For millions of people around the world, online social networking is an integral part of their daily lives. Thousands of virtual communities have been formed, engaging members to regularly share correspondence via e-mail, blog, text message, photo and video over the internet. Technology guru Jeff Pulver ( www.pulver.com ), a United States-based entrepreneur and blogger, wants to adapt those interactions across cyberspace and put a more personal spin on the social-networking experience. 'Years ago, I noticed that the more virtual we become the more we need face-to-face encounters,' says Pulver, who in 2001 co-founded US communications firm Vonage - a pioneer commercial provider of telephone services via broadband. 'Back in 1996 I had an experience that brought the message home: I e-mailed something to a colleague who misunderstood my message and was completely offended. No amount of follow-up e-mails could correct the situation,' he says. 'It wasn't until I saw him in person that we worked it out. It's not what you say but how you say it, and there's no substitute for face-to-face [dialogue].' The Real-Time Social Networking Breakfast series, which Pulver has been hosting since last year in major cities (venues have included the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv, Singapore, Vancouver and Toronto in Canada, and San Francisco, New York, Boston and Chicago in the US), is designed as a forum in which to indulge in such intercourse. At a breakfast held at a seaside cafe in Tel Aviv, the stocky and bespectacled Pulver - who counts about 5,000 friends on Facebook - is decked out in a blue Hawaiian luau shirt, Bermuda shorts and trainers, warmly greeting participants and handing each one what he calls a 'personal social-media networking toolkit'. The kit is encased in a disposable, resealable plastic zipper-storage bag. It contains a pen, two blank name badges, a small Post-it note pad and a sheet of small labels for use as 'social tags'. All breakfast guests are asked to write their name on one of the badges and pin it to their chest or an arm. Participants must also include a personal tagline, an 'ice-breaker' to help strike up conversation. Instead of stating, for example, 'Hi, my name is Susie' or, 'Hello, call me Marlee', the system encourages guests to proclaim on their badges they are 'Susie, Excel expert' or 'Marlee, yoga guru'. The genial host's badge declares: 'Jeff Pulver. I travel for breakfast.' 'Personal taglines provide the comfort people need for getting conversations started,' says Pulver. 'My tagline is an open invitation for anybody to talk to me. In everyday life we don't carry those messages on our sleeves. Here, you're literally carrying a message about yourself on yourself.' The toolkit's other blank badge supplies further fuel for dialogue, serving as a Facebook-style 'wall'. On Facebook, the wall is a space on a user's profile page where friends leave short notes or video, photo or audio attachments. After talking to someone for a few minutes at one of Pulver's events, participants are encouraged to scribble their impressions on a Post-it note and attach it to the other person's wall. Examples at the Tel Aviv get-together include, 'Windsurfer', 'History buff' and 'Volunteers with kids'. 'The aspect of sticking impressions of someone you've just met on their wall is immediate feedback,' says Pulver. 'You know during the conversation the other person picked up on your passion for fine wine if they write, 'Wine connoisseur' and stick it on your wall.' The protocol at his breakfasts is simple: circulate, read a person's tag and, if the line appeals, strike up a conversation. Jumping into a new encounter may initially feel odd but participants find that it gets easier as the morning unfolds. 'We're all wired and we're all basically social animals,' says Joel Leyden, publisher of the online-based Israel News Agency and a participant at Pulver's event. 'These breakfasts are about translating the wired experience back to reality.' It is an approach that was used by Hong Kong political parties in the run-up to the recent Legislative Council elections. They set up groups on Facebook, through which 'friends' were invited to rallies. Pulver uses Facebook to manage the RSVP lists for his breakfast events. He says an advantage of Facebook is business cards need not be exchanged during breakfast since participants can become 'friends' on the online social network. Rarely is anyone directly invited to Pulver's breakfasts, yet his events have sometimes attracted up to 150 or more people. 'All I generally do is create an event on Facebook and the event gets promoted in my Facebook news feed,' says Pulver. 'This is one of the benefits of having 5,000 friends on Facebook.' It was a stilted conversation about a decade ago with American independent film producer Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax Films, that apparently sowed the seeds for Pulver's current experiment in live social networking. At a benefit showing in New York of the Miramax-produced Rounders, Pulver approached the film mogul for a chat: 'I said to Weinstein, 'So you like poker'. And he said, 'Nope'. I was puzzled. 'But Rounders was a really good Miramax movie about poker,' I countered. He said, 'We make good movies'. That was it; conversation over. 'The Weinstein interaction led me to the understanding that we need better paths for social interchange,' says Pulver. 'At the bookstore there are books on dating or improving your business, but there aren't any books that give you the tools for empowering you to be a good networker. 'I thought about writing a book about the DNA of a conversation: how do you open up talk with someone like [former US vice-president] Al Gore? It turns out that social networking isn't so much about the actual conversation but more about the confidence, comfort and ability to open up and say something.' The social-networking breakfasts foster that confidence, he explains. Pulver self-funds his travels and chooses not to charge participation fees. 'It inspires me to do more and more of this,' he says. 'These are wonderful techniques for getting people to be forward. It's really fun to host these events and watch what takes place.' Additional reporting by Bien Perez.