In addition to dignitaries, media and Korean American leaders in attendance at Thursday morning's arrival ceremony for South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, the White House also invited several dozen Tweeters -- this reporter among them -- to chronicle the event.
And, despite rain that soaked through my shoes, a cancellation scare that drove part of the audience away only to be called off 20 minutes later, and a general skepticism toward the Tweet up concept -- an RL meeting of Tweeters, usually around some event -- I couldn't help being drawn in by the mix of old world pageantry and new media speed.
The arrival ceremony marked the administration's fifth official Tweet Up. White House Tweetups are aimed at giving @whitehouse followers a closer link to the administration, though it's not entirely clear whether the point is to expand social media conversations about White House events, to hand out a freebie to deeply engaged followers or a combination of the two.
I'm not generally a fan of live Tweets from conferences, speeches and other events. Synopses and play-by-plays tend to be so general they don't say anything unexpected and sometimes don't say anything at all.
Take my Tweet from the arrival ceremony Thursday after President Obama noted Congress' passage of three long-stalled trade agreements, including one with South Korea: "Obama hails us-Korea fta at #WHTweetup Korea prez arrival ceremony."
Did anyone who's paying attention think he wouldn't mention it? Would anyone who's not paying attention have any idea what I'm talking about?
And someone inevitably Tweets something that sparks a frenzy of 140-character attacks, rebuttals and endless clarifications.
This is not an indictment of the social medium itself. I don't think Twitter's a fad. Nor do I think it's killed personal communication. In many circumstances, Twitter is the best way to get rapidly updated on a subject -- especially a narrow one; to pick up obscure and fascinating articles you'd never run into on your own; and to get something you've created into the hands of a wider audience. The platform just isn't ideal for chronicling a live event.
My mind wasn't changed by Thursday's Tweetup, but it was broadened. First there was an added sense of community following the #WHTweetup hashtag before, during and after the event, a sense that you were sharing an experience with more people than you could possibly speak with at the event itself. There's also a thrill in sharing an experience in real time with your followers, even just a few of them.
After about an hour of standing beneath umbrellas on the soggy South Lawn, a loudspeaker announced the ceremony would be moved inside and the gathered attendees would only be able to watch the arriving motorcade. A friend at the event and I quickly Tweeted our frustration. Apparently we were among only a handful of Tweeters at the event to be so ungrateful. #Embarrassed.
Far more important than a couple of Washington-based cynics' swift jabs, though, were the Tweets sent after the event by attendees, some of whom had traveled a long distance to see their government in action -- if only in a ceremonial mode.
"It was the best experince of my Life to have been honored to be invited @whitehouse for the State Visit of the Pres. of S.Korea," wrote Daniel Mulieri, a Florida college student and advocate on behalf of the homeless.
A Tweeter with the handle dubpool concurred: "Stood in the rain 3 hrs at South Lawn of the White House," he Tweeted. "Soaked to the skin. Totally worth it."