Social networking is fun as well as interesting to watch, study, and participate in. (I know, I’m ending a sentence with a preposition, but I’m hoping you’ll forgive me…) I was amazed tonight, in scanning over the WikiPedia list of social networking websites, to see that MySpace reportedly has over 289 million users now. If you’ve seen Karl Fisch’s “Did You Know 2.0” video you’ve likely heard (or seen) the statistic “If MySpace was a country, it would be the 8th largest in the world.” The number of people using social networking websites is HUGE and growing. Microsoft has noticed, making a $240 million investment in FaceBook a couple of weeks ago. (Amazing that price just bought them a 1.6% share in the company.) Google recently announced its OpenSocial coding effort, which (according to Wired magazine writer Bryan Gardiner) is:

…an interoperable toolkit for building social networking apps. It aims to make the lives of widget and app developers a little easier. At the same time it lets Google indirectly challenge its major social networking competitor: Facebook.

Since NECC 2006 in Atlanta I’ve been a Twitter user. Twitter is not a social networking technology that appeals to everyone, and I was admittedly “late to the party.” I find great value in Twitter, however, when I want to see the ideas and links which are on the “information radar screens” of others in the edublogosphere. Similar to Ning, however, and more generally other social networking environments, I think it is wise to be wary when choosing to “friend” others.

Twitter is a bit unusual as a social networking environment, since people have to “follow” you in order for them to see what you’ve written to them. This aspect of Twitter, where people have individual and group chats around topics by putting the @ symbol and someone’s Twitter ID after it, is one of the most engaging and interesting ways Twitter is being used.

I wrote “Be wary of Ning friend requests” back in April, and today I found the same idea carries forward into Twitter. Consider the following Twitter profile– a person who is following me, but I chose NOT to follow:

Questioning Twitter motives

This person (whose identity I have hidden in the screensnap, because I don’t intend to criticize this person individually, rather I want to highlight and discuss their behavior) is following over 3000 people. Their Twitter updates seem to have nothing to do with education or other issues about which I’m interested, but rather seem to be entirely self-promotional. That behavior is not “wrong” or illegal, of course, but certainly defines this person as someone I am likely not interested in “following” on Twitter.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens as more and more people get onto Twitter and use it. Right now, the number of posts at a time is something I can follow… I can engage in conversations there. My “normal” procedure as far as “following” others on Twitter has been, however, to always follow people if they follow me… and if they appear to be someone interested in and focused on educational related topics. It seems important to me to “follow my followers” because otherwise, if one of those people want to send me a message, I won’t see it on my Twitter radar screen (I use Twitterific most of the time when I’m “on”) and they will be, essentially, “shouting at the rain” as someone commented today on Twitter. I’ve actually been in that position in Twitter myself, and found it frustrating. So…

Be wary who you follow on Twitter. Now, before automatically following someone who is following me, I’m linking to their profile. If they are following over 3000 people, I’m immediately suspicious. I’m not opposed to their use of the network, but if there are signs they are not truly interested in conversations and ideas related in some way to education and learning, then most likely I’m not interested in following their thoughts and posts on Twitter.

Does anyone else have thoughts on how to decide whether or not to follow someone who is following you?

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17 Responses to Deciding who to follow on Twitter

  1. David Gran says:

    I was quite surprised to find that Mitt Romney was following me… I mean, doesn’t he have better things to do with his time?

    Of course, its not ‘Mitty’ himself, its some promotional thing for his campaign, unless of course this is the ‘new’ domestic spying… following people on twitter. Have I been assigned to the Romney unit? Now the government knows what I had for breakfast.

    Seriously though- same thing- following many, not followed by many.

  2. Damian says:

    I do the same thing as you, Wes. When I get a new follower notice, it’s straight to their profile/timeline to see what their story is – educators and edubloggers are much more likely to get a reciprocal follow than businesses, promotional tools, or random people (I’ve got a few following me; not exactly sure why).

    The inability to communicate with people who aren’t following you has always bothered me. Whenever I come across someone who looks interesting, I follow them for about a week or two. If they haven’t followed me back by the end of the “trial period”, I usually un-follow them – I’d much rather follow people who at least show an interest in communicating with me, even if we don’t communicate frequently. Helps keep the network from getting out of control.

  3. Anne says:

    I am even more of a newbie to Twitter than you (9/07). My approach to who to follow is to trail into the blogs of the people I started following (met them ftf at “Boot Camp”) and figured out who I wanted to learn from. (If you can do it, so can I!)

    Then, I watched the @ conversations and figured out who other people were, and followed them, usually after reading their blogs. It’s a bit of a slow process, so maybe explains why I’m still only following 41 people.

  4. diane says:

    As an relative newcomer, I find it frustrating not to be able to join in some of the conversations I see happening on Twitter because I person I follow is not following me.

    Thanks to the higher profile educational bloggers who have been kind enough to include me in!

    I also mine Twitter to unearth additional blogs to add to my feed – I check other people’s lists of those they follow and explore blog links. Quite a satisfying way to broaden your horizons.

  5. I concur and would add the following:
    * I like to see what folks are saying – and that they are, in fact, contributing with tweets! Though I understand (and remember) my initiation to Twitter and how weird it seems to “tweet,” it is nonetheless important for me to see something! 🙂
    * For the purpose of the education-oriented network, I also check to see if folks from my own followers are following them – the impact of ‘six degrees of separation.’

    I’ve tried to keep my following to around 100 – thinking that more might be unmanageable, but I think the other ‘trick’ is to not worry about the number and to take it as it comes…After all, it is a tool and shouldn’t be an obsession!

  6. Kevin Devin says:

    I employ many the same techniques as you and other folks who have commented. When I receive a “following” notice, I will take a look at the person’s profile. My first red flag is, as you pointed out, the number of people they are following. If it is out of the norm for what I consider the “typical” user, I automatically default to “No Thanks.”

    If their follower numbers seem reasonable, I then look to see what field they are in, if they list it, and what they’ve been saying. If it’s of any interest to me, I’ll reciprocate and follow them as well. All others, forget it. I’m not interested in the additional noise and self-promotion.

  7. Tony Vincent says:

    It’s often ok to end sentences with prepositions. Listen to Grammar Girl podcast episode #69:
    http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/ending-prepositions.aspx 🙂

    As for Twitter… If the person is an educator, I always follow them back. But I often find myself leaving Twitters if they often post things I’m not interested in or if they post too frequently.

    I agree with Diane above that it’s extremely frustrating to try to be part of a conversation when you are not followed back. I’ve left some prominent Twitters for this reason.

  8. Alec Couros says:

    Like others and yourself, I check out the profile. Then, if that looks OK, I have the 3 strikes rule (sometimes I extend it to five) where the person has the chance to keep my attention. And it’s not as self-serving as it seems. If within 3-5 posts, if I feel that they have written something that interests me, or if I am able to help them with something (a question that interests me usually), they make the cut.

    We have to have some rules, or as you say, there’ll be no conversation. It needs to be about the conversation, at least in the way I use it.

  9. Greg N. says:

    I am a complete Newbie, only on twitter for a week. I started by following people I know personally, know from other Networks like Ning.com or by reputation. To get noticed I have ‘brazenly’ sent messages to some of the ‘bigger’ names in the group. I think a lot of the general crowd are from Second Life. It has helped to be a part of that crowd as well.

  10. I think as twitter is catching on of course there are more corporate, political, and news
    sites using it, and so it almost becomes more like RSS feeds for different entities rather
    than conversations.

    Personally, I feel comfortable hovering a little over one hundred (some of whom don’t say
    much), because I like the intimacy of having a “group” of interconnected people, and it
    seems that it would get unwieldy if it got much more than that.

    What I wish is twitter had the ability to set up different twitter feeds. I’d like to have
    one for professional, one for within our campus, one for family….and not necessarily have them
    all mixed together, although you get interesting connections that way too.

    As it expands, I find myself a little wistful for my smaller network, but also excited to
    be including people whose blogs I’ve read and getting to know them a little better.

    But since the use of Twitter differs for different people, I think however people choose
    to use it is fine of course 🙂

  11. Wesley Fryer says:

    Wow, I’m blown away by the speed of these replies! Of course, I posted the link to this post on Twitter… Twitter is definitely an innovator/early adopter social networking technology I think. The best formally organized use of Twitter I’ve seen personally was at Learning 2.0 in Shanghai– they encouraged all participants to get a Twitter account and then follow the conference Twitter ID, then used TwitterCamp to show on a large projection screen all the posts of participants at the conference. This was especially interesting the first night of the conference during our panel discussion. You can see TwitterCamp running on the projection screen in this pic:

    Our Friday night panel discussion, with TwitterCamp running

    I think face to face events like that with Twitter are the best way to get people started using it. I know Twitter was useful to me for the first time at NECC, because it helped me find and communicate with others who were physically at the conference. It will be interesting to see how this evolves for NECC in San Antonio next year! 🙂

    Oh, and thanks for the encouragement to sometimes use prepositions at the end of sentences, Tony! I hadn’t listened to that Grammar Girl episode but now I will!

  12. […] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerpt Social networking is fun as well as interesting to watch, study, and participate in. (I know, I’m ending a sentence with a preposition, but I’m hoping you’ll forgive me…) I was amazed tonight, in scanning over the WikiPedia list of social networking websites, to see that MySpace reportedly has over 289 million users now. If you’ve seen Karl Fisch’s “Did You Know 2.0? video you’ve likely heard (or seen) the statistic “If MySpace was a country, it would be the 8th largest in the world.” The numbe […]

  13. Anne says:

    Carolyn, I was thinking the same thing last night. Wouldn’t it be great if you could color code the people you follow like you color code your calendar entries. Tech people in blue, family in red, teachers at my school in green…

  14. Cathy Nelson says:

    I know one thing–during and right after the K12Online Conference interactive live events, I had a surge of followers. I let ’em stew for a bit until I could figure out their angle, checking their profiles, checking back on the daily activities in twitter (from the ones not protected). I couldn’t be sure where they came from. Most of them I followed back. I’ve even been told in chatrooms form WOW2 and ETT that I am not following folks. They want to know why. Its just common sense to want to know from whence they came, and what their business is. I STAY AWAY from the followers that have thousands of followers. I wonder about dropping followers that are like past conference logos (like the Shanghai conference…) These inflate my numbers. My fear now that I have over a hundred following me, and I follow over a hundred, is that folks will not want to follow me b/c they think my network relationships are shallow. But my network (i love the way that sounds, looks, and feels coming out of my mouth) always seems to come through for me. They have helped me many times in my time of need, and always warmly greet my workshop and session attendees when I am giving PD. They are my personal learning network, and I have begun including them in all PD–frequently calling on a hello from my group. I picture my followers like the Verizon commercial, where the entire group goes wherever you go. And you are all wearing charming little hard hats–why? unlike the Verizon guys, you all are there to HELP me when I am in need. You allow me to ask dumb questions, smart questions, celebrate, brag, share, rant, and more. Almost as good as having your best friends with you 24/7. I wish my network had color coding so that posts coming from those not following me were just identifiable. Not that it would keep me quiet, because many in my network are overlapping with other circles, so I only get byproducts of some conversations, but I’m a part of it no less. I have dropped some really big folks lately, who have a large following, but don’t seem to follow anyone else. I dropped them b/c like I said before, they inflate my numbers, and only seem to use twitter to say here I am for another workshop, and I’ll be there tomorrow. NO meat, and never an invitation to celebrate or toss ideas back and forth. I really got mad at that and dropped this person with NO regrets. I figure I get more from reading the blog than the tweets. By the way, most of the people I follow I also read their blogs. When I couldn’t decide what folder I wanted them in, I just made a twitter folder until i could decide…

    Sorry–I know this is way too long. Another flaw in my character–and one that really challenges me in Twitter–I am wordy and talk a mile a minute when I am in my element. : )

  15. Wesley Fryer says:

    Cathy: I don’t view wordiness as a character flaw– it’s wonderful that we have access to diverse technologies which permit different types and quantities of sharing! While twitter posts must be succinct, blog comments don’t have to be! I echo your thoughts on the value of our personal learning networks– I learn SO MUCH from others via Twitter when I’m on, as well as their blogs– Twitter is another way to be connected to others at an ideological level– an idea level. I find that extremely compelling. In so much of life, we’re judged based on our appearance and context. That element isn’t entirely absent in the virtual world, but there is more of a valuation and understanding of people based on their ideas rather than their appearance in the blogosphere/twitter world than anywhere else I’ve found to date, I think.

    I do wish Twitter made it easier to filter your followers, and see who you are following or not following. Maybe that is a feature they will add at some point. I definitely view Twitter as an important part of my personal learning landscape now, because of the immediate access it provides to the ideas of others as well as the opportunity to provide the “just in time” support as well as conversations you mentioned. It’s amazing, but probably more because of the creative ways people are using it rather than just it’s technical details as a communication technology.

  16. […] Deciding who to follow on Twitter » Moving at the Speed of Creativity (tags: twitter) […]

  17. Ann O says:

    Generally speaking I follow anyone who starts following me as long as: a) I’ve seen their id referred to in tweets from other people I follow b) I can look at a link to a blog or other site that lets me know their interests c) does not seem to be a local vendor wanting me as a client d) does not seem to have found me via my listed interests (family, etc).

    I also try to follow the general Internet safety rules I teach my students. The other day, someone from the next town over started following me. I ended up blocking the person. They seemed totally unconnected to the usual banter among the people I follow.

    It got me thinking that it would be an ideal tool for a “breaking and entering” type of criminal. I still try to temper how much I publicly share about my comings and goings. I’m in a suburb near a relatively large city in NJ.

    Twitter is a great tool and helps me connect to many ideas. I haven’t pre-determined a limit of how many people I should follow. This is so new to me but so valuable too. I’m just making up the rules as I find them necessary.

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