Jeff Pulver has been operating 140 Characters Conferences over the past two years at many U.S. locations where attendees hear stories about how Twitter has played a role in both personal lives and business activities. About six months ago an ambitious group of social media enthusiasts in the Kitchener-Waterloo region approached Jeff about about holding a session in Kitchener, Ontario – twin city to Waterloo about an hour’s drive west of Toronto. Jeff, who has had many reasons to visit the Toronto area over the past several years, suggested that it be billed as the 140 Characters Conference: Ontario to give it a regional perspective.
A historical perspective
During his keynote Jeff mentioned that his origins with real time worldwide communications go back to his early exploration of amateur radio – the only way to communicate socially with individuals worldwide prior to the Internet other than to make expensive international telephone calls. I recall several friends who immersed themselves in amateur radio due to the intrigue of finding new friends in far off locations. (Full disclosure: the author used the Radio Amateur Handbook to build magnetic resonance spectrometers at an early stage in his career.)
One of the applications that drove the adoption of Quarterdeck’s DESQview multi-tasking environment for DOS was community bulletin boards that used DOS PC’s with modems and dial-up connections to allow individuals to communicate via text messages. One of the more interesting applications of bulletin boards was managed by an child oncology doctor at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital. She had set up a bulletin board service whereby her patients could continue to communicate with each other once they had left a hospital and returned home. The key learning here was that an otherwise geographically dispersed community with a common interest could come together and share their experiences in dealing with their disease as they carried on their day-to-day lives at home. One of the key observations made by the doctor was that the kids could communicate without the need for others to see any physical impact of their cancers – “kids without faces” she called it; as a result it helped to keep discussions focused on the issues they faced in living their lives and gave them the confidence to raise their concerns.
So there was some early evidence that with the appropriate communications tools available, one can establish common interest groups and communities that engage in conversations sharing experiences and information that are otherwise “below the radar” of mainstream media. And they could do this across an electronic bridge that broke down geographical barriers.
So where are we today?
In the past fifteen years we have seen the evolution of many tools for engaging conversations with others through the Internet: email, web post comments, Skype chat sessions, Facebook and, of course, Twitter. For most of them, one is dealing with a closed or gated” community where you, say, accept Friends on Facebook, approve Skype contacts and put up anti-spam filters for email, etc.
However, what became apparent with yesterday’s presentations were:
- Be authentic, remember you are always presenting your “personal brand”, not only building relationships but also establishing legitimacy and credibility even if that is not your intention
- As a “broadcast” tool where anyone can see your Tweets if they have the right tools and filters, you can recruit a community to help you with your common interest.
- Whereas physically close family and friends may not see the nature of your issue, someone out there in Twitterland will be willing to share their experiences and information resources via 140 character messages. Yes, there are pluses and minuses but let’s focus on the positive outcomes here.
We heard stories about helping a single parent with no support resources, alleviating depression, losing your job and becoming an entrepreneur starting your own business, watching out for the “little things” to reward small but important achievements at a small business, growing a “new age” fitness business where the actual activity is secondary to the socialization and building community morale and enthusiasm in a town that has lost most of its “conventional” manufacturing industry. Taylor Jones describes it more completely here.
It was obvious from yesterday’s presentations that each presenter had built a community of interest but most interesting was to note that Twitter was not simply a tool for social networking but also a seed for changing lives. But, as AmberMac stated in her presentation, keep in mind as you tweet – with influence comes responsibility.
The Take Away
A couple of years ago, in conjunction with a CES show, I attended one of Jeff’s initial sessions where he was trying to identify a market to address built around this 140 character communications tool. At that session we listened to Twitter experiences but the presenters largely were achieving commercial success.
What was different yesterday across all the presentations was a common thread of not simply socializing via the Internet to build relationships but then using that socializing for experiencing follow up social change in our lives, whether the Twitter engagement involved dealing with individual personal challenges or driving a “community” to take the initiative to achieve a common goal.
Acknowledgement: Kudos to the K-W area team that organized this conference. Well done, well run. Look forward to hearing about another one in the future.