First off: I love Twitter. On top of that, there is no right or wrong way to use Twitter. People will either follow or ignore you.
So, if someone is following you, clearly they are deriving some kind of value from you. And, if you can't find a follower to save your life, it's equally obvious that your 140 characters bursts of content are not resonating with an audience. The rub may be when you're forced to endure (or follow along) even when you don't want to. That was the case at this past week's Web 2.0 Expo in New York City. It's nothing new that some conferences run the tweeting as it's happening live on the screen behind the keynote speakers, but things went a little wonky at this event when some of the audience members (and the tweets they were posting) turned on the speakers.
This is frustrating because what makes Twitter so great is your ability to choose who you follow, unlike these conferences that force you to endure some of these people.
Yes, these people playing along on Twitter have the freedom to say whatever they want about anybody or anything, and yes, the conference organizers can make the decision as to whether or not they want to run the tweets live on the screen as they happen, but what's missing is what makes Twitter so great: the choice of who to follow (and who to ignore). Speakers don't deserve your attention, they definitely have to earn it, but for those who shelled out the shekels to attend this conference, it does take away from the experience if the audience's energy is more focused on the tweets on the wall behind the speaker than what's coming out of the speaker's mouths.
Maybe I'm becoming one of those old people who would prefer things the way they were.
Probably not. A few weeks prior to Web Expo 2.0, I was fortunate enough to attend Mesh Marketing which featured Hugh MacLeod (GapingVoid and author of Ignore Everybody) as a keynote speaker. I watched from the sides (they had couches there) and marvelled at how few people were actually watching and connecting to Hugh versus how the majority of people had their heads buried in either their laptops of iPhones. Listen, if you want to spend a special moment like watching Hugh MacLeod wasted on telling everyone who follows you on Twitter about how you're watching Hugh MacLeod, it's your life to get that meta. In this instance, they were tweeting up a storm, but not disturbing those who were actually living in the moment.
It's an important differentiation for people who organize conferences to consider when it comes to Twitter.
Those that really want so much interaction (with both audience and speaker at the same time through channels like Twitter) can still get it. They can sit and watch the speakers while hunched over their laptops or tapping away on their mobile devices while not disturbing anyone but their own Twitter stream. Those that want to simply take part as an audience member can do so without the streaming flow of tweets to distract them. They can even check out those tweets and hashtags after the speaker has finished, during a break, etc...
The bigger question becomes: do speakers simply have to get used to this new type of format or can there be a better way to make this work so everyone interested gets what they want out of an event?