“How did my iPhone get so sticky?”

...and other observations from NYC's Twestival

To clarify: a Twestival is not a Tweet-Up.

Yeah. There’s a sentence I never expected to write. But the clarification is necessary, apparently, because a lot—apparently—hinges on the distinction between the two. So, here goes: a Tweet-up takes the let’s use the Internet to get people off the Internet ethos of Meetup and applies it to everyone’s favorite microblogging platform. Like Twitter itself, Tweetups tend to be friendly and and casual and conversation-driven and almost utopian in their vision of all that can be achieved when we use the Web to bring us together. (See alse: Textival.)

A Twestival, ostensibly, operates under the same assumption—only it involves more people and more planning….and charity. (Twestival’s motto: “Tweet. Meet. Give.”) Last night’s version, in New York City (only one of some 150 similar events that took place worldwide yesterday evening), was meant to raise money for charity : water. And raise money it did: according to Scott Harrison, charity : water’s CEO, the NYC event alone raised over $20,000 to build wells for villagers in Ethiopia. Can’t find fault with that.

And NYCTwestival pulsed with the kind of nerdy joviality that has become Twitter’s default setting. Its venue featured, as you’d expect, a running Twitter feed (#NYCTwestival) that was projected against a giant screen on one wall of a cavernous dance floor. The feed moved rapidly, the music pulsed, iPhones glowed, dorkiness was delighted in (@veektor: “@mayafish and I are updating our apps in the corner. Wooooo!!!”), philosophical questions were asked (@johnsancheznyc: “Are the people at #nyctwestival actually standing around & tweeting at a party instead of talking? Both at the same time? I wonder!”), pleas for help were proffered (@laurakb: “Just got a paper cut and am bleeding at the #nyctwestival anyone have a band aid?”), helpful advice was offered (@cckarl: “@Scott_Malish your fly is down.”), musings were presented (@mayafish: “How did my iPhone get so sticky?”), aesthetic judgments were rendered (@dstrelau: “OH: That guy looks like Peter Griffin”), and well-dressed twenty- and thirty-somethings—many of the girls in high heels; many of the guys in sneakers—offered incredibly insightful observations about the surreality of Twittering something and then seeing it right there, on a screen, in front of you. “This is, like, so postmodern!” a girl giggled into her BlackBerry.

So. Good, no? Sounds fun and community-minded and charmingly nerdy, right, like an event worthy of its chipper logo?

You’d think. But, then:

@thegiftd: “Dear #nyctwestival ure bollocks and yes I did that to get on screen. Yes I’m immature but this is a charity event that I had good faith in.”

@mayafish: “I’m sorry, #nyctwestival was kind of gay. I mean like retarded-gay.”

@chrismunns: “#nyctwestival was a joke and a waste of time. rip off drinks, rip off coat check. it wasnt twitter, it was fri night@meatpacking club 100%”

@ChazFrench: “Time for bed. #NYCTwestival #TwestivalNYC #Twestival. FUCK YOU, YOU LYING FRAUDS! FUCK YOU & YOUR SHEEP! YOU SUCK ASS!”
” Yeah. Since there were plenty of people who had a great time at the Twestival (@funkybrownchick: “Oh my fucking god, if you’re not at #nyctwestival you’re missing out. I actually REALLY like the dance music / drunkfest. :)”; @vanillabean45: “had so much fun last night at #nyctwestival ears are still ringing! And I think I got whiplash from the extreme dancing teeheehee!!!”)…why did, by my rough count, about half of those who Twittered about it reflect: anger/betrayal/dismay/disgust/some combination thereof?

@Brucewagner hazarded a guess: “Some complaining that #nyctwestival was nightclub event, loud music, $16 drinks, imposs. to converse.”

Yep, that could have been part of it. It could also have had to do with the following: that the nightclub in question was M:2, a west Chelsea venue of a particularly cheesy variety; that the music pulsing on the club’s cavernous dance floor included selections from Justin Timberlake, Coldplay, LIPPS Inc. (“Funkytown”), and Daft Punk (“one more time, we’re gonna celebra-a-ate…oh, yeah…”); that the screen running the slideshow set up by charity : water—the one depicting several images of African children gratefully slurping muddy water—was unfortunately located directly above an enormous bar that featured no water, but beverages of almost every other variety; that the cost of said beverages was not included in the $20/$40/$60/$120 ticket price; that said cost was $16 (for cocktails) and $8 (for beer), before tip; and that the drinks’ proceeds did not go to the charity.

As @stabitha put it: “Um, so fuck the price of drinks at @nyctwestival. Water charity, but whiskey is $16? Suck it.” @EvilPRGuy echoed: “Dear #nyctwestival It’s hard to stomach $16 drinks while watching videos of people drinking polluted water, we could have donated that $ too.”

To extrapolate a bit from all this: many of its attendees wanted last night’s Twestival to be a Tweetup. They wanted easy collegiality; what they got instead a club scene. But, still, if Twestival—and its hundreds of attendees—shows anything, it’s that Twitter has gone, you know, from geek to chic. “I have never seen so many people Twittering in one place at one time,” @thebigm declared. “I feel, well, normal.”

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.