My PLN – forms and norms

I recently checked out a presentation by the lovely Joyce Seitzinger on PLN’s (shown below), and it made me want to crystallize a few thoughts about my own PLN, mainly what online forms it takes and in particular what the (or my) social norms are for these various areas.

What  is a PLN?

I could write up my own definition of a PLN, but its been done plenty elsewhere – like in this post, which sums it up pretty well for me. The only difference for me is that my PLN isn’t restricted to educators – it also includes my workmates, clients and friends. PLN’s may be a traditionally teacher focused term, but they work just as effectively in the half-education half-business world I operate in, even if mine is perhaps a little different in forms and norms.

My PLN – Forms and Norms

The main reason for this post is to talk about the different social norms which I use in the various areas of my PLN. I think this is interesting, since the norms of social networking sites can vary greatly depending on who is using them, specifically around who I ‘connect’ with to become a part of my PLN. As I work through the components I’ll point out a couple of instances where my norms vary from some others I know.

For me, Twitter is the party room. It is where I will quite happily follow anyone, regardless of whether I’ve ever met them before. My tweets are unprotected, and I’ll talk to more or less anyone who isn’t a spambot.

The people I know on Twitter come from a range of backgrounds – personal, work, educational and my other interests like cycling. I tend to worry least about this network because I don’t have to worry about who is a part of this PLN – to me, openness is the key. These days I’d be lost without my Twitter network, and people are now starting to work out that outside of Skype or my mobile, Twitter is often the quickest way to get in contact with me 😉

One interesting thing about my Twitter network is who isn’t a part of it. I have numerous people whose opinions I respect who I have followed in the past, and then unfollowed, because of the sheer volume of tweets they post. Yes, I know I could mess about with groups and stuff to filter out some content, but to be honest its just easier to not follow those who drown me in information. Mitchell Capor’s quote in Joyce’s presentation sums it up for me – ‘getting information off the internet is like drinking from a fire hydrant’ – and Tweeps who risk drowning me don’t tend to last on my follower list for long. Also note that anyone who uses an auto-RT tool that drowns me in irrelevant tweets even faster gets the flick immediately.

LinkedIn makes up the second largest part of my PLN, and I use it regularly for work related networking. My rule of thumb with my PLN on LinkedIn is that I’ll connect with anyone who I’ve at least had some sort of professional dealings with and who I would deal with again – I figure there’s not much point in being connected with those I’ve worked with who I wouldn’t choose to work with again, as to me it contradicts the idea of a ‘professional network’. I did go through a phase of being an ‘open networker’, but it just felt pointless to me to boast that I had a bazillion gajillion contacts if I didn’t actually know any of them, so I unfollowed a bunch of people and feel much happier about this part of my PLN now.

My most common use for LinkedIn in recent years has been to research potential candidates for roles – never underestimate the value of having a well filled in LinkedIn profile (including past roles) to give a potential employer a snapshot of how you got to where you are today.

…never underestimate the value of having a well filled in LinkedIn profile…

I’ve added Facebook in here, but only so I can specifically exclude it, as I don’t count it as a true part of my PLN. I do this because my rule of thumb is that unless I consider you as a friend, I’m not going to add you as a friend. Perhaps I take things too literally, but like with my LinkedIn experience, at one point I ended up with a whole bunch of people on Facebook who I didn’t really know or consider friends. One huge cull later (or more correctly a deletion of my account and a fresh start) and I maintain Facebook as a small, personal community, and one that I use to talk general rubbish rather than anything I’d relate to my PLN.

I add the Moodle community in here at as a critical part of my PLN. Sadly, I don’t get anywhere near as much time to answer questions in the community like I used to, but I still use it most days to check whether a plugin exists for something, whether a bug has been fixed in the Tracker or find an answer to a question I’ve not heard before.

The social norms in this part of my network are pretty simple – do my best to be helpful and don’t try and flog professional services – the rest looks after itself.

Other, smaller, players

I could throw in Slideshare, Flickr, YouTube and TripIt as digital nodes in my PLN, but to be honest they are minor players, and ones that I’ve really not needed to work out a social norm structure for. I could also add in the nice folks who leave posts on this blog, but they tend to be people I know from elsewhere anyway, so its more or less redundant information.

What do I get out of it?

When I stepped back and looked at my (online) PLN in its various forms, I was surprised that there were as many parts to it. So why do I bother? To list a few concrete examples of the benefits I’ve found from having a strong online PLN have been:

  1. Getting rapid feedback from people I trust and respect, particularly when its in something I’m weak on (like my post last week about Moodle in the Primary Years);
  2. Finding subject matter experts from around the globe simply by searching my Twitter or LinkedIn networks for the right keywords;
  3. Meeting a stack of new people online who I then meet in person at conferences. Difficult as it may be to believe, I am a painfully shy person, and being dumped into a conference where I don’t know a single person and trying to ‘cold network’ is my idea of hell; and
  4. Learning more about the background of my peers when I’m on the lookout for potential collaboration partners, whether they be subject matter experts I’d like to meet, or people I might like to work with one day.

Overall, my online PLN takes work, but I’d seriously be lost without it, and I’d like to thank everyone who is in it for all of their support, thoughts, ideas and challenges to my viewpoints – they are all very welcome.