A Communications Phenomenon, in Real Time

Just returned (as in, drove a few miles back up I-35) from SXSW Interactive, the fantastic four-day conference on interactive marketing and communications.

One of the big unofficial stories there was the use of Twitter among conference participants—to communicate in real time about sessions, to meet up efficiently with friends and colleagues (the Austin Convention Center is a loooong building), and even in some cases to stage revolts against panels with which they were displeased.

For anyone interested in advances in communications, it was an amazing real-life case study. Those of us who put away our electronics and observed the crowd for a minute during any session saw a phenomenon unfolding before our eyes.

Twitter is a tool that allows users to send short messages about their activities in real time. Users choose who they want to follow, and to some extent, who follows them. On a boring day, Twitter is filled with observations such as “Just ate a chicken sandwich.” On an interesting day, it’s much more lively and insightful. And earlier this week, it was actually sort of revolutionary.

I think Rohit Bhargava gets it right in his Influential Marketing blog post on the reasons Twitter “sucked” and “rocked” at SXSW. For all of the advantages, there were some downsides. When you introduce yourself to someone while waiting for a panel to start, and that person can’t be bothered to talk because they’re too busy Twittering about what’s going on in the panel next door…well, that defeats the purpose of a conference (and of being part of the human race), doesn’t it?

—Amy Bills of Bulldog Solutions