy, it needs to be both protective of not ruining of what’s already happening,” Ohanian says, “and, at the same time, also more proactive in increasing things like access and making sure these resources are available to everyone.”

The video should be available for free sometime in the near future. For now, check out the trailer below: