Hashtag as fashion statement
Anglo leverages Twitter handles to make a new jewelry hit.
An American-Israeli mother of two has hit upon a new popular fashion accessory for the World Wide Web generation: personalized jewelry featuring internet nicknames.
Over the last two years Yoni Wiseman, 34, has sold jewelry pieces featuring Twitter handles and other internet lingo like OMG and ROFL to customers as far away as Germany, Brazil and Australia. She even counts among her customers one of the stars of her youth, reality show actress Tori Spelling.
Wiseman, who spends most of her work hours as a social media consultant, launched her company Twittabling in the fall of 2009 to provide Twitter luminaries and rank and file users alike with earrings, finger-rings, bracelets and necklaces bearing internet hashtags instead of ordinary nametags. For the men, Wiseman produces a line of money clips and cufflinks.
(The name fuses Twitter with bling, a Web generation word referring to flashy jewelry. )
Wiseman has lived in Israel for almost half her life, but she grew up in an upper middle-class modern Orthodox family in suburban New Jersey. "We were the kids who were on a Commodore 64 at a young age and taught ourselves what we knew. We had e-mail from day one," says Wiseman. She says she used her technical know-how to cross the cultural chasm and learn about Israel.
"I would have conversations on AOL chat. Before my first trip to Israel, I would ask people, 'Is it really safe?'" she recalls. "By week one, my sisters and I, who only ranged in ages from 12 to 8, were going off on our own." Wiseman says she fell in love with Israel on her next trip, a teen tour, returned on a gap year program at age 18, and has lived in the country ever since. She has since married and has two children.
When marketing consultant Yael Beeri organized the first Tel Aviv "tweet-up" three years ago, a real life meet-up that drew Israeli Twitter-users away from their computers and into social settings, she hatched an incubator of ideas, and one of these was Twittabling. Beeri was inspired by the Twitter networking events she attended in London, and she imported the idea onto Israeli soil in January 2009, organizing the first of what would eventually become bi-monthly social gatherings.
"As I started going [to the Tweet-ups], I started to notice that the guys would come with their Twitter names plastered across their T-shirts," says Wiseman. "On a woman, that's not as aesthetically pleasing. A female friend joked, 'You know, if you put it on a piece of bling, I would totally wear my twitter name!'"
That friend and fellow American immigrant to Israel, Shelly Shafran, says the two looked at each other and had a Eureka moment. "We went to a jeweler on Ben Yehuda Street the next day, who had no idea what he was making. He didn't know the '@'-sign - we had to find it and send it to him digitally," says Wiseman.
The two say the reaction at the next Tweet-up in August 2009 was more enthusiastic than the expected. "We went home and set up the quickest website you could, and we woke up the next day to some orders. It was the most mind-boggling experience ever," Wiseman says.
As demand for the Twitter-themed jewelry rose, Beeri bought a couple of pieces of bling and publicly presented one at a technology conference in San Francisco the following month. Within hours of its U.S. debut, the Twittabling website got so many hits that it crashed its own servers. Wiseman and Shafran say they quickly had their hosts expand their bandwidth, and that Twittabling has been riding a steady wave of incoming orders ever since. Shafran has since moved on to focus on her art and left Wiseman with the reins.
Melanie Notkin, a New York City author and tweeter with over 17,000 followers was the first fan outside of Israel to make an order. Wearing her Twitter name around her neck makes for much easier introductions and first impressions, she says. "It breaks the ice, because people thought it was cool."
If Twittabling is a way to pay tribute to Twitter culture, Wiseman believes she has a lot to be thankful for. "I would say that my inner circle of friends is probably about 50 percent from Twitter, people who I would never probably have met otherwise," she says, calling her online network the "twitpacha" - as in Twitter mishpacha, or Twitter family.
Strong bonds are formed online, and when a user turns to their Twitter friends in times of need, they receive real support in return, she says. "It's people looking out for other people," says Wiseman.