Jeff Pulver’s 140 Character Conference (#140conf) was a truly mixed bag, which is the natural outcome of showcasing several different uses for a narrowly defined tool. You had the app developer panel, the journalism panel, the affiliate marketing panel, the inspirational panel, and, yes, the publishing panel. Nobody bats .1000, and by the end of the day I was tired of “the state of now” and “change agents” and “flying by the tweet of your pants.” Ok, that last one was made up.
This doesn’t mean it wasn’t thought-provoking. Below, a few highlights.
Books, Meet Twitter
There were in fact two publishing panels. I attended the first and spoke at the second. At “Lies My Twitter Never Told Me: Twitter Rocks Publishing; Authors Crush It!”, Debbie Stier, Ron Hogan, and author Kaylie Jones were moderated by Kevin Heisler. All agreed that the current publishing model is broken. Not the industry, mind you, just the current way we’re reaching readers. Debbie noted that people are reading plenty these days, it’s just on laptops and mobile devices, and publishing is transitioning toward that. Ron says that authors have to reach their audiences online – turning in the manuscript and sitting back isn’t going to cut it. Debbie said the publishers’ role, then, is to educate the authors to properly use the internet’s tools to find those audiences. (Mostly, a bunch of comments where I nodded along enthusiastically.)
My panel, put together by Russ Marshalek and featuring Ami Greko and Richard Nash, was a little more wide ranging. We talked about how publishers need to increase communication across departments, so the editors, publicists, booksellers, and readers are participating in direct conversations with one another; the rise of text-message novels in Japan and which genres work for that format; and Richard predicted that print books will eventually be the equivalent of vinyl in the music industry.
I brought up my cri de couer for 2009: the form has greatly changed, so why hasn’t content kept up? The fin de siècle/industrial revolution gave us stream of consciousness, the nuclear age gave us post-modernism, and now the information age has produced…what? Writers need to experiment with narratives across media in the same way that alternate reality games have experimented with the video game. I singled out Scholastic’s The 39 Clues project as a step in the right direction: through a series of YA books, sites, and trading cards readers can decipher the location of $10,000 buried somewhere in the U.S.
Why can’t a story exist partly in print and partly online? Using all the channels that people are already using? If we’re to follow the reader, those eyeballs moved from the bookshelf to the blog a long time ago. It’s time we caught up. (As a non-narrative corollary, I think of how I followed the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. I followed eyewitness reports on Twitter, the New York Times blog, and, later, their in-depth reporting. I’m accustomed to collecting a story from multiple sources at this point. It’s just that so far they’ve been news-based.)
The Twitter Coin Has Two Sides
At the fascinating panel “Digital Diplomacy and Cultural Collaboration,” talk switched to what government agencies, nonprofits, and other groups are doing to promote and manage the conversation online across countries and cultural groups. Rita J. King intelligently addressed (mis)information online: the irony of Twitterers thinking they’re protecting the Iranian protesters by changing their location to Tehran; what they’re actually doing is creating more noise. By adding their feeds – by nature less valuable as they are geographically removed from the news source – they are also preventing real Iranians from finding each other online, or disseminating original content from a stream of RTs.
This kind of exciting work is why it’s good to leave the cubicle for a day or two.
Oh, and Wyclef
I tend to bristle at celebrity guests, but Wyclef Jean was pretty great. (Hell, even Gary Vaynerchuk was amusing.) Wyclef talked about crowd-sourcing singers and musicians for his next album through his Twitter followers, using them also as a street team to promote his music, and – hilariously – even experimenting with silly stunts like giving out his cell phone number. The audience attempted to call him: one couldn’t get service, and the other reported that his voicemail was already full. Much like Radiohead, Lily Allen, and Trent Reznor, this is what musicians should be doing once they’re a known quantity. Engage your audience online and you’ll stay on top.
At “Twitter as the GPS for the Greater Social Media Mesh,” someone wisely pointed out that your brand’s homepage might not be where you point your .com. It’s wherever the conversation is. This may be your Twitter feed, it may be your user forums. Look at the Domino’s debacle. People aren’t going to Domino’s web site for the story, so they smartly posted the apology video on YouTube and alerted their Twitter followers about it.
And if I now can go 24 hours without hearing the word “tweet,” I’ll be a happy man. A little detox is in order.