You’d think these things would be obsolete by now. But, as I theorized on the 140conf stage in front of 800-plus people (not to mention the thousands who tuned into the webcast), face-to-face events like 140conf have only become more meaningful in a connected age.
As humans, we like to get together to share stories and ideas and conversations with people from around the world. The problem is that as soon as the curtain goes down, all of these stories and ideas and conversations fade into the ether – save for a photo or two. That’s why we partnered with 140conf curator Jeff Pulver to keep the conversation going before, during and after the event.
Before the conference, for example, we caught up with Funny or Die marketing director and conference speaker Patrick Starzan to chat about the online video website’s viral success. We also ran a short think piece by 140conf opera singer Ja-Naé Duane.
Then, while the conference was going on, our “ground team” at Sparksheet HQ was glued to the “backchannel” in order to curate a stream of the most interesting audience tweets in real time. Meanwhile, I shot some exclusive backstage videos with the likes of AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley and Today Show anchor Ann Curry. Stay tuned for those in the coming weeks.
For now, here are some key takeaways from two eclectic, content-filled days:
The web is a big tent
Have I used the word “eclectic” yet? Because there really is no better word to describe Jeff Pulver’s events. In keeping with the micro nature of Twitter, 140conf consisted of about 90 10-minute talks spread out over two dizzying days.
It was an important reminder that when we use terms like “users” and “audience” and “readers” and “consumers,” what we’re really talking about is people. All different kinds of people. Everywhere.
It’s funny. According to the 140conf tagline, this event was all about “exploring the state of now” and taking stock of what’s happening on “the real-time web.” But one of the main lessons of the conference was that we all need to slow down. Fast.
The problem with the web’s hurried pace is that it doesn’t leave much space for verification. That’s why media scholar Dan Gillmor is trying to launch a “slow news” movement, where citizens join journalists as “active consumers” of the news who approach so-called facts with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Case in point, NPR news curator Andy Carvin recounted how he helped unmask an American activist who spent months posing as a Syrian blogger called “Gay Girl in Damascus.”
The hoax fooled mainstream media outlets for months, but media critic Jeff Jarvis suggested, in a separate talk, that the onus of verification rests on readers as well as journalists. “I’m not asking you to question the article,” Jarvis said, “I’m asking you to question your assumptions.”
While media pundits like Carvin, Gillmor and Jarvis talked about slowing down, several other 140conf speakers encouraged us to put away our smartphones, tablets and laptops – and listen up. Storytelling consultant Cathy Brooks, for example, began her talk with a tongue-in-cheek spoken-word piece that implored the audience to “shut up and breathe.”
In an informative talk on how to interview famous people, film journalist Warren Etheredge explained that “the first step in having a conversation is preparing yourself to listen.” Etheredge said the only interview question he prepares is the first one – the rest flow from listening to the person’s answers.
Social marketing expert Ted Rubin even coined a new buzzword for the value of listening to our customers and peers: Return on Relationship.
You can’t plan everything
Another term bandied around quite a bit at 140conf was “serendipity.” Indeed, many of the presenters had stumbled upon online success (or at least celebrity) accidentally.
Ian Spector, for example, launched a website in 2005 filled with funny “facts” about actor Chuck Norris. To date, the site has received more than 250 million views, and spawned a bestselling book series.
In a different vein, Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley spoke of the many unexpected ways merchants and brands use the location-based platform. But the theme of serendipity was summed up best by former news anchor Anita Cochran in the title of her ten-minute talk: “What, I’m a brand?”
All good things
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the many speakers who took the 140conf stage to talk about how they are using the web to help people.
From the “Lupus Ladies of Twitter,” who used social media to raise awareness and build support for a groundbreaking new Lupus drug, to Hollaback’s Emily May and her crusade against street harassment, these inspiring people reminded us that the web is about more than ROI or ROE or ROR or any other catchy acronym.
It’s about people from all over the world getting together to do good things. Sort of like 140conf.