In the Valley, Moriarty and several other social-media types are using Twitter (and, to a lesser extent, Facebook) to get hundreds of people away from the computer and into the real world.

There's "Friday Nights," a series of social media-based meet-ups across the Valley that happen every Friday night. Moriarty's founded Improv AZ as well as a local chapter of Ignite, a presentation series that gives 18 speakers five minutes and 20 slides each to talk about their passions and inspire others to become part of what they're passionate about.

Moriarty has also founded a nonprofit organization called Phoenix Innovation Foundation, whose mission is to assist members of the creative community in organizing events.

Moriarty walks a group of would-be volunteers through the plans for Ignite Phoenix 5.
Jonathan Mcnamara
Moriarty walks a group of would-be volunteers through the plans for Ignite Phoenix 5.
The Epic Superhero Battle ends with a group shot near the Borders at Scottsdale Fashion Square. The event was organized by Improv AZ and Arizona Cacophony — both groups dedicated to throwing wacky events and flash mobs around town.
Jonathan Mcnamara
The Epic Superhero Battle ends with a group shot near the Borders at Scottsdale Fashion Square. The event was organized by Improv AZ and Arizona Cacophony — both groups dedicated to throwing wacky events and flash mobs around town.

Details

Phoenix's online community is constantly changing and growing. To find out more about how local people are using social media to "tweet-up" at various events around the Valley, follow these social media evangelists on Twitter (www.twitter.com):
Jeff Moriarty: Founder of Improv AZ, Ignite Phoenix, and Phoenix Innovation Foundation 
twitter.com/jmoriarty
Evo Terra: Founder of "East Valley Friday Nights"
twitter.com/evo_terra
Roger Williams: Founder of Ignite Phoenix
twitter.com/halfacat
Kimber Lanning: Chair of Local First AZ, owner at Stinkweeds Records and Modified Arts
twitter.com/kimberlanning
Brandon Franklin: Ignite volunteer and taiko drum enthusiast
twitter.com/brandonfranklin

Ignite Phoenix 5 will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. November 3 at Tempe Center for the Arts from 6 to 9. For information on attending or submitting your idea for a presentation, visit www.ignite-phoenix.org.
• Do you have the urge to drop your pants on the light rail? Improv AZ may be the right social circle for you. Check out the improvised fun at improvaz.com.
"East Valley Friday Nights" is just one of several Friday-night meet-ups happening every week. For more information about showing up and hanging out, visit the event's site.

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Through these organization and events, a small but tight-knit community has been established, the demographics of which may surprise you. Though participants in these events are united by an Internet connection and a working knowledge of social media tools, there are far more than computer geeks and tech nerds in their numbers. Each week, 40 to 60 people attend East Valley Friday Nights, a version of "Friday Nights" that caters to people living east of downtown Phoenix, organized by a Twitter user who goes by Evo Terra. Many of those same people also attend Ignite Phoenix — along with hundreds of others. They are white-collar men and women; artists and musicians; business people and members of the media; educators, real estate agents, and stay-at-home moms.

Whether online or in person, these are real people and their conversations sound that way. That Twitter users are having a real-time, public conversation that can be followed by anybody does not mean they're always politically correct about it. Users are free to sling mud, spark debates or merely toss their innermost thoughts (or what they had for lunch) to the void. And just like in real life, no one needs an excuse to be an asshole. Luckily, Twitter provides a solution to that:

"Social media puts all the power in the reader's hands, especially Twitter," Moriarty says. "You can't ram your message down my throat if I don't want to see it. You start spouting a bunch of crap, I'm going to un-follow you and I'm not going to see your crap."

Twitter users are also quick to jump on anything they disagree with — including in person. When a presenter at Ignite Phoenix 4 dropped his original presentation to make a sales pitch, Twitter instantly began buzzing with comments calling him out for his misdeed.

At the moment, Moriarty estimates that between 40 and 100 people show up to his Improv AZ events, depending on the size and location of the prank. His most successful event, Ignite Phoenix 4, drew close to 600. That's not bad, but it's hardly the sign of a cultural image makeover.

Can this scene get its arms around an entire city? Or will the flurry of tweets ultimately amount to no more than an oversize clique?


It's 7 o'clock on a Monday night when Jeff Moriarty walks into Tea Infusion at Tempe Marketplace. He's tall with a mane of bushy brown hair that makes him look younger than his age, 40. He's got the kind of smile on his face that suggests his mind is in 50 different places at the same time — and he likes it.

He's just come from a planning session for the next round of Improv AZ events. He won't reveal just what those events are, only that they're going to be crazy and that he's unsure how the group will pull them off. He's eager to share his plans for Dart Phoenix, however. (Like Ignite Phoenix and Improv AZ, which are local adaptations of someone else's idea, Dart Phoenix started someplace else.) Here's the pitch:

"Get people together. Throw a dart at the map of Phoenix. Get them out of their comfort area or wherever they like to go and get them to go somewhere else in the Valley and document it."

If Moriarty has a defining characteristic it's that he likes to shake things up.

Moriarty does have a day job: director of social media at Sitewire Marketing Solutions, a Tempe-based new media marketing firm that helps build Web presence for companies like First National Bank of Arizona and Shasta Pools & Spas. The company's job is to make their business names appear quickly when someone types "Arizona bank" or "pool company Arizona" in search engines such as Google. Moriarty helps those firms market their businesses using Twitter and Facebook.

But he owes much of his social-media prowess to his days at Intel in Chandler, where he worked from 1999 to June 2009 designing social-media solutions for both internal communications and Intel's online presence.

The Chandler plant employs 9,700 people, making it the second largest Intel site in the world. The company's huge but progressive: It gives employees a two-month sabbatical every seven years. And it invites them to communicate with their 82,000 fellow employees via an internal blogging network.

"Even though Intel was big, they had a culture of: If you're creative, if you're innovative and you want to go out and do something, they'll let you do it," Moriarty says. For him, it meant his first foray into social media and a legendary (at Intel, at least) series of blog posts inspired by literary giant J.R.R. Tolkien.

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4 comments
Seth
Seth

There's already a mass culture of stupidity and aggressiveness in Phoenix. The superhero fight lands on the stupid side.

Scott
Scott

What #1 said!!!

El Matho
El Matho

What I find most interesting is that that one dude is 33 and he was an engineer for 18 years. That's some Doogie Howser ish right there.

KarlBob
KarlBob

Interesting article, but there's a difference between an arts community and a civic culture. Getting people out of their houses and interacting is a great way to foster a cultural identity, but if that identity is going to reach beyond "CenPho hipsters" to "Valley residents", it will have to involve those of us who don't buy vinyl at record stores, or visit trendy bars to congratulate ourselves after "spooking the straights". As Kimber Lanning pointed out, third-generation cobblers are as much a part of Phoenix as trendy scenesters. Events attracting nurses and auto mechanics as well as Web designers and sculptors would stand the best chance of creating a cultural identity for all of Metro Phoenix.

 
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