Crosstown Digital Communications

#140conf Boston

On Sept. 14, I participated in the first Boston installment of Jeff Pulver’s #140conf events, examining the impact of the real-time web. Thinking about this topic has become on my of passions, so I was honored to speak at the event. You can read an adaptation of my talk, “Higher Ed in the Now: Building Our Brands in Real-Time,” in this guest blog post for .eduGuru, and you can view the slides, as well.

I’ve written before about what #140conf is all about (and asked other web thinkers to share their thoughts on the impact of the real-time web), so I’ll get straight to a recap and review of the event highlights. (Yes, it’s long, so feel free to skip ahead to the bold header that intrigues you the most.)

Jeff Pulver began by giving an overview of the event, and how the first #140conf coincided with TIME’s cover treatment of Twitter and the Iranian elections. He mentioned how one person referred to the convergence of people from different backgrounds at #140conf with the agricultural term “hybrid vigor,” and that seems apt. Jeff said he tries to connect to people at a “soul level,” and his upcoming Day of Giving in Detroit and small town #140conf in Hutchinson, Kansas, attest to that — it’s not about big business or big cities, it’s about people and how this rapidly changing web affects what they do and how they do it. He also touched on the concept of legacy, and how our life streams today will be the records our descendants (or even our future selves) pick through to learn about us — something that was not as thoroughly possible in the past. It’s on us to take the effort to say something and add an idea to that record. “Every tweet matters,” he said. Watch Jeff’s intro.

#140Conf – @JeffPulver Introduction from Don Martelli on Vimeo.

Investing in the Real-Time Web: Some interesting thoughts by John Landry of Lead Dog Ventures about how Twitter is “eating its own young” and depleting the ecosystem by one-upping the innovative apps created by developers via its API. He urged entrepreneurs to think more broadly than Twitter when it comes to developing apps for the real-time web. It made me think about the Read Write Web Real-Time Web Summit, and how of the vendors who demoed apps and services for us, not a one (as I recall) was solely focused on Twitter.

Media Panel: I had been eagerly awaiting this panel, but I think it could have benefited from a moderator to challenge them a bit. David Beard of Boston.com talked about the value of listening and how the future lies with peer sharing. Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub talked about “what the hell” journalism, which means responding when people wonder what the hell is happening with the traffic, that explosion they heard, the Red Line grinding to a halt, etc. He talked about the value of asking the community he has built to fill in the blanks for breaking stories. ¬†Some of the panelists acknowledged the need to compete with Gaffin and how much better he is at gathering news together, but I’m not sure that’s their role. As Gaffin said, what he does is not a replacement for long-form/investigative reporting, but it fills a specific niche. My broken record when it comes to the real-time web is the need for context, which is what I believe centralized news organizations are better equipped to provide over the long term than roving citizen reporters. I was heartened to hear the panelists acknowledge the need to exalt great journalism over competition, pointing their audiences to the best story regardless of where it came from, and also the value of attributing content and information that comes in from their audience via the social web. Stephanie Miller from WBZ said some great things about training reporters how to use real-time web channels to connect with and build their audiences and sources, as well as incorporating social media into storytelling. Watch the video.

#140Conf Boston 2010: Effect of the Real-Time Web on News Gathering from Don Martelli on Vimeo.

C.C. Chapman is a dad and he is damn proud of it. I am shocked at how many opportunities big brands are missing by ignoring dads and catering only to moms — it seems like really outmoded thinking. I’m glad C.C. is around to wake people up. Watch C.C.’s talk.

Finding Your Voice in the Real-Time Web: Doug Haslam talked about the importance of voice in supporting content, and how voice comes from knowing who you are. Figuring that out always comes ahead of tools. Consistency in voice is critical, as is being aware of the context in which you are using your voice. He identified five archetypes of voices on Twitter: lurker, bot, helper, personality w/corporation and corporation w/personality.

Meet Meme, Date Meme: I was unsure what this talk by Jessica Randazza was really focusing on. As someone who met her husband indirectly via a social network (a BBS!) I can appreciate the idea that this is a viable way to meet a life partner, and I was surprised by her statistics indicating the negative attitudes people still hold about online dating. But I’m not sure Facebook or Twitter will start recommending dating partners much like they recommend people to follow or get back in touch with.

Christopher Penn killed it, and I am happy I finally got to see him speak (since I missed his Podcamp sessions last year). He talked about how the real-time web lets us be superheroes – knowing all languages, seeing everything, knowing everything. But with great power, of course, comes great responsibility. Superheroes have responsibilities to help. We still have to make ourselves worth listening to. He showed examples of the real-time web doing everything from helping locate earthquake victims in Haiti to tracking down a missing girl. A great demonstration of the power of the real-time web for good.

Real-Time Education: It was powerful to hear a group of educators talk about the need to decentralize learning from the classroom and expose students to the social web as a tool for learning and community. There is a new story of schooling waiting to be born, said one of the panelists, and the real-time web is midwifing that story. While there are some schools, teachers and principals that get it (such as in Van Meter, Iowa), parents need to act as activists to get the others to come around and help schools “unlearn” their current way of teaching. It’s not a technological revolution, they said — that would be easy — but rather a cultural one, which is a lot harder to affect.

#140Conf Boston 2010: Real-time Education from Don Martelli on Vimeo.

Jeff Cutler, a self described “social media journalist,” talked about the difference between citizen reporting and social media journalism. He said his 21 years of experience enable him to tell meaningful stories, and social media enable him to create a broader perspective of news from around the world and share news with people who otherwise could not be there or be informed. The new model for journalists, he believes, is free agency, finding funding to go out and compete with citizen reporters, banking on their own accountability, ethics and experience to get support for their work. It made me think about how increasingly valuable I am finding my journalism degree in my line of work, since stories (and context) always win in the end.

Why Your Social Media Strategy is an Octopus: An interesting though not revelatory analogy by Jeffrey Sass. The body is your brand, the tentacles are your social media outposts. Tentacles can intertwine, but that should be shaped by objectives. You can always lose a tentacle and grow a new one. An octopus is an expert at camouflage, and similarly, your strategy should be invisible.

Eric Proulx, creator of the documentary “Lemonade,” emphasized that the real power of a social network is the personal relationships you forge out of it, and the benefits you can subsequently reap from those connections. That’s how his documentary got made.

Innovation in the Military: Blake Hall of TroopSwap.com impressed me with his examination of how enterprise 2.0 tools can be used to save lives — which, in the military, is the bottom line. The armed forces are awash in data and information, and it can be incredibly challenging to share, store and organize that information to achieve military objectives. He touched on my favorite theme — context — in explaining what needs to be done with this information to make it valuable. The traditional upward flow of information does not work in today’s wars, he said; information needs to be democratized across the military so everyone has the data they need. “Tactical efficiency will only take you so far,” he said. “Information is king on today’s battlefield.”

Chris Brogan hit a bunch of points, seemingly at random, but they all tied into the theme of connectivity. The industry innovators he encountered in Birmingham, Ala., needed to connect with the talented bloggers. Stories help people connect with people, and brands connect with people. Be giving and embrace serendipity (love the network, be the network). The network is the big picture, and it’s scary, but it’s the truest thing there is. That’s where the opportunities are, so we need to wade in and find them.

Steve Garfield talked about the next dimension of video entertainment: finding ways to involve and engage the audience. He talked about Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Hashtags and CBS Backstage Live as good examples of this. But, as the audience becomes more involved, they have to receive proper attributions for their contributions to the product. In his new show, SteveGarfield.TV, he goes “behind the tweet” to get people on the show to go into further depth (context for the real-time web!) about interesting tweets. Steve demoed an interesting video platform called Yowie, but I found the demo less compelling than the points that preceded it.

Boston Police are doing great things on Twitter, reaching out to inform the community and listening to help solve crimes (like the Craigslist Killer). They are planned to create online version of neighborhood patrols and localizing their Twitter efforts, which is great. I was surprised and disappointed they didn’t talk about how BPDNews.com and how Twitter fits into their broader online strategy (which is impressive).

Harvard’s Perry Hewitt delivered the first of two higher ed-themed presentations on the day (the second being my own!), discussing how Harvard has adapted to “social shock.” The world changes, she explained, and Harvard has to change with it.

Music Panel: I had really been looking forward to this panel, which of course featured Amanda F—ing Palmer, who has done amazing things with Twitter and her blog to advance and own her career and cultivate her fan base. I was grateful this panel had a moderator, the official musician of social media Matthew Ebel, since, well, no other panel on the day had a moderator. The panelists echoed a lot of points I’ve been hearing from the Rock Shop sessions across the river: the old model of stardom is dead and artists need to work hard and tour hard to succeed; musicians need to gain a modicum of marketing savvy and take responsibility for their own success; opening up and breaking down walls can make amazing things happen; be listening so you can take advantage of the golden moment when someone mentions you in order to build a relationship. But honestly, I could have spent 20 minutes just watching Amanda Palmer talk about what she alone has done.

#140Conf Boston 2010: Music Panel from Don Martelli on Vimeo.

Julien Smith gave a simple but profound talk about¬†how Twitter can connect people, but it can’t sustain relationships. Real relationships come from suffering together, eating together and playing together. Essentially, relationships thrive on interaction, intimacy and vulnerability.

Some talks were better than others, but what I particularly appreciated (as someone who benefited from it) was the low barrier to entry to get on the podium. You don’t need to be a Chris Brogan to speak on the #140conf stage, and you can even speak alongside him.

As an aside, I was very aware throughout the day that while I was furiously taking notes for this planned blog post, others were tweeting updates live. I think it is valuable for events like #140conf, to the point of context in the real-time web, to be covered both ways — reported and experienced live, but contextualized after the fact. In fact, I’d love to see a meta session of sorts exploring event/conference coverage in that light… hmm…

So, yes, wifi and water were in short supply, but two things we did not lack were ideas and voices. We need to keep thinking about the web as it becomes an increasingly real-time entity, and to Jeff Pulver’s point, this affects everyone whether they realize it or not.

Like the idea of #140conf? Jeff Pulver is looking for folks to get involved in the upcoming #140conf Detroit and #140conf Small Town.

3 Responses

  1. Mark Nason says:

    I felt the same was about many of these sessions. I wrote Jeff Pulver this morning with comments on the #140conf and one of my pleasant surprises was to find ideas and inspiration from presenters who work in completely different areas than myself.

    I’m also glad I wasn’t the only one that was giddy to see Amanda Palmer speak.

  2. @johnfoleyjr says:

    Great run down! Thanks!

  3. [...] music writers from papers all over town held court with local rockers. Alas, I got whisked into the #140conf world one day earlier than I had anticipated and had to miss it. However, at #140conf, I did get to hear [...]

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