By now, it’s a cliché that Twitter has real-world value. Yet if you really want to appreciate both the usefulness and hipness of microblogging, try participating in a social media conference where live Tweeting is not only encouraged, the Tweets also are displayed on JumboTrons flanking the on-stage speaker.
Such was the case earlier this week at the Open Government and Innovations Conference. Held at the Convention Center in Washington, DC, the two-day conference brought together 700 "gov 2.0" types from the federal government and the consulting community that supports it. As such, not only did most attendees pack a Twitter-appified PDA; many also toted laptops or netbooks.
To meet such demand, the conference organizers established a hash tag—a unique series of characters (e.g., "ogi"), prefaced by a hash symbol (#)—to group together all #ogi Tweets. Tags, of course, are nothing new; what was new (at least for me) were the two JumboTrons that showcased, in real time on a 3x2 grid, each #ogi Tweet, coupled with the Tweeter's headshot and user name.
Initially, this setup was overwhelming. With so many things competing for attention—the speaker, his PowerPoint presentation, Twitter, the JumboTrons, the legs of the blonde two tables over—distraction was easy. Yet as the conference proceeded, information overload gave way to information empowerment.
How? Instead of indulging our inner ADD, participants stayed focused. At the same time we typed, we listened. At the same time we listened, we read. Multitasking was not optional.
Yes, of course, such juggling can be dizzying. It's not for everyone, and it's not for philosophy seminars. But social media isn't philosophy, especially for those of us who do it for a living. And when we attend a conference on a subject with which we're already familiar, we learn not only from the speakers but also from our peers.
For instance, after a panel on how to make the federal acquisitions process more transparent, I carried out a Tweeted conversation, with Jaime Gracia, on how to make RFP responses public. When I wanted to attend multiple panels that were taking place simultaneously, the #ogi tag allowed me to be in two places at once. When questions were being solicited for Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, even though my colleague, Steve Radick, was back in McLean, his tagged Tweet appeared on the JumboTron and soon made its way to Kundra.
The beauty of this live Tweet showcase is its combination of transcriptions with punditry; that is, while some record what's being said, others prefer to add their own thoughts. Put another way, a live Tweet showcase crowdsources note-taking. The best notes are re-Tweeted, the best note-takers are followed, and, in the end, there's a digital trail, complete with headshots and links, of contacts made, water cooler gossip, enlightened dialogue, and everything in-between.