Social media visionary Jeff Pulver’s 140 Conference: The State of Now, a quirky festival/conference about all things Twitter and social media, returned to the 92nd Street Y Tuesday with its unique combination of serious business data and oddball fringe culture, inspiring social outreach and full-on eccentricity and fun. Pulver’s traveling carnival of Twitter phenomena offers everything from an intensive social-media teaching module at Syracuse University to the Philadelphia Young Poets Movement to probably the most hilarious live-dub wedding proposal video performance ever to go viral on YouTube.
If you’re just tuning into the 140 Conference, it’s a kind of semi-franchised conference/variety show held in multiple cities (L.A. and London in the past), generally hosted by Pulver (@jeffpulver). Now there’s also 140ConfLOCAL, a similar series in which Pulver contracts locally organized and directed nonprofit 140conferences at smaller cities around the U.S. –often appearing as a guest rather than the organizer--and also 140edu, a conference held in New York that looks specifically at Twitter’s impact on education. There’s even a special 140syracuse, organized by Syracuse professor Anthony Rotolo (@rotolo), who returns each year with new and impressively innovative educational Twitter events.
140 conferences are designed to mime the breadth and intensity of a 140 character Twitter stream, with a steady line of presenters/panels climbing on and off the stage at the 92nd Street Y. Individual presenters get 10 minutes on the stage to talk about their relationship with Twitter/social media and panels get about 20 minutes. It’s surprisingly effective, briskly presented, information-packed and presentations vary from hard headed data driven lectures to informercial-like huckstering and heart-tugging emotional group-embraces between the often charismatic on-stage presenters, the audience in the room and virtually with the live-stream audience on the internet viewing the event from 40 countries around the world.
Relentlessly searching for “the State of Now” in Pulver’s words, #140conf12 (this year’s hashtag), is an examination of Twitter and “the real-time web” and the ability of Twitter and all the rest to connect people, reveal social trends, create new ones and somehow walk a tightrope between discussing best practices for businesses and emotionally fraught social/personal issues. In fact it’s the tension between jumping from, say, Jack Hidary’s (@jackhidary) efforts to create a Twitter Markup Language—a movement to create new tags like “#” that will add more social meaning and business application to tweets—to #LupusChat, an every other Sunday Twitter hashtag chat discussed in a teary/cheery presentation by two delightful women (@LAlupusLady and @TiffanyAndLupus), that makes the 140conf so disarming. #LupusChat has become a global lifeline for many, offering info and support to those suffering from Lupus.
It’s a heart and mind experience and the conference’s leap from heartrending to laughable can be tricky but fun like, well, Twitter itself. Rotolo, professor and social media strategist at Syracuse’s iSchool, is a bit of a Twitter educational celebrity who teaches a class called "Social Media in the Enterprises,” that's become something of a Twitter legend, as well as pop culture classes that all utilize Twitter, video and other social media in-class as teaching and self-learning tools in additon to offering these tools as quirky entreneurial strategies. Rotolo even teaches a class in how to make a viral video and while he admits that it's impossible to teach, he highlighted two of his students who managed to score hits. @SamtheCobra—videos of him doing a backflip every day for a year on YouTube went viral (nearly 700,000 views) and became a kind worldwide business venture for him--and @LittleTinker, who turned another professor’s diss of Twitter as a time waster (“you won’t get a job fooling around on the Internet”) into a national Twitter conversation (#Igotmyjobontheinternet) that showed just how shortsighted that particular professor’s vision of social media was.
Two fabulous young poets, Sinnea Douglas and Seff Al-Afriqui (@seffalafriqi), from the Philadephia Youth Poetry Movement, a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides a “safe place for Philadelphia youth to find out who they want to be and learn to tell their stories,” according to PYPM’s equally charismatic founder/executive director, poet Greg Corbin (@justgregpoet), brought the house down. The two are alumni of the program now freshmen in College.
But for sheer overwhelming Twitter feel-good viral charm, there's dancer and choregrapher Gina Morris (@TheBellinanator), who created a live lip-dub video of a wonderfully choreographed marriage proposal that takes the cake, so to speak. In order to create a surprise wedding proposal for a Broadway dancer friend, she brought together a group of 60 dancers that included professionals as well as the bride-to-be’s nonprofessional friends and family, to create a music-video wedding proposal for the ages. It’s hilariously clever, sweet and happy-emotional and really beyond description—you just have to watch it. It has been viewed more than 14 million times on YouTube and deserves every single viewing it gets.