[Picture: Billy Bush speaks at the 140 Characters Conference in Hollywood, October 27. Credit: Jason DeFillippo ]
I've just spent the last two days at a conference about Twitter held at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, also known as "where the Oscars are held." You can feel free to insert your own joke here, like "Did people actually go or just attend online?" "Were all the responses 140 characters or fewer?" or "Did anyone thank the Academy?" Yes, ha, ha. Of course there was "thanking of the Academy" or agents, or some other showbiz cliches that showed up. (Rumor has it that there was even a Jack Nicholson cutout sitting in the front row.)
People attended in person, but Tweeted the whole time (or at least for as much of the time as they had reception/wifi signal). It was basically like a giant classroom, with 140 teachers rotating in and out over two days, and with all the students passing Tweets back and forth. Only difference is that the teachers can view the passed notes, too.
For this reason - the transparency of the Tweets and their association with both real names and (because it was an in-person conference) real faces - I'm not sure that the tagged Tweets are taking a critical look at the conference's highs and lows.
To get some of my criticisms out of the way, some of the speakers lacked the originality and innovative approach that might have made their sessions inspiring or educational: urging us to be authentic and have a sense of humor is spot-on advice for novices, but all of us are experienced at those things, and we know how to engage readers/followers/fans. We already get it.
While some of the celebs there legitimately used Twitter, others had little to say about how Twitter had changed their life, relationships or careers, other than it was a great marketing tool. Plus, a few of the egoes gracing the stage were completely out of control in a way that made me very uncomfortable. Some of those people - whom I followed in advance of the conference - will be dropping off my follow list soon.
Plus, although I understand how adorable and marketable the idea of having 140 speakers present over two days is, the number of people rushing through short time-slots prevents most of them from delivering their ideas in-depth. People had to rush through presentations, not because they were taking too long, but because they had been told they had more time than they had. At the end of the time period allotted for each session - perhaps as an homage to the location - music began to let the speakers know their time was up and they were being "played off." The music in question? The theme from "Exodus," which was repeatedly referred to by an event co-host as "Ben-Hur music." This was cute at first, and then became one of those things - along with "I don't have a lot of time so I'm going to just jump in here" - that people commented on in a way that actually wasted time.
I also wonder if we might have been better served if the speakers were divided into longer sessions, perhaps in tracks that ran concurrently, forcing people to choose their areas of greatest interest. 140 speakers could still speak, but not to everyone. Less cute, but deeper and potentially more meaningful.
And now for some positive comments. Some of my favorite moments included:
Shelly Kramer's lightning-fast, real-time "audience reporting" via Twitter...
Porter Gale telling stories from Virgin America's customer service wins that involved Twitter...
Aaron Bleyaert basically begging me to come help out at the Tonight Show. OK, so maybe that's a liberal interpretation. But I'm going to go with the assumption that the "Esther" mentioned in this blog post of his is me, and I'm feeling some serious subtext there. Aaron's got a video up there that takes you on a tour of the Kodak Theater, led by Kodak CMO Jeffrey Hayzlett (Kodak was a major sponsor of the conference), so check it out...
Hank Wasiak, who identified himself as an old-school ad man, talked about how he went from essentially being a "Mad Man" to being a Twitterholic, and how social media is transforming advertising (I have more notes on this I hope to share in the next few days)...
Tom Andrus, who took his family on a 31-country tour over the course of a year and blogged about it. Tom also shared a list of his favorite must-follow travel Tweeters, which was swiftly yanked from the screen before I could write them down because of time (if I find a link, I'll post it)...
A few panels on the future of publishing - I learned there's a hashtag for #savepublishing, and that social media is being integrated well by publishers, authors, booksellers and others in the publishing business. Books...not dead. Good to know.
Fred Graver, who founded the Best Week Ever show and has written for a few other comedy shows, announced that in November he's launching #wittr, which he described as the improv or comedy theater located on Twitter's highway. It involves several comedians weekly, who interact with each other and with fans. Funniest fans will be invited to the virtual stage. Details to come, but looks like this is an iPhone only app. Which would suck for me, if I didn't already know that women aren't funny.
Is there more? Obviously and always. It was 140 people in 2 days, don't forget. But it's late, and tomorrow I'll have to readjust to life outside the Kodak Theater. It's rough, but - as is often my motto - if Julia Roberts can do it, I can do it, too.
Want more conference posts? I went to Digital Hollywood, too: