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

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They started at Monti's La Casa Vieja in Tempe, picking up people along the way, until arriving at the Roosevelt station in central Phoenix. It was precisely the type of social interaction Lanning hopes will come about as a result of social media.

"The only thing that I'm excited about with regard to social media is that it might encourage people to show up and actually interact. I'm not at all excited about more sterile interaction while you're sitting on your couch at home watching television."

To illustrate her point, she recalls the days when high school students would head to Stinkweeds after school to hang out, something she rarely sees these days.

"I think peoples' social skill sets are changing," she says. "Their priorities are changing. Their attention spans are changing and I'm not convinced it's for the better."

"Where you go when you die is an age-old question. Here's the answer: Seventh Avenue and Jefferson."

A young woman named Stacy Holmstedt is standing onstage at Tempe Center for the Arts. She's tall, has long red hair, and she smiles nervously as she delivers the punch line to her joke, a reference to location of the county morgue. Holmstedt describes what happens to a corpse as if she were dishing some juicy gossip she'd just heard. She speaks about how bodies are drained of their fluids and describes in frighteningly intimate detail how morticians wire jaws shut to prevent the body's escaping gases from stimulating the vocal cords and scaring the hell out of a funeral party.

This is Holmstedt's passion, inherited from her mother, who worked at a mortuary, and it's a hit with the Ignite Phoenix 4 crowd.

Before there was an Ignite Phoenix, there was a question in the minds of Brady Forrest of O'Reilly Media (a tech-focused publisher) and Bre Pettis of Etsy.com (a Web site that allows people to sell handmade products). They wanted to know what people would say if they had five minutes and a slideshow (containing 20 slides that advance every 15 seconds) to speak about their passion. They started getting answers at the first Ignite, held in 2006 in Seattle. Presentations included such topics as cup noodles, how to make samurai swords, the history of fonts, and whether you should quit your day job and start a rock band.

Since that Seattle event, Ignite presentations have been held in New York, Paris, Helsinki, and other cities around the world.

In spring 2008, Jeff Moriarty attended social get-togethers in the business, arts, and tech communities and found there was practically no overlap between them. Roger Williams, a Twitter user from Chandler, reached a similar conclusion and initiated a Twitter-based discussion about what could be done to shake things up and get people in those communities to share information and ideas with each other.

"Jeff popped in and, suddenly, he responded to this discussion with, 'Does anybody want to do an Ignite event?'" Williams says. "It made too much sense not to do it."

Shortly thereafter, Moriarty and Williams met at over beer and onion rings at San Tan Brewery in Chandler to work out plans for the Valley's first Ignite.

A few weeks later, the two announced it would happen at Phoenix's Social Media Club, a group that meets on the second Thursday of each month to discuss uses for social media.

"Immediately people were interested in presenting and attending it," Williams recalls. "It was not a hard sell."

The first Ignite Phoenix was held August 12, 2008, after-hours at the business offices in Jobing.com Arena. About 100 showed up, and the event was considered a resounding success.

Ignite 4 filled every seat in the main theater at Tempe Center for the Arts. The June 16 event's free tickets ran out in less than an hour with virtually no marketing, outside of social media.

One week before Ignite Phoenix 4, the Arizona Republic ran a small story previewing the event, but by that time the tickets were already long gone.

And the idea is expanding. Joe Johnston, of Joe's Farm Grill and Liberty Market in Gilbert, sponsored Ignite 4. Now he's discussing the possibility of a food-centered Ignite. Moriarty has also considered doing an Ignite with subject matter — including torture techniques, as described by a man trained to use them — that he says could be too mature for the usual Ignite crowd.

"The idea is to expose people to things and ideas that they haven't seen, and, at a minimum, they become aware of something they didn't know before," Moriarty says. "But ideally they engage and people do."

Two weeks after seeing a presentation on taiko drumming at Ignite 4, 34-year-old software engineer Brandon Franklin started learning how to play the Japanese drums.

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Jonathan McNamara