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Jan. 13, 2010 2:05 pm

Vonage co-founder Pulver introduces 140conf social media meetup, but is it needed?

Updated: 2:19 p.m., Copy error. Updated: 2:26 p.m., Added final attendance figures. When Vonage co-founder Jeff Pulver decided to take a closer look at social media last year, it was not without skepticism. “I wanted to see how much of it was bullshit. But it’s real,” Pulver, dressed in a purple checkered shirt, said to […]

140conf organizers make introductions at National Mechanics in Old City before founder Jeff Pulver takes the stage.

Updated: 2:19 p.m., Copy error.
Updated: 2:26 p.m., Added final attendance figures.

When Vonage co-founder Jeff Pulver decided to take a closer look at social media last year, it was not without skepticism.

“I wanted to see how much of it was bullshit. But it’s real,” Pulver, dressed in a purple checkered shirt, said to a crowd of more than 50 attendees of Philly’s first 140conf, a new social media meetup, its name a play on Twitter’s character limit.

The quiet, bespectacled Pulver, who organized the first 140conf, a larger, semiannual event held so far in New York, Los Angeles, London and Tel Aviv, told Technically Philly in a pre-event interview that so many folks were making the trip from Philadelphia to New York that he decided to cut their trip. With local help, he introduced a Philly-centric monthly installment of the semiannual conference Tuesday evening.

When we sat with Pulver in one of National Mechanic’s mammoth booths as attendees piled into the bar before the evening was underway, he told us he wants not to talk about how Twitter is affecting business. No, that’s just a piece of a greater whole, he says. Pulver wants to use 140conf to talk about the “state of now,” and how connectedness is changing our society in auspicious ways. On a smaller scale, about how it touches us as individuals.

It’s a new twist on an old conversation, one perhaps made tired by news headlines and overdrawn by mainstream media fascination. But the evening was certainly an opportunity for folks networked online to meet in person and talk about the cultural shifts they’ve experienced as a result of online social serendipity.

More than half of the meetup’s registered attendees exchanged conversation in a tightly packed crowd before its opening reception, which included introductions by organizers Gloria Bell, James Bressi and Jonny Goldstein. Onlookers tweeted dialogue on mobile phones as the procession was delivered. Some have already written about the event on blogs. Close to 100 attended the event by the end of the evening, organizers say.

But before we walked up the bar’s stone steps – a grandiose structure with dramatic pillared architecture, once a bank – we couldn’t help but wonder what VoIP, and Pulver’s influence in that once burgeoning industry, has to do with social media. It’s all part of the Internet communications continuum, he told us.

The continuum has evolved from email to IRC, VoIP to new technologies, like Twitter, where connectedness and presence are increasingly apparent. He compared the real-time web’s omnipresence with communication platforms of yesteryear, like amateur radio.

When he was a young man, he says, he’d introduce himself to strangers on airwaves with a call-sign, like “KTQQM.” Now, he needs only sign into Twitter and say “Good morning” to initiate dialogues. “And I couldn’t search those past conversations,” he says.

Although we were only on-hand for a few minutes of Pulver’s speech – missing much of the evening – many of the points he told us before the event were expanded onstage.

While we’d never argue the virtue of connecting virtual communities with real-life interaction, we left the meetup wondering, in earnest, if a new event focused on social media is beneficial to this technology community. Pulver is right to bring up that his 140conf draw non-tech crowds, but Philly’s social media events which tend to do the same seem strong. Pulver’s celebrity draw is appealing. But could an existing group’s events have been strengthened instead of a new one initiated?

140conf Philly co-organizer Gloria Bell, also co-director of the Social Media Club, says 140conf’s focus is a broader scope than traditional social media events in Philly. A lot of events become very technology- or marketing-focused, she says, while there’s larger conversations to be had about the impact of social media.

“We’re touching on local, Jeff is touching on international. He’s bringing a piece of that to each city, to help show that there are a lot industries being affected on a wider scale.”

Did you attend the first 140conf? What were your thoughts?

Brian James Kirk

Brian James Kirk is a cofounder of, the local technology news network. Previously, Kirk was Web Editor of PlanPhilly, an independent online news resource covering planning and development issues in Philadelphia, and a freelance writer and designer. He resides in South Philadelphia.

  • Gloria Bell

    Thanks Technically Philly for promoting and covering the event!!
    Just a FYI, there ended up being almost 100 attendees at the event last night. (We are just a little bit proud of hitting 80%+ of the RSVP list attendance)

  • Jonny Goldstein

    Thanks for the thought provoking post. I appreciate Technically Philly covering the event.

    I was happy to help plan this meetup and was even happier about how it went.

    I feel like this was a valuable event to occur in addition to the many excellent events already bubbling up in Philly.

    Why? Jeff has an unusually diverse contact list–that brings an unusually diverse crowd. This diversity was also reflected in the main speakers—an author, a high school principal, and a small business consultant. I think the kind of cross pollination that happens at an event like this is useful, and powerful.

    The event not only brought people from the Philly area, but also DC and New York, and generated a kind of buzz that will pulse out of Philly and feed back in.

    A vibrant city encourages flow in and and out, of people and ideas. It is great that Philly produces totally homegrown events that rock and it’s also great to have Jeff catalyze something like last nights meetup.

    Once again,thanks for stopping in to get a taste. Next time, hope you can stay for the whole feast!

    —Jonny Goldstein

  • Jonathan Maberry

    The 140 Character Conference was a wonderful experience. I had the pleasure of being one of the speakers, and I discussed how Twitter and other social networks have significantly helped my career. Mostly, though, I spoke about the community and connections that exist because of Twitter. People of like interests can connect with one another across distances that are otherwise barriers to communication. This allows for the creation of a true global community that is mutually supportive, fun, informative and liberating. Cheers to Jeff Pulver, Don Lafferty and the organizers of the event for bringing this to Philly.

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  • James Bressi

    I think you posed a great question! Yes, Technically Philly, one could conclude that the #140conf Meetups in Philadelphia will be very beneficial–not just to the Philly tech community, but the city as a whole–and will actually help strengthen existing group events.

    One thing that no one can argue about residents within and near the great city of Philadelphia is we/they are passionate and proud of this metropolis.

    Jonny commented above, “A vibrant city encourages flow in and and out, of people and ideas.”

    I talked to John Baronian ( @johnbaloney on Twitter ) from Rego Park, NY about his attending. One thing he said was he never had an excuse to come down and take time to explore and enjoy Philadelphia. He used the #140conf Meetup as that opportunity and had nothing but great things to say. That builds Philly’s reputation and brand. Considering the amazing response from attendees of the meetup, Philadelphia showed it is home to amazing talent–which was broadcast over Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

    The draw of great minds and professionals with diverse backgrounds from other cities is vital in attracting new business, jobs, commerce and growth. We have an obligation to welcome opportunities that will encourage this to continue. Jeff Pulver offered Philadelphia the diversity in backgrounds and geography he attracts. We welcomed people residing and doing business well outside the city limits from D.C., New York, further reaches of Pennsylvania, and distances in New Jersey and others.

    In this age of being so connected, digitally, the broadcast of enthusiasm for the event like I mentioned earlier reached well beyond the city limits and left an impression of Philadelphia, the people it attracts and the events it hosts to be exciting and worthwhile. Thus the more help to assist Philadelphia in building its brand into what the passionate and proud professionals of this great city work so hard to sustain and further, the better it is for everyone.

    The 140 Character Conference has proven to be an international success and growing brand that launched in New York City and replicated in Los Angeles, London and Tel Aviv. The #140conf Meetups were designed to keep relationships going in between the annual conference held in those chosen flagship locations and Philadelphia should be proud that it was selected as one of the first–if not the first–city outside of the flagships to welcome these events. That says something very positive and powerful about a faith in the ability and community of this great city for the founder of such an event to entrust his brand unto it.

    Lastly, it is unfortunate you couldn’t stay longer, because you would have heard the talk among the attendees about the other great events that Philadelphia hosts and the shout outs from Gloria Bell at the mic before the #140conf drew to a close about those coming up. Such a wonderful opportunity that those welcomed for the first time into the city or lured for the first time to an event in the city to have such a positive experience and learn that there are other great experiences happening all the time in Philly.

    I think it is awesome that Technically Philly did such a great job writing its observations and asking the honest questions. The #140conf Meetup was lucky to have you take the time and be there. Thank you.

  • Dave Burris

    I drove up from the Delaware beach area to attend the event last night as well, the first such event I’ve been to in Philly. I left with a lot of thoughts, not the least of which is the fact that I don’t spend enough time in Philly and vowing to return soon to soak in more of the vibrant creative community. Don’t know if that answers the question or not.

  • Don Lafferty

    I don’t think it’s so much that Jeff is trying to establish a permanent, regular social media event here, as much as he’s sharing a taste of the #140conf mojo with his Philly friends, and looking for fresh, talented speakers to join the mix at the larger 140 conferences in NYC and elsewhere.

    Jeff has offered to let the Philly SM community run with the 140 branded event if they want to – even to throw a full day event if the Delaware Valley could support the more ambitious attendance required, but he’d probably agree that we don’t NEED another regular SM event here.

    All the feedback I’ve gotten about the Philly 140 event has been tremendously positive. As James said, it’s too bad you didn’t have time to hang for the whole thing.

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