June 14 marked my 4th Twitter birthday. The first two years I was on Twitter I took great pride in having a very small personal learning network. Since I was only following a couple of hundred people, I was able to recognize the names of everyone I followed. For the most part I knew where they lived and what their job title was. I felt a connection to each person. There were no names in my stream that I did not recognize. About 18 months after I joined Twitter my PLN began to grow quickly. I started connecting with more and more people and I was able to follow 350-400 people without feeling overwhelmed. During the last year the number of people I follow crept up to slightly over 500. It was too many, but I know many people who follow thousands.
When I share the strategies I use on Twitter with others, the one thing I tell people is that they should never follow people just because that person follows them. I emphasize that one way to not get swallowed up in sheer numbers is to only follow people that have something specific to offer. In a moment of what I can only say was sheer insanity I threw my own advice out the window and I started following everyone who was following me.
I started going through my most recent followers. As long as it was clearly an educator who had a profile picture and a completed profile I followed back. But after I clicked “follow” for literally the thousandth time Twitter stopped the madness. On the 1001 click a message popped up that said I was “forbidden from following” anyone else. Apparently it is only possible to follow 1000 new people a day. During the 24 hour mandatory waiting period I came across two blog posts that reminded me of why I made the decision to keep my PLN small to begin with. Does Twitter Matter? by Josh Stumpenhorst and 10,000 by Dan Agins. Both posts stress the power of not just connectedness, but the actual relationships that can flourish. As I watched my “All Friends” column fly by at a pace I never knew possible with names I did not recognized I realized I made a huge mistake. I was spreading my PLN way too thin. How can I possibly be of any value to anyone if I cannot keep up?
I feel like I owe it to my PLN to follow fewer people. I cannot keep up with 1500 people! I just don’t see how it is possible. If I unfollow you over the next few weeks please do not take it personally. During this experiment of mine I have discovered that my personal learning network is no longer personal. Even though it is three times bigger than it was last week it isn’t three times better. It seems as though the law of diminishing returns applies to my network. It doesn’t make any sense to follow everyone just because they follow you. Many of the people in my PLN are people who I call friends. They are my support network and they help keep me in check when I lose my temper. I reach out to them and offer support when I can, but now they are lost in the crowd. We need to remember that we don’t owe it to each other to follow someone just because they follow us. I have said this for years, but I lost sight of why it is so important for our connections to be meaningful. Following someone just for the sake of following someone reminds of how back in high school we had everyone sign our yearbook whether we knew them or not just to fill up the blank pages. Every educator that is on Twitter is part of the same network. It is not necessary to connect to everyone. I follow plenty of people who don’t follow me. I don’t take it personally. Please think about this as you build your PLN.