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January 21, 2008 8:23 AM

Discussing the Use of Broadband With Matthew Lesko, The Question Mark Guy

Over the weekend while playing chauffeur to a pair of car-less friends in need of help running an errand I had a brush with greatness. That's right, on Saturday afternoon, around 1:30pm, I met Matthew Lesko.

Now, that name may or may not ring a bell, but I'd be willing to bet that well over half of you, my faithful readers, have seen him on TV. In fact, you might know who he is just by hearing these two clues: "Free Money!" and a question mark suit.

Not enough? Well how about this:

So here's a guy who's made his living off of the inefficiencies of government. Some have labeled him as a shyster, someone who's sole interest is making money off of his claims of "Free Money!" He's even been listed as one of the 100 people that are screwing up America.

But when you actually talk with him you quickly realize that, while not adverse to making money, he has a different mission: to unite people with the government programs that were put in place to help them. He's just someone who can't understand why we'd create all these government programs but then not provide the average citizen with a way to know about and apply for them, so he set out to change that.

In truth, though, any talk of what he's doing or why he's doing it was much less interesting to me than how he's leveraging the Internet and broadband to make it happen.

The best evidence of this was a quick look around the surroundings as we stood in his headquarters. One half of the space was taken up by the usual trappings of an office, while the other half was totally empty. While chatting with him, he mentioned that he used to also rent the three adjoining spaces to serve as a warehouse for his many titles. But now? No need as he's read the proverbial writing on the wall and is working on taking his business all-digital. He's realized that the future isn't in selling ink-on-paper books but instead in building out an online portal where all the information that used to be stored in massive tomes can now be searched and found quickly and easily.

But that’s not all, he’s also been tapping into the power of crowdsourcing, or leveraging his audience of informed readers who want to contribute to the success of other readers in more fully utilizing government programs. As a member of his club, you can pose questions of any sort regarding how to get government funding and people will answer these requests, helping you find new resources, fill out applications and grants, and much more.

Lesko’s utilization of broadband doesn’t end there. He’s also become an avid user of Ustream.tv, a site that allows anyone with a computer and a broadband connection to start streaming video of themselves live over the Internet. He'll often have a camera on while working in his office, but back in August he took this idea even further when he setup shop in front of the US Capitol building for a 72-hour Q&A; session. Not only did he take questions from people who walked by but also from people around the globe who were watching live streaming video. You can see clips from that experience here.

In talking with him you can tell this is a guy who gets it; he understands what the transformative power of broadband can mean to his business. But while in many ways he is on the cutting edge of technology, he didn’t seem like an ubergeek, just a normal businessman--or at least as “normal” as a man who sews question marks onto all of his jackets can be--who’s trying to find ways to make his business more efficient and expand its reach to serve existing and find new customers.

And from what I saw, he’s well on his way to embracing the possibilities that broadband has to offer, and in doing so he’s setting himself up to successfully transition his 20th century business into the 21st century thereby securing his future for the next 30 years as the preeminent source for getting information on how to get Free Money! from the government programs that exist to dole it out.

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