Home, Tweet Home: Jeff Moriarty Is Trying to Create a Cultural Identity for Phoenix, 140 Characters at a Time

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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.

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.

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Jonathan McNamara