Depth versus Breadth in a PLN: Is it Possible to Achieve Both?

I have used Twitter for nine months now. During this time I have had some amazing conversations with people from all over the world. This map shows the location of the people I follow. I think it is safe to say that I have the “breadth” covered. The bulk of my “tweeple” are from the United States, Europe, and Australia, but I also follow people in South America, Africa, and Southwest Asia. Currently I follow about 275 people. Approximately 35 of the people I follow are my current students. I have gained an entirely new perspective of the world thanks to the ecelectic group of people I follow.

One of the most common complaints I hear about Twitter is that relationships that are deep and meaningful cannot be formed with people when you have superficial conversations in 140 characters of less. Well, you can’t! The depth does not necessarily come from the conversations that occur on Twitter. The deep connections come when we jump off of Twitter to continue conversations that are started on Twitter. Depth in a relationship comes from a true understanding of what makes a person tick. What better way to get to know someone than by reading their blog? Skype is also a great way to continue conversations that start on Twitter. Talking or chatting in a one-on-one space is a perfect way to achieve a level of depth that cannot be found on Twitter. Email is also a convenient way to continue conversations, especially when the person you are communicating with is in a completely different part of the world.

That brings me to another question that has come up recently. What do we call the people who are in our PLN? Are they colleagues? Are they acquaintances? Are they friends? According to TwitterAnalyzer these are my “Top 10” friends:

At first glance I was really surprised by this graph. I never would have guessed that some of the people on here would be part of my “top ten” friends and there were people who I was sure would be on it who were not. Unfortunately, there was no explanation for how TwitterAnalyzer determines my top ten friends. From the looks of it I would say it is based on both direct and “@” messages. It is interesting to note that I have continued conversations outside of Twitter with eight out of these ten people. With two exceptions, all of the conversations have taken place in emails or on Skype. However, I have not had a voice or video conversation with anyone on my Top Ten list.

Is it possible to be friends with someone that you have never actually spoken with? I guess that depends on your depends on your definition of the word friend. I feel like some of the people I have connected with through Twitter are truly friends. We share our accomplishments, failures, and frustrations. We turn to each other because we “get” each other. Sometimes we are comfortable enough to share information about what is going on in our personal lives.  Like any friendship, the more that is shared the deeper the connection becomes.

I think it is obvious that a successful PLN is dependent on breadth, but is it necessary to have depth as well? Absolutely not, but the rewards that come from nurturing a few individual relationships is priceless. Over the last month I have had the chance to collaborate with one of the teachers in my PLN quite extensively—-probably way more than they want to! I am certain that I have gotten way more out of this relationship than I have given. If you are reading this and you have not yet taken the time to get to know someone from your PLN better, I highly recommend that you take the time to do so. It does mean investing not only time, but part of yourself, but the payoff is HUGE!