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Twitter lets Tampa woman hold court on her couch with thousands

TAMPA — Jackie Silver curled into the couch in her living room, her face bathed in the blue glow of her laptop.

She had logged on to Twitter and was scrolling through the list of her followers, who numbered about 9,500. Then she eavesdropped on the musing and schmoozing of some of the 4,000 people she follows.

You could almost say Silver, 50, a self-published author and former voice-over actor, has turned her life over to Twitter. This is where she finds friends. This is where she flirts with men. This is where she does business.

"I live in Twitterville," she said.

She started typing:

Ah, another Friday night on Twitter … what is this, like number 67? But who's counting! No place else I'd rather be!!!!

• • •

Twitter, the fastest-growing social networking site on the Internet, has many kinds of users. Some try it and never return (the "Twitter quitters"), some use it occasionally, and some use it often.

Then there are people like Silver.

In the old, three-dimensional world, someone like Silver would have been the glue of her community — close personal friend to hundreds, keeper of a bursting address book, toast of every good party, the sun at the center of a social solar system. A maven.

In the virtual world, Silver is a sofa-based maven, the glue of a community that mostly never sees her.

In the past year, she has composed more than 13,000 of those 140-character-max updates made famous by Twitter. She acquires followers —Twitter's currency — by the thousands.

She is Case Study No. 2 in a new book about Twitter, The Twitter Workbook by David R. Haslam.

She frequently makes the roster of the most powerful Twitter users, the Twitter Elite. This list at was created by MIT computer guys whose algorithm determines a person's Twitter reach.

Topping that list nationally recently were Guy Kawasaki, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist (149,000 followers), Chris Brogan, a Boston social media expert (85,000 followers) and the New York Times (1.3 million followers). Twitterers become Twitter Elites not just because they have followers, but because they frequently interact with other Twitter users and their followers have lots of followers. One day recently, Silver pulled up and found herself front and center. "I'm No. 1 today," she exclaimed.

In Tampa, that is.

A day later, she would fall to No. 4, replaced by a modern Asian cook with a TV show, a YouTube comic and an animal communicator.

• • •

It was Friday night, and Silver was at home in North Tampa with Headline News scrolling silently across her TV and her computer in her lap. She's divorced, and her 18-year-old son wasn't around, so she had lots of time for company.

She began typing.

HEY! you guys started the party without me?

The response was quick. A Tampa PR friend said they'd all been wondering where she was. A surgeon from out West informed her he was mixing the cocktails. A Tampa chef talked about baking a cherry pie, Silver's favorite. The surgeon sent them all a link to a song, Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World.

Silver, 50, met just about every one of them on Twitter. Now they are her constant virtual companions, her Tweeps. Even when talking, she refers to them by their Twitter names, as in "At Dolcedebbie is the most FAB cook."

Occasionally, she gets together with some of her Twitter friends for dinner "IRL," or in real life. But mostly she corresponds with them on Twitter, relying heavily on punctuation and abbreviation. Good thing there's no law against exclamation points.

"I liken it to the greatest, biggest party in the world," she said as she scrolled through the Twitter chatter. "You flit from room to room. You see something, you jump into another conversation. I sit here and tweet in the dark and jump in and out."

Soon someone sent her a message for all to see: Some might say you need to get a life if you'd rather be on Twitter on a Friday night.

Silver laughed. "I'm not a total nerd," she said. "I have plenty of invitations. It's just that I work hard, and I can't always get out and do things."

As the night progressed, Silver reached out to Twitter friends. A Toronto woman who arranges "artisan" beef tastings. An antique clock dealer from Crystal River with whom Silver discusses time travel. A philosopher with a Yale Ph.D. An American TV host living in Shanghai who often sent her photos of odd Chinese food.

"Where's @sdweathers been all day, where oh where?" she wrote to him.

On actress Elizabeth Taylor's Twitter feed (@DameElizabeth), Silver found an endless stream of sorrowful Tweets about Michael Jackson:

I just don't believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others. How I feel is between us. Not a public event.

Silver ignored a video someone had posted of a guy eating a pound of meat in 30 seconds. Instead she pulled up a photo of a swollen foot, that of a Los Angeles graphic designer recovering from an injury.

"Oh my God," she said. "Oh no."

Then she began typing:

OMG BFF so glad 2 hear ur better.

• • •

Silver joined Twitter a year ago. At first she had no desire to hear about someone's plans to water their plants or eat a hamburger.

But after a few days, something happened.

She found herself sucked in.

She began tweeting about her exercise and her son's latest golf accomplishments. She posted photos of herself blowing the leaves out of her driveway.

Once she got to know people, and they got to know her, the mundane became interesting. It makes sense when you think about it. After all, what do we talk to our spouses and kids and co-workers about all day? Not Finnegan's Wake and existentialism, that's for sure. We talk about what the cat did, what we had for lunch, So You Think You Can Dance. Same thing on Twitter. You meet people, you tell them about your day.

Like many people who climb Twitter's social ladder, Silver also had something she wanted to sell — a book she wrote about staying young.

Talk to Silver long enough and she'll tell you how another mother described her as "the fat one" when she was 7, how she lost and then gained back 25 pounds at age 10, how she tried Weight Watchers, a yogurt-only diet, an ice cream-only diet, a grapefruit diet, the South Beach Diet, the Zone diet, the Beverly Hills diet, the Atkins diet, Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig.

Silver finally got her weight under control by eating right and exercising four days a week. Then she became equally passionate about improving other aspects of her appearance.

She has had a neck lift and laser surgery, tried Botox and Restylane, hung upside down to lengthen her body, performed facial exercises to smooth out her skin, tried all manner of creams and potions to keep herself looking young, covered her teeth with Lumineers porcelain veneers.

Friends sought out her beauty advice so often she decided to self-publish a book. Selling it is one of her main occupations these days. It deals with weight loss and cosmetic surgery, and offers tips from the experts about looking and feeling young. Example: The scent of grapefruit is said to make a woman appear six years younger.

The book's title is her Twitter user name.

Aging Backwards.

• • •

Twitter is the setting for all aspects of Silver's life, professional and personal.

In her tweets she is bubbly and prone to using words like FAB and CUTE and ADORABLE — just like that, in caps. She talks about the frogs in her backyard pond, her son's college orientation trip, her favorite natural beauty treatments and exercises.

But she'll also drop a few plugs here and there — for a friend's facial exercise product or another friend's great chai Thai teriyaki sauce. Those friends, some with thousands of followers, will, in turn, mention her Aging Backwards book and the recent profile of her in Woman's World magazine.

"The art in using Twitter," says David R. Haslam, author of The Twitter Workbook, "is really promoting and supporting other people that you like and are of interest to you. There are salesmen over thousands of years who have mastered the art of befriending people to generate sales."

When you have as many followers as Silver has, commerce happens.

In private messages, she hears from the owner of a PR firm who offers to represent her for free. Another company asks her to speak at a conference. Someone else courts her to be the paid spokeswoman for a beauty product. Twitter has brought TV segments and articles and radio spots and sales of her book.

Silver says her secret is that she doesn't send out ads about her book or deluge people with links to her Web site. Instead, she mentions her work as part of the conversation, as in "OMG Thanks re: Woman's World magazine mention. Luv u guys so muchly!!! BFFs!!!

That's 62 characters, by the way. She could have said so much more.

• • •

@agingbackwards Okay folks, my #twittertime is over! So much to do, so little time...Cya 2nite, I spend every Sat. nite on Twitter! LOL

A few minutes later:

@agingbackwards Yeah, I know I said see ya tonight, but I just can't pry. my. fingers. from. keyboard!!!!!

Times staff writer Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8640. Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Fast facts

Jackie Silver

Age: 50

Highlights: Author of Aging Backwards; Member of Twitter Elite; Case Study No. 2 in The Twitter Workbook by David R. Haslam.

Twitter followers: 9,518

Following: 4,069

Updates: 13,741

Other Twitter facts

Actor Ashton Kutcher has the most followers, almost 2.8 million, but he follows only 183 people.

Ellen DeGeneres has the second most with 2.5 million followers, but she only follows 26 people.

Twitter lets Tampa woman hold court on her couch with thousands 07/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 4:51pm]
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