First Ever White House Tweetup? More Like an Old AOL Auditorium Event

Jack Dorsey and President Obama courtesy BET.comCommander in Tweet? Not quite. Don’t take me wrong, I’m in favor of anything that promotes social media and incorporates it into the mainstream. But, in an attempt to capitalize on the “now”, the White House stumbled in both the promotion and execution of the “first ever White House Tweetup”, and inadvertently paid homage to yet another online feature made prominent by old AOL.

By definition and popular acceptance, a Tweetup is a F2F (face to face) meeting of people who interact primarily online. Hosted by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, this was admittedly not a Tweetup, but more of a Twitter Press Conference. Dorsey stated:

“Neither the President or I know the questions that will be asked today.  That decision is driven entirely by the Twitter users.”

Well, I guess that depends on your definition of “driven.” True, any Twitter user could submit questions via the service by appending the hashtag #AskObama to their tweet. And sure, neither Dorsey nor Obama knew precisely to what the questions would pertain. However, the submissions were previewed, reviewed. culled, vetted and ultimately selected by at least two levels of editors: First, a “team of seasoned Twitter users” helped pick the questions that would be considered. Next, Twitter assembled “eight curators” to further subjectively winnow the field to those they considered appropriate.

And so the questions, while submitted by Twitter users, were carefully selected to reflect a limited number of acceptable topics. More than once, Dorsey mentioned that the questions were coming in “real time”. Hmm, did they not get enough participation beforehand to fill the approximately 20 or so questions and comments fielded in the 1 hour eight minute event? And what luck that three of the questions were submitted by a White House journalist, Speaker of the House Boehner and the President himself, making at least 15% of the questions not submitted by John Q. Tweeter.

So why is this like old AOL? In the mid-90’s AOL Live presented live, real-time, interviews in special chat rooms called “auditoriums.”  These specialized chat rooms allowed for everyone to see what was publicly posted by the people “on stage” with the audience arranged in sub-chat rooms called “rows” which could be configured to hold either 8 or 16 people.  Guest ran the gamut on the fame meter with the largest attendance for Michael Jackson and Rosie O’Donnell (each with audiences in excess of six figures). Even Koko the Gorilla who apparently could recognize written words drew 20,000 attendees.

Back then, I hosted multiple events each week for first Hecklers Online (humor-based word games) and then Love@AOL (celebrity interviews and relationship based events).

While the rows included an “Ask a Question” button to pose questions to the guest, as MC I had tools to allow me to preview the questions submitted, and select which ones made it “on stage”.  I was also able to introduce the question intelligently having just previewed it and then the guest would provide a response. Sounds a lot like Jack Dorsey and Barack Obama, eh? As I wrote previously, “Everything AOL Is New Again

So while I applaud the White House for utilizing Twitter as part of their communications suite, it was not a Tweetup, per se, but a Twitter based presser – or dare we say, “Twesser”? (Umm, we dare not!)

About Ron Casalotti
I am part of that lucky generation that started out when watching TV meant choosing from three networks, three independents and PBS. Now, I work in new media for businesses and organizations - but these thoughts are my own.

One Response to First Ever White House Tweetup? More Like an Old AOL Auditorium Event

  1. Pingback: Tech experts exit White House – POLITICO.com « Geospatial Science and Technology Policy

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