The 140 Character Conference, or Why Twitter Matters Now


IMG_0218There was as much grumbling about the Twitter-style format of the 140 Character Conference in New York this week as there often is about 140-character limit in Twitter itself. Anything new or different can drive some people up the wall. Others, however, embrace the newness and the challenge of doing something completely different, and that is where the conference broke new ground, or at least it felt like that to many of us.

Jeff Pulver, the conference organizer, credits Twitter with everything that made the event happen, from the positive feedback that led him to set a date for the event, to obtaining the majority of commitments from speakers and panelists, to publicizing it almost entirely via tweets and retweets.

In my post “How Twitter is a Communications Game Changer,” I talked about the random but significant changes Twitter was causing in terms of the way we communicate and the tools we use. The 140conf — as it was called on Twitter — was the embodiment of a Twitterstream; it was Twitter in the flesh. Here are some of my observations from the conference:

1. We were all forced to speak in “tweets”

The format of the conference was 20 minutes for panels and between 10 and 20 minutes for presentations. There are now many conferences that enforce an abbreviated presentation time such as TED and Ignite, but this format still proves a tremendous challenge for many people. Pulver recommended that nobody rely on presentation slides, for example, and without fail, every speaker who decided to stick with slides dragged the pace of the day down, particularly when the technology inevitably did not work. Concise soundbites ruled the event. Pontification was revealed as the snooze-inducer that it is.

2. Half of the event took place on Twitter

Whether intentional or not, with the advent of Live Tweeting came the inevitable sea of open laptops and glowing digital mobile devices as everyone listened and simultaneously tweeted the interesting nuggets they were hearing. The “#140conf” hashtag appeared and disappeared on Twitter’s trending topics list, clearly demonstrating which sessions were more tweetable than others. While there were some complaints about the event taking place in an “underground bunker,” most people were connected at most times as evidenced by the continuous stream of in-the-moment tweets.

IMG_02393. The topics were diverse like a public Twitterstream

While others complained about the seeming randomness — and in a few cases repetitiveness — of the content offerings at the conference, and others pointed out that it was in bad need of “curating,” a lot of us felt that it was more like a Tweetstream and possibly even the enactment of @JeffPulver‘s personal stream. He curated with a light touch, which added to the charm and spontaneity of the event.

4. Learning moments came in bursts

I commented to @beckymccray, who had flown in from Oklahoma for the event, that I felt like this conference offered a different kind of learning. Thankfully it wasn’t a “Twitter 101,”  but it also wasn’t a constant echo chamber where everyone did nothing but sing Twitter’s praises. What I got out of the conference was learning about the different ways people are using Twitter around the world and the real-life impact of Twitter and tweeting tools. More importantly, I was exposed to very different views and opinions of Twitter that forced me to stretch my thinking about how I use Twitter and how I could be using it differently or even better for my work.

5. Twitter will not save the world, but…

We all agreed that it wasn’t Twitter that was as important as it was the new and “now” way of communicating. The immediacy, the intimacy, the pervasiveness, the mobility — these are all aspects that Twitter embodies and features that it provides, but it is not all about Twitter. Twitter is our current touchstone, but it is a signal of massive and significant change in our world and in our lives. It is not a fad; it is a revolution of connectivity. And the 140 Character Conference was just a small glimpse of this Brave Now World.

Were you at 140conf, and if so, what did you get out of it? If not, what are you getting out of Twitter?



Aliza nice post. I agree how twitter helped me too in my online business venture. And I loved the fast, easy and very convenient way to exchange or share ideas with people even miles and miles away.


People forced to speak in tweets? Concise soundbites preferred?

Game-changing? Perhaps for some, but in my opinion (not an attendee), it sounds a bit like a real-world event being shoe-horned into something else for the sake of fad.

Bonnie Sashin

Aliza, great post and absolutely on target!
Rick, I understand about wanting variety in the life tweeting. But some observations by panelists resonate and some don’t. The proof is in multiple tweets.

Rick Wolff

As someone who relied solely on a hashtag search column in my TweetDeck (so-called “live tweeting”), I noticed a lot of people chose to tweet the same comments from the same speakers. I read Gary Vaynerchuk’s line about the internet not even old enough to have sex yet, about 50 times over 3 hours. With this in mind, if I ever had a chance to contribute to a twitter stream, I’d observe the rise and fall of keystroke noises, and get the under-served quotable. I’m afraid, nothing’s quite like being there. (Unless you have video. But that’s quite a different issue.)

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