140 Minutes at 140 Characters

By Kiran Aditham 

Despite knowing well and good that I was going to be in way over my head, I nevertheless ventured uptown to check out day 2 of Jeff Pulver‘s 140 Characters Conference with the hopes of rubbing shoulders with the Twitterati and learning more about this blog-killing tool.

Surrounded by a couple hundred Twitter influencers/ addicts, many of whom seemed to be better known by their @ screen name than their real one, I managed to catch a few panel discussions that covered the tool’s increasing impact on branding, publishing, citizen journalism and even love. Sitting in a small theater housed on the bottom floor of the vast New World Stages space, I immediately couldn’t help but feel inadequate having been sans laptops while a hundred other fingers clacked away throughout the event.


Regardless, I dusted off the good ol’ notebook and pen while glancing at random screens around me, many of which were open to TweetDeck. Having just created a Twitter account only weeks ago, I obviously knew I had some catching up to do. Luckily, I got what I think was a crash course from stars within the Twitter community, including Norg Media CEO Bronwen Clune, who applied the f-word and chaos theory to her speech on Twitter and what she dubbed the “control media.” In fact, most participants for better or for worse made it a point to unleash a “fuck” as if we were living in the Lenny Bruce era while they tried to avoid the annoying music that signified they were out of time.

Though I was entertained but still none the wiser, I sat through a slightly intriguing, White House-themed convo between NBC photojournalist Jim Long, Air America’s Ana Marie Cox, Salon.com’s Mike Madden and HuffPo’s “Eat the Press” editor Jason Linkins.

The group provided interesting points on White House transparency (or the lack thereof) when it comes to communication with the press, Twitter’s influence in the Iran election aftermath and why POTUS doesn’t personally Tweet. The last issue caused a mild stir amongst the audience, though it seems obvious that the White House handlers wouldn’t allow such a thing to begin with.

The political tete-a-tete segued into a more relatable topic: Twitter’s relationship with branding. Moderator and head of Ogilvy’s 360 Digital Influence practice John Bell led a panel of PR folks including Marriott’s John Wolf and Time Warner Cable’s Jeff Simmermon as well as Kodak’s chief blogger Jennifer Cisney. Branding might’ve been the initial focus, but customer service dominated the conversation, with all parties involved praising Twitter for helping them build personal relationships with the customer, creating grassroots initiatives and stripping away the traditional marketing methods within their respective companies. The enlightening affair, though, was tempered by the fact that I became increasingly transfixed by Simmermon’s face, which I swear didn’t crack a smile the entire time.

As distracted as I was, the panel I suppose helped me better realize Twitter’s usefulness, though I wish I could say the same for Amsterdam-based @marlooz. The lovely gal, who unfortunately had her laptop stolen the night before, proved the power of Twitter and her own influence through her followers (referred to as “Tweeps” *cringe*), who helped raise 700 Euros for her within hours. But when it came to her speech on finding love through Twitter, she lost me. Sure, I’ve admittedly met members of the fairer sex through digital channels, and though I’m no Luddite, I still can’t grasp hooking up with someone through Tweets and then broadcasting your first date for all your followers to see. Maybe I’m just a sucker for old-fashioned courtship and romance or got stuck in a Turner Classic Movies marathon, but at this point, I felt Twitter-fried and headed for the exit.

Jeff Pulver‘s event did have its purpose but I personally am not completely sold on Twitter nor am I overly compelled to constantly use it. Still, I am getting slight Twitter pangs and understand how practical and fun it can be. Besides, Shaq and Ashton Kutcher could use a run for their money when it comes to followers.