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Twitterers Share, With No Message Size Limit
Gathering Lets Users Match Face to Feed

By Dagny Salas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 2009

Almost everyone in Manassas resident Kristen Hammond's immediate family is on Twitter. That includes mom Kristen (@mommy4cocktails), dad Derek (@damnhusband) and their 4-year-old Ethan (@theboyterror). A self-proclaimed "mommy blogger," Hammond said getting her family on Twitter was a natural progression. She tweets about her children, her blog and whatever else she thinks of:

"Day 2 of Potty Training a Toddler in Lieu of Purchasing Diapers. . . . my kid is surly. I have no idea where he gets it."

"At the park. So far kids have gone to the bathroom and pushed stuffed animal on a swing. Did I mention we are here in the middle of the day?"

"It's microblogging at its best," said Hammond, who attended the first major Prince William County "tweetup," or Twitter in-person event, last week at La Chapelle Restaurant in Old Town Manassas. Wearing a T-shirt that read "I think in 140 characters" -- Twitter's limit on message size -- Hammond craned her neck to get a view of the large projector screen at one end of the bar area. It scrolled live tweets by users talking about the event online, grouped together by the search term #pwcounty.

Twitter is a social networking tool whose users' messages appear on their profile page and are delivered to people who want to follow their updates. In the past year, it has gained mainstream appeal, with celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Ashton Kutcher creating accounts. The site also gained fame as a tool used in the protests after the Iranian election this year.

The event, sponsored by the Prince William County-Greater Manassas Chamber of Commerce and the News and Messenger, was the first in the county, said Jonathan Arehart, an event organizers and president of Cavendo, a Manassas-based Web development company.

A prolific Twitter user since late last year (@jarehart), Arehart said he had noticed an increase in Twitter users and tweets that mention the Prince William area in the past six months. A meetup seemed natural, he said.

"You can see the shift taking place," Arehart said. "It's a natural progression of people's comfort level with technology and using social media. 'Who else is out there?' We can build the community around that and make sure everyone knows who everyone else is. That way they can connect further."

The Hammond family and Arehart are just a few of what Arehart estimates to be 100 to 200 "active" Twitter users in the Prince William area, if not more.

"It's a lot of early adopters, but there are a number of interesting people in the area," Arehart said. "The norm around here seems to be people who have business interests but are also tweeting personally."

Another Twitter user is Mike Wendt, who tweets as @modmike and works at Jewell Technical Consulting in Manassas. He characterizes himself as a fairly active Twitter user ("several times a day," he said) and joined in 2006, when Twitter had just launched.

"At the time, people were still trying to figure it out and looked at me like I was crazy," Wendt said. "It's been kind of gratifying to see how it's getting used now."

A few people at the event, which shared the space at the restaurant with a separate Chamber of Commerce event, were curious about Twitter. Becky Verner, a representative from the Manassas Chorale and Manassas Baptist Church, peered at the bright Twitter sign in the restaurant ballroom.

"I wouldn't mind learning more about Twitter," Verner said.

For the Twitter users in the room, such as Donovan Brock, who works with Wendt, the event was a way to socialize with those they knew and put faces to names of the ones they didn't.

"I don't get nervous," Brock said. "It's a nice way to walk away with at least one new face in the crowd."

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