Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Twitter, WAM, and covering the story

So I wrote about my WAM experience over at Bust, but the thing that I've really been thinking about since the weekend was the Twitter coverage.

Not everyone has the finances or the ability to go to conferences, but the Web allows for the experience to be shared more widely. In addition to video coverage that will apparently be available on the web soon, the running Twitter stream managed to pull people who could not attend the event into the conversation.

The conversation started with a basic hashtag: #wam09. Conference attendees tagged their Twitter updates with #wam09 and a Twitter search for the hashtag allowed attendees and anyone else to see all public updates with the hashtag. As soon as I started tweeting with the hashtag, I got new Twitter followers.

From there, though, the conversation multiplied. At the first panel I attended, on Gender Non-Conformity and the Media, Jack from Feministe wrote a panel-specific hashtag on the board: #wam09gnc. We used that tag for our tweets from this panel, and I had the main search page, which automatically updates, open while I was listening and tweeting comments from the panel I was in.

This might sound like it requires an intense attention span, but I'm used to running three programs at once on a normal day.

On top of that, other WAMmers would retweet comments from others at other panels, spreading the discussion out further.

I met people through Twitter during panels, reading their Twitter feeds and then stopping to introduce myself at the end of the panel, and added new people to follow while picking up new followers and joining discussions on varying topics. In the final panel I attended, Women and the Economic Crisis: Getting Beyond the Corporate Media Narrative, (#wam09ec) we seemed to have perfected the process, googling and instantly tweeting links to organizations, books, and other sites referenced during the discussion in real time.

Twitter is ideally suited to events like WAM, where a large number of people are covering a specific event with several different parts happening simultaneously. Information was spread through Twitter--one attendee was stranded and needed donations, and the request for cash spread quickly across the Net, getting her home. Livetweeting one single event--like the presidential press conference or the debates--is fun, but often many people comment on the same things. The inauguration tweets were more useful because directions, warnings, and other information could be exchanged in real time.

But for an event like WAM--or many other conferences--this technology is perfectly suited. I'm sort of thinking on screen here, but I wonder what other events/issues could be covered this way?