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?