#WW Welcome Wednesday - New Twitter Hashtag + Musings about PLNs

Disclaimer: this post is not so much just about educational social media best-practices but instead a general comment about social networking overall plus a call to help a few fellow twitterites kick off a movement aimed at helping those new to the medium find other folks.

Yesterday I had a lovely day-off.  I spent it with a friend I've known here for at least seven years.  It was such a different day from the way most of my days have been since the start of this year, not just because I finally took some time off for me (I'm writing a book and consulting an e-company) but because after all this time she let me into one of her secret pleasures...

we went to a field near the airport and we watched planes land.

And this crazy-never-done-before-in-my-life before was one of the best days ever.

Namely because I had no idea that watching planes land from underneath their bellies is awesome fun and some planes are.. in her words... sexy but also because it was so incredibly refreshing to spend time talking about something not related to teaching!

Sometimes living and breathing education... can all be a bit much.

Networked Teacher by Langwitches on Flickr

Today, like a lot of other folks, I've been thinking a lot about personal, professional and online personal/ professional communities.  One of the chief issues which has been niggling at me recently, is about the use of hashtags on Twitter and how often they get taken over and misused.

Sometimes this is only accidentally -

(even I once tried to participate in a twitter edu-group, 
without understanding the rules, 
and wound up upseting someone
who took something I'd linked to -
a bit of a laugh - but instead it was taken personally
which mostly left me thinking "oh, grow up" 
and yet folks... 
I probably was partly in the wrong)

I understand, I do. 

As... let's face it, sometimes hashtags are grossly abused by idjets who jump with joy the very second they see a  new hashtag - seeing it solely as an opportunity to sell or reach as many people as possible with information about their products.
(Good folks normally but they don't know 
even  the basic social-media rules and norms and
god save you if you point this out -
their egos can't take it!).   

It's difficult to say that this is really a no-no no-go area though, because sometimes that information, even when it's just a product pitch, is actually awfully useful but hey, doesn't it make Twitter feel like being stuck in the middle of a great big Moroccan market at times?

It's the nature of the beast, Twitter, being an open platform and all.

And different people are on Twitter for vastly different reasons - sometimes people are excessively territorial about their ideas and hashtag movements because they've um, assumed that all their followers are well, clones of themselves and joined  Twitter for the exact same reason - whatever that may be.  Sometimes folks believe that they've earned the right to do and say what they please because they, um, can.

Sometimes if you dare to criticize something you don't like but that other people do you know the way you'd comfortably complain about x or y without really giving a toss about x or y with your real-life mates then you may well be suddenly flamed for daring to call out, publicly, for saying that crap is crap.  

However those of us with our brains still screwed on know that just because something's created by someone who's as nice as pie,  doesn't make it "good." And just because someone "popular" says something's bad doesn't mean that it is.

Good and Bad, I trust and hope, will always remain subjective.

Yet sometimes I confess I am utterly astounded by how the masses respond to the most unoriginal sound-bite as if it were actually a quote from the Dalai Lama.

"The orange is a round fruit. It can be used to make juice but you can eat it too."

Why, yes. 

Sigh. Cringe.   

And after all, while it may not have been new to me, being fond of oranges and all, it doesn't mean it didn't teach someone else... probably.   I suppose that statement could be considered profound.  But then that's the thing about crowds and wisdom and crowds and their um, how can I be polite, their potential for non-wisdom...     

All part of us being human.  Right?

All a part of the that that makes us special and unique and fun and alive.

On that subject, humanity, one of the reasons a vast number of us - right across the Blogosphere and Twitterverse, those who've been on Twitter for some time, have begun having "existential" crises about the whole only-sunshine+utopia-allowed-here within our online PLN is that it's

not human.   

For many of us, it feels absolutely super to log on whenever you like and be greeted by the wide smiles and hugs of others but for others of us, those with PLNs which are also made up of folks who are not on Facebook or Twitter - the ones who we communicate with regularly face2face and do  real life stuff with - you know like watch videos about deepwater flourescent octopi -  then we also know that, deep down, actually, what makes communities strong is not just our shared laughter and our shared stories but our ability to be there for each other:  when we've been disagreed with, stabbed in the back or when we've been imperfect.

When we're around for the cloudy as well as the fair.

Chirping may be good for birds  (and digital footprints) but who wants to hang out every single day with folks just making noise.  Not me.  I'm busy.   We know, don't we - from  the experience of actually having real lives that contain real-life friendships too - that folks who pretend to be happy all the time are in fact not; that those who talk non-stop are pretty much just  vampire-airheads; that liars, false prophets and politicians  abound...  and  that those who would you sell you the keys to changing your life for-ever... well they are, wait for it, selling snake oil.  

We also know that gangs and cliques emerge in any new city discovered or settled on - whether we're Bonobo apes or edtech geeks; we know that fierce arguments spring up between folks who've never met each other yet tomorrow they'll turn around and give each other a tip about a great job; that flirting occurs between married folk who should really know better; that there are people who think it's okay to use their "influence" to browbeat you into adding themselves to your blog and when you don't, you're labelled evil; that folks who profess to have excellent critical thinking skills find themselves in situations that cause them to completely lose the ability to rationally think  but instead emotionally react - we watch as they cease to search for truth or meaning, cease to use the vital "why" but instead spread propaganda... like telling thousands a website's closing before verifying the facts, finding out whether or not it's really happening; that bullying goes on right across all of the various platforms - and we also know that the best way to spot these folks is to watch out for their lieutenants because those that bully, no matter their  own pearly white  charm, never ever work alone;   that sometimes we overreact to criticism and name it agression rather than simply take it on the chin and attempt to learn something from that experience; that sometimes narcissm is just that; that ego-stroking and brown-nosing has the ability to spread at almost plague-like proportions  not out of genuine respect but because many people simply look out for only number one;   that normally sane folks can wind up getting their feelings hurt whenever they've not been paid the attention they think they deserve;  that jealousy, cowardly actions, one-upness, greed, sloth and ... whatever the other bad stuff is that exists in all of life... lives amongst us; that solid, potentially life-long friendships can develop out of the inanity of liking  the same book author - a person no one in your local village or even city has ever heard of;  that relationships end or shift in value; that tweepl decide who's worth paying attention to based solely on the numbers of followers they have instead of what they tweet in the space of 140 characters and of course, that rather ill-thought-through judgements made when tipsy can be set in stone forever...

In short, online life is just like real life... 

So why do we pretend it's not?  
Maybe, sigh, we need a Moan on Monday,  #MMs anyone?  
Nah, not really.

Rant aside, the top level of all of that, our humanity ... I think... is that no matter how much crap we all have to live through daily, shocking events which zing at us from nowhere,  suspecting others of the gravest of crimes while being unable to speak out from fear...  the best thing about the things which drive us - is our will to keep on trucking on, communicating and making friends, sharing and loving and learning, it is in fact, having the inbuilt mental agility and ability to help the communities we reside in.

In April 2009, Aniya Adly in Italy came up with the concept of #TeacherTuesday #TT  and that simple idea completely exploded as educators who had previously been entirely unconnected were suddenly able to find each other and talk to each other in real-time.   

The idea moved right across the world, and almost two years later her simple idea which was based on #FollowFriday enabled tens of thousands of educators  to form and participate in what we nowadays generally refer to as our PLNs (Professionl/personal Learning Networks) or  the label I prefer - eCommunities of Practice.

All of this "connectedness" that you see today - the follow-on concepts  which arose -   #edchat, #ellchat #eltchat and all the rest of it - if  it hadn't been for Aniya's call then none of this would have ever come into play and a lot of us would have  probably abandoned Twitter early on or still be left on isolated islands thinking that it was a silly-waste-of-time.
Yet, the reality is that today, for many of us, unfortunately nowadays #TT and #FF are no longer as affective as they once were.

In part because the "marketing folk" moved on in, so there's no point in reading the stream anymore to find other teachers.

Also many of us have already connected with so many other educators and whenever we need folks' sage advice then we pretty much know how to reach them...

The fact is we actually don't need to be recommended ourselves anymore (but thanks guys for having done this, it was always appreciated) and... most of the folks we wind up recommending ourselves to other people are folks which also don't really need to be recommended anymore either!
(Well, unless they're keeping score points or something)

But if you were a newbie, an outsider looking in, then it might all remind you of HighSchool with lots of predefined and impossible-to-break-into cliques.  Cheerleaders, football coaches, chipper girls with blond ponytails and chipper boys in polo shirts and matching boat shoes.

(obviously I was a geek all the way through school... 
"popularity" is not something I take seriously
nor give a shit about,
I got followers... I think,
by just writing a lot about stuff 
people in my field care about). 
I think.

Anyway, wow - this blog post is getting long - it really is time for me get to the point.

We need to fix this...

Enter Richard Whiteside of I'd like to think that I help people learn English who has come up with a brilliant plan for those of us who've been on Twitter a while and who have already developed our PLNs:    

made on Wondersay - Animate text with style
(If you don't have JavaScript the Wondersay reads: let's help our new followers create their own PLNs)

Instead of getting new folks to figure out where the gold is hidden in the mountain (when new they don't even know what #TT #FF means),  instead let's try bringing the gold to them.

Let's help them right from the get go on how to meet other great tweepl.

Richard's idea is to work with a new hashtag: 
#WW - Welcome Wednesday

We had a quick chat on Skype and here's how it'll work:

1. Each week look through your new followers and choose one - five people you  either know personally, professionally or who genuinely look interesting and worth following - folks you think your network might enjoy meeting too.   

As much as possible aim to recommend folks who have less than 100 followers.

As a general rule it's probably best not to recommend those who haven't bothered to add a real photo/ listed a bio as they may well be spammers and do be very careful about those who've set their profiles on to "private" as they may not want to be listed publicly - some people truly only want to be connected to 20-50 people. **

2. Follow them back and if you want to, DM for permission to feature them in #WW   

3. Send out personalized tweets - not lists - based on what they've written in their profiles.  Add as many relevant hashtags to your tweet to help your PLN determine whether or not to follow them too.

For example, do this
#WW welcome @Craig an English Language Teacher based in Dubai, #ELT ~ interested in #dogme and chocolate. #TEFL
#WW @Jenny - she's a Teen Fiction author based in Ireland. Open to being interviewed by your students.  #fiction #ireland #education #younglearners
 #WW shout out 2 @Bob a good buddy of mine, help me welcome him! - #mlearning evangelist #edublogger and head of #edtech at @UniversityofMiami

But please don't do this:
#WW @Jenny @Craig @Bob @June @Alice @TomatoHead @eLearningGuru
 as this is unhelpful to everyone.

4. Set up a stream for the #hashtags which reflect your own interests within your Twitter client, if you haven't already done so.  Whenever new folks with the same interests you have pop up there on a Wednesday, follow 'em if they sound interesting /you'd like to help them build their own eCommunities of Practice.

But I'd also generally advise that it's probably not worth the bother of watching the #WW stream itself as within the first weeks of this taking off properly, no doubt very soon after that, the salesmen and marketers will move on in.

What do you think, shall we use some of our time on Twitter to help others connect?


**The pros and cons regarding the best size of  a PLN is subjective and based on what you want from being connected with other people.  In my opinion, following less than 100 folks means that you don't get access to enough information to make the Twitter experience worthwhile yet after following around 1000 it starts to become incredibly difficult to filter...and you wind up spending a lot of time creating different streams to catch people's thoughts, musings, blog posts and also, I have to say honestly, that after you start reaching 3000 followers, you can wind up mostly hurting people's feelings because you  forget to follow people back (or when they initially followed you they had no bio/photo so you ignored them)... and you can no longer see what all your friends are saying  - well, that is unless you're logged in 24/7 and don't have a real life!

Finding out more Twitter

Resources on PLNs

    2 Responses to “#WW Welcome Wednesday - New Twitter Hashtag + Musings about PLNs”

    • Anna Varna says:
      March 27, 2011

      That's a very good idea Karenne, I'll try it this Wednesday! And thanks for this post, I had no idea Aniya was the mother of the #TT!

    • Tara Benwell says:
      March 31, 2011

      Lots to think about here, Karenne! I love the #WW idea. Just getting my sister-in-law on board as a photographer and remembering how baffling twitter can be for newbies. She won a free gift certificate from a catering company in her first week, so I guess it's starting out okay for her. :)


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