If you were at SXSW Friday and saw an unfamiliar hashtag #soundrelief trending up you might have wondered what it was about. After you checked Wikipedia, you could perhaps have been excused for changing your status to "thinking it might be more fun to be at an outdoor concert in Australia than indoors at #SXSW" (unless of course there was another Sarah Lacey/Mark Zuckerberg incident to keep you occupied).
Twitter has been getting noticeably more mainstream attention in Australia in 2009 (I suspect the mentions on ABC Radio 702 recently will have been a tipping point) and, since I was going to there for over 10 hours, I decided to tweet from the event.
So how did it go?
I had a blast. I've been part of the Twitter back-channel at a couple of Web 2.0 conferences before (even while on stage once) but nothing like this and certainly nothing where my contribution was enough to rate a mention (RT@context Trendy users tweeting about #SoundRelief).
I think I was able to add some value and give people who couldn't be at the event an idea of what it was like to be there (not to mention report on things 'the man' didn't want covered in the broadcast, like the Tweens crowd invasion and the elusive, hard to kill, beersnake).
But, for me at least, the real value came in following others who were tweeting from the event and as others responded to my tweets. For example:
- I got an early warning of the thunderstorm that hit the Sydney event from @R_Chirgwin.
- A reminder from @alexkidman that I'm a little out of touch with my fellow Australians.
- Reports from the mosh-pit from @DigitalGoddess and @oliyoung.
- Encouragement from @sboiling @codenamemax and @sstokely.
- Admittedly grainy pics from behind the scenes.
But, as someone who has an amateur interest in Web 2.0 (my law firm has a small social networking presence), what did I learn?
- It takes far more people and a far longer time for an event (or its hashtag at least) to register high on Twitter Search these days. I remember at Ross Dawson's Future of the Media Summit last year with something like 10-15 people tweeting it was not much longer than a hour before the hashtag #FOMS started showing up in top five lists (on Twitter Search, from memory). But at Sound Relief was several hours before it started to register (the fact that it was also getting late in the day in the US undoubtedly also made a difference). Co-incidentally, the growth in volume of tweets at SXSW, reportedly 1500 per hour, was the subject of a CNet story
- They are a lot more tools for monitoring tweeting trends now. As tweets tagged #soundrelief gained in volume I noticed (automated) tweets from @realtimetrends, @twendly, @twinfo, @Slushpiler, @TweetingTrends, @Whatthetrend and @wthehashtag.
- The number of people tweeting about Sound Relief is hard to judge. A Twitter Search of the tweets using the hashtag #soundrelief produces 100 pages of results with 15 messages per page. That number just reflects a limit on the search tool and, at a guess, misses the first two hours. But do a Twitter Search for both #soundrelief and the words "Sound Relief' and you'll see that people using the hashtag were actually in the minority. As many as 9 out 10 tweets about Sound Relief didn't use the hashtag (presumably because they were from people new to Twitter). So, my conservative back of the envelope guess is there might have been as many as 15,000 tweets from the event.
- We're lucky to have the Twitter API because, on their own, SMS and the Twitter Website aren't all that useful at an event like this. To get the best experience you need the ability to follow conversations that Twitter Search provides, plus TwitPic for images. With that in mind it's a shame FriendFeed hasn't taken off because it's a much better interface in my opinion. Had the same interactivity been talking place primarily in FriendFeed it would have been a more useful experience (but of course FriendFeed lacks a mobile client).
- My work-issue BlackBerry Curve was not up to the task. But, and I suspect I'm not the first person say this, I think an event like this shows social networking is the purpose for which smartphones were actually invented. I was a PDA user since the Palm III and my first smartphone was an O2 Atom back in (I think 2003). Over the years I've succumbed to gadget lust many times and purchased increasingly powerful devices---but I've rarely if ever used all of that power. Take the camera phone for example, sure you can send the images to friends by MMS or email but how many people actually do that regularly? But link that camera phone to an on-line community like Twitter via TwitPic and you start to see how it could give all that smartphone hardware a real purpose. So I'm coining a new term, your former Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) is now a Personal Digital Publicist (PDP).
Not all lessons I learned yesterday were Web 2.0 related. Being there was great fun too. I've never been much of a concert goer, it takes events like Wave Aid and tragedies like the bushfires to get me off my seat. I learned:
- There's a singer called Taylor Swift---who's very cool if you're a 12 year old girl.
- The Presets have an enormous following---it was amazing to see 10,000 people, mostly 10 years younger than us, grooving in the pouring rain to dance music that has actual lyrics and to which they knew all the words! To the uninitiated, The Presets reminded me of the Pet Shop Boys. They put on a great show in which the rain made it all the more fun.
- John Farnham's Your the Voice is taken as a serious anthem by the under 30s. They were singing it like the words meant something, the way people I grew up with would have sung along to crowded House or Cold Chisel. In this I think Gen Y and the Baby Boomers may have something in common. To this Gen Xer, Your the Voice is as silly a song as its ever been (and I think it showed on Chris Martin's faced that he thought so too).
- My partner Annette became a Web 2.0 Widow for the day as I made 50 tweets over 10 hours.
And, oh, I managed to celebrate Pi Day by eating lots of it :-)