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Online vs. Offline

November 11, 2008

As I have been pondering the evolution of technologies from “web 1.0” to “web 2.0”, one thing struck me. At first, the web served to provide a one-way communication from the computer screen to the user. In this day and age, with all the social networks and tools, the web is increasingly bringing people together, and sometimes even offline. Meetup is a great example of such.

At Meetup, each person can become a “community organizer” and create a group that meets offline, around any topic or interest. Of course, online conversations can also start among group members, enhancing the offline events. Personally, I organize the Real Estate 2.0 Meetup, where I bring together tech-savvy (or interested in tech) real estate investors and professionals, for the purpose of meeting and discussing how technology can help us in the world of real estate investing.

Twitter also has a huge offline component to it. As you start to follow more people on  Twitter, you will learn of “tweetups”, regular meetings of like-minded twitterers, around a particular topic, or just over some coffee / beers. There are even “bots” that are created to track and retweet when someone mentions that they are going to a particular restaurant / establishment. Anyone who subscribes to this bot, gets the relevant updates. A good example of that is the Shake Shack FlashMob bot, which was created by a fellow twitterer to help NYC twitterers monitor the size of the line via other twitterers’ observations (Shake Shack is very popular among NYC Entrepreneur community and lines tend to get crazy). Or if a twitterer wants to get a group together, he /she announces it, the bot picks it up, retweets it, and the bot’s subscribers all get the note. Voila! Lunch date is set!

One of my favorite uses of twitter has been communicating with from within a conference with other conference attendees. Someone (typically the conference organizer, but can be any popular twitterer headed there), announces a hashtag, which serves as a code to that conference. While at the conference, twitterers retweet salient points made by speakers / panelists, as well as share their thoughts on anything from the subject matter, to the conference food. If they add the hashtag to the end (#hashtag), then other conference-goers can see the tweets, respond to them, and a rich conversation is born. This also benefits those twitterers who couldn’t attend for one reason or another, but want to follow along in real time. Several times my in-conference tweets prompted responses from other conference-goers, a conversation started and then we recognized each other in the crowd based on our avatars. A new relationship was born.

Since I started using Twitter and meeting people in cyberspace via Twitter, many of these “Twitter Friends” became real-life contacts and even friends. We were brought together by a topic / a hashtag / a common Twitter Friend, started an online conversation and finished it offline, in person. I find this extremely fascinating! Bottom line: as web tools get more social, we will keep organizing ourselves around a common idea online, while driving ourselves to enhance these relationships offline. No matter how much twittering, emailing, facebooking we do, we still yearn for face-to-face contact.

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