SXSWi - Twitterized Attendees Shape The Show

by , 5:20 PM EDT, March 12th, 2008

This week at South By Southwest Interactive conference, I saw yet another quantum leap in how Twitter is impacting "real life" events. Using Twitter, the sessions and social life at SXSW Interactive were morphed dramatically. A few sessions were actually brought back to topic (life?) after enough Twitter users reached a consensus that things weren't going in the direction they liked.

More than once I found myself in a boring session, only to check Twitter, find others who felt the same way and had moved to other, better, sessions. Instead of wasting an hour in a go-nowhere session, I was able to get up, move, and catch 90% of another session that was much more in tune with my interests. Additionally, Twitter chatter allowed mobile users to report -- in real time -- which parties were good, which parties were too crowded, and where people were going instead. You can check my Twitter archive over the last few days to see some perfect examples of this.

To me, this is a perfect marriage of the "unconference," Bar/PodCamp style of a self-organized event and a traditional conference that is completely organized, scheduled, and planned. I don't like the former because the lack of prior organization tends to confuse the masses. The latter have always appealed to me, but there never has been any real-time way for attendees to truly interact and shape the conference -- and their experience -- to their own needs in "real time".

I have to admit, up until I attended Portable Media Expo 2007 back in September, I was opposed to the whole Twitter concept. I saw it as yet another massive time-waster that had no real value. The first part of that is true: it's possible to waste a LOT of time with Twitter. However, there's a lot of potential value. In addition to facilitating the immediate, mobile, and distributed communication at tradeshows as described above, I also find that Twitter is a fantastic way for me to keep up regular, day-to-day, contact with industry colleagues and friends in a semi-open, yet still personally-connected forum.

What's Twitter?

Twitter is a service that allows people to communicate, en masse, using short little 140 character (or less) "Tweets". You choose whose Twitter streams you want to follow, and then when you check in on the website or with your favorite Twitter app (we here at TMO love the Mac-based Twitterific), you see everything all those people have said. Along those lines, people can follow you (unless you choose to disable that), and see everything you've said. Think of it as a distributed chat room, but you get to pick the participants.

How to do it?

Getting a Twitter account is as easy as visiting their site and signing up for a free account. Then go ahead and download Twitterific to your Mac and connect from there. I encourage you to read an article our own Stephen Swift published with more nuances about Twitter, including replying and accessing it from your iPhone.

Once you're up and running, it's time to start adding people to follow. Get setup now, find your friends, and you'll be ready by the time the next Macworld Expo comes around. Jeff Gamet published an article about how Twitter Blocks can help. And yes, you can follow my Twitter stream, too. See you out there!