Breathless Twitter true believer and skeptical ROI seeker alike shared the stage at L.A.’s second annual 140 Character Conference, where the discourse was a blend of business plan and wishful thinking.
Two days’ worth of speakers and panelists traded 20-minute blocs at Hollywood’s Henry Fonda Theatre, discussing Twitter’s usefulness to groups as diverse as cattle ranchers, people with Autism, and pornographers, among others. But at the end of the presentations, no one seemed clearer on the microblogger’s true purpose.
“So much of this conference has turned out to be about serendipity and humanity,” said 140 Character founder and moderator Jeff Pulver, “when I thought it was about business.”
Twitter’s early struggles were of the Good Problems to Have variety, dealing with the scaleability of the breakout product. Even today, tweeters are sometimes greeted with an image of a whale held aloft by a flock of birds with the caption “Twitter is over capacity.”
In 2006, when Twitter founders Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, and Biz Stone pitched the microblogging tool as a means of keeping friends up to date, the idea of using something called “Twitter” for business was a remote one, else why not name the diversion something less frivolous?
But this was before the Facebook Revolution, and now that the social network has created the medium, the excuse, and the need to share up-to-the minute personal information, it follows that business, politics, and academia have to make sense of it.
And sense must be made of the broader question of when “tweeting” should be taken seriously (that Sarah Palin is aTwitter seems to be the great leveling point), when it is an effective tool in a media toolbox, and when it is merely trendy but insubstantial.
“I have been a psychic since birth. Since I was four years old,” announced Michele Meiche in her lecture, “The Real-time web & the Emerging Consciousness.” In addition to being a psychic, Meiche is, according to her resume, a Mystic Tech, Spiritual Coach, and Conscious Media Producer.
Meiche seemed very happy to be there but had trouble pulling Twitter from the ether and, like “The Convergence of New Media & Entertainment” presenter Christopher “Prince” Boucher, urged listeners to “realize” and “connect.”
Without solid advice, these sentiments fell flat, even as they were being uttered. But other panels presented uses for Twitter that seemed both practical and visionary.
Cattle rancher Jeff Fowle is president of the AgChat Foundation, (http://agchat.org/), “empowering a connected community of agvocates.”
“We’ve lost track of where our food comes from,” said Fowle. “and rather than have an industry trade group doing the talking for us, we’re doing it ourselves.”
Co-presenter Ray Prock Jr. , a dairyman, said that “not only do people not know where their food comes from, but food producers don’t know where the food goes.”
Fowle and Prock encouraged farmers and consumers to interface via Twitter, noting that a scant 1.7 percent of the U.S population actively produces food and, as Fowle said, “I don’t even know where some of my food comes from.”
Only when business goes bad does anyone say “it’s not personal.” Otherwise, businesses strive to convince consumers that, despite headquarters (and call centers) in other countries and thousands of degrees of separation between CEO and Man on the Street, it’s all personal.
So the personalization of business brands, from people to products to services, showed up in several panels.
Both news dissemination and celebrity stalking were well-represented at the conference. Numerous mentions were made of how Ashton Kutcher’s million-follower milestone now seemed quaint, and how Lindsay Lohan’s jailtime Twitter restriction constituted a news gap.
There was a feeling among some guests that Twitter was a great personality-marketing tool whose benefits were as yet unquantified. Unquantifiable or not, there are still wrong ways to use Twitter.
Conference guest Pete Housely, founder of Twitter-aggregator PornStarTweet.com, stressed tweeting wisely.
“In real life, do you rush into a party and scream what food you just ate?” Housely said. “Don’t do it on Twitter, either. Follow the rules your mother gave you before you had a computer: be careful of what you say.”
And “NSFW: Is Twitter Appropriate for the Adult Industry?” moderator Gram Ponante asked if “Twitter were the turbine that could make power out of the incessant flow of narcissism.”
in the panel “Could Social Media Be The Missing Puzzle Piece Autism Has Been Looking For?” CalState/Fullerton student Robert Moran, who has Autism, talked of his “Mind Blindness” and said that the 140-character limit of tweets is better than Facebook status updates, because the latter leaves far more room for confusion.
“We don’t know when you’re kidding,” Moran said of people with Autism, and Twitter’s smaller word allotment seemed to encourage tweeters to be clear.
By the end of the summit, conference-goers were still struggling to come to terms with what Twitter is good for, acknowledging that its democracy was a double-edged sword.
But there was also the slightest whiff that, like Friendster—and maybe even MySpace!—Twitter might just be a fad.
The Henry Fonda, a mid-sized venue where the likes of Kate Nash and the reformed Superchunk play, is a far cry from the Kodak Theatre, host of both the Academy Awards and last year’s 140 Character Conference. One returning panelist, looking through a swag bag that contained a t-shirt and a notepad, said “last year they gave us really nice cameras.”
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Social Networking Darwinism: Survival of the Quitter
See also: 140 Character Conference