Something Weird is Happening on Twitter Right Now.


Something weird is happening on Twitter right now.

Check it out in the stream of comments that follow this Dean Shareski tweet:

Do you see what it is?

A REAL CONVERSATION!  With some intellectual give and take.  With people expanding on one another’s thoughts.  With people offering differing viewpoints.  With a few lighthearted jokes added to the mix to make everyone smile while wrestling with an important idea.

What if we tried to do that kind of thing more often?

What if instead of using social spaces to simply share content, we made a New Year’s Resolution to engage in more conversations with one another?  What if we made a commitment to ask more provocative questions or to play the Devil’s Advocate more often?

What if we promised that for every inspirational quote we share, we will ALSO respond to something shared by one of our thought partners in a genuine attempt to start a conversation?

Wouldn’t we all learn a little bit more if conversations like the one that broke out in response to Dean’s tweet were the norm rather than the exception to the rule in our social spaces?

And isn’t figuring out how to use social spaces for something more than inspiration one of the reasons that the notion of “personal learning networks” resonates with educators so much?

Aren’t we trying to figure out how to help our students leverage the power of networks to learn more effectively and efficiently?  Does that REALLY happen when all we are doing is liking and retweeting edufuzzies at one another?

Just wondering out loud here.

And wishing that social spaces were about something more than building an audience.



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17 thoughts on “Something Weird is Happening on Twitter Right Now.

  1. leadershipsoup

    I appreciate this post as well as your ‘more conversations’ post, and definitely believe the learning occurs when we step outside our comfort zones and push each other’s thinking through an exchange of ideas and dialogue. It’s the authentic posts about real life situations, not quotes, that typically strike a chord with me. That being stated, I think the Twitter phenomenon encourages folks to quickly skim and scan for content of interest, and many who use Twitter aren’t interested in engaging in public discourse where all their followers can ‘listen in’ to their conversations. It takes a certain amount of courage (or perhaps positionality) to disclose opinions that may differ from your colleagues, friends, or even supervisors that also happen to be your followers on Twitter. One must tread carefully as their digital footprint is everlasting. People know this, and many (not all – celebrities and politicians included – lol) exercise more caution when communicating thoughts and idea in digital form.

    Not sure we can disrupt this pattern, and still believe the best way to have a conversation is face-to-face. However, like many others, I find value in collaborating with great thinkers and leaders across the globe, so I’m willing to continue to try.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Soup,

      I’m with you on this. People are worried about others listening in on their conversations — and the things that we write are permanent in a way that can cause people to think twice about whether or not they are willing to participate in the way that I really want them to!

      Strangely enough, for me, that transparency is a really GOOD thing. In fact, it’s where the name “The Tempered Radical” comes from for me. That’s a term coined decades ago by an organizational theorist who said that the most important person in any organization is the one who is willing to rock the boat, but smart enough to recognize that they can’t tip the whole darn thing over.

      Online spaces “temper” my thinking and responses. While I tend to be more radical than tempered, because I’m writing publicly, I think twice because I know that the transparency and permanence are real. That’s sort of like a “digital check and balance” for me — forcing me to work harder at articulating ideas in ways that are provocative without “tipping the whole boat over.” They also force me to look for middle ground more often than I otherwise would.

      I know that’s not how social spaces have worked out for most people — I think we tend to see more extreme ideas and because our streams are heavily filtered by services like Facebook and Twitter, who deliberately show us content that validates our thinking, we don’t see anything wrong with the way we are communicating.

      But for me, that transparency makes me a more thorough and well rounded thinker.

      Anyway…enjoyed thinking alongside you this morning,

  2. Pingback: Be Someone’s Conversational Follower. | THE TEMPERED RADICAL

  3. Adam

    Hi Bill- In the spirit of your post I thought I would contribute. I agree that we should always try to figure out how to have more conversations in social spaces and remove the cognitive dissonance that paralyses our communications. However, I did have one idea to share with you about your post. On my team we have removed the ability to play devil’s advocate because we realized that we only want team members advocating for things that they really care about or believe. We don’t find it very productive when team members are just challenging others to challenge them and it turns out that they actually hold the same belief. The team finds it more impactful when we can ask each other why we belief the things we do in the spirit of strengthening thought and supporting our ability to articulate our beliefs. It allows us to learn together without the stigma of challenging for the sake of challenging. Does this make sense? #bandevilsadvocate

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Adam,

      First, good to hear from you and I hope you are well! Can’t wait to connect. It’s been a while.

      Second, your #bandevilsadvocate strategy is interesting to me — and I think I can get behind it in the conditions that you describe: Places where people are only “playing the role” of devil’s advocate.

      What worries me, though — particularly for teachers working in schools — are those moments when people really do disagree with decisions/ideas being pursued by a team but don’t feel that there is space in the conversation for them to raise concerns. As long as that space exists, there’s no need to encourage advocacy for different positions. But in places where that space hasn’t always existed — where the norm has always been “get along — don’t disagree” — having formal space for a devil’s advocate role matters.

      My guess is that your team’s culture is strong enough that you don’t need to create formal space for people to express opposing ideas. Those ideas are expressed openly already. The hope is everyone gets to that point.

      But for teams where that hasn’t always been the common pattern of participation, I’d say a structured process for eliciting opposing viewpoints would be important.

      Any of this make sense?

  4. Alan Levine

    Until Dean tweeted I had no idea twitter was so plagued by banal retweeted inspirational quotes!

    A problem there is the assymetry of response potential. If I was relatively new to Twitter and asked the same question, the crickets of response would compel me away from conversations. Dean has the power of a significant number of conversational followers many others lack.

    I’d prefer more people do what you’ve done here- bring the ideas and conversations back to blog space which used to be the place for back and forth conversations.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      I’m with you, Alan….

      I think that what I miss most about social spaces isn’t what Twitter has become. I think it is what blog comment sections have become. There really aren’t a ton of back and forth conversations happening in those spaces anymore — and that’s different, too.

      Your thoughts on “more conversational followers” is also an interesting one to me. I wonder if people who have been in social spaces longer have more of those conversational followers — people who “grew up” in a time when social spaces were different. I also wonder if we can become the “conversational followers” of other people. Maybe that’s the commitment that I really want from people: Let’s be conversational followers instead of just followers.

      Thanks for pushing my thinking,

  5. Matt Townsley

    “Why Are We So Uninformed? We Don’t Read What We Share” by Peter DeWitt resonated with me ( earlier this month and I think suggests it’s so much easier to share in 2018, which gets to your point, Bill. My feeds (RSS and Twitter) are at least ten times bigger now than they were nine years ago when I first started learning in these spaces. With so many more voices, it can seem easier to share, share, share, and less intimate than the smaller group encountered in 2009. Similarly, Twitter (and I’m sure other social media tools) makes it a lot easier to re-tweet in 2018 than it was in 2009 (pressing the RT button is quicker than typing “RT @plugusin….”. I wouldn’t say these are necessarily excuses for not engaging in spaces like the good old comment box, but instead our reality that could be embraced as we look forward to a new year. That’s my $0.02 for 2018. Looking forward to learning with you again in 2019, Bill!

    P.S. I attempted to leave a comment a few minutes ago, but I think it may have been lost somehow after I pressed “Post Comment.” If this is a duplicate, feel free to moderate as needed!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Pal,

      First, thanks for stopping by! Always good to see you in this space.

      Second, you are right that the ease of liking and retweeting has changed the way that we participate in these spaces. I remember Tony Baldasaro writing about that forever ago when Facebook introduced their like button and thinking, “this is going to change everything.” And it has.

      What’s interesting to me is that the creators of social services WANT us engaging in those simple ways because they create increased metrics that they can use to justify new funding for their services. Notice that Twitter calls a like or a retweet or a message expansion “an engagement.” For me, engagement is something much deeper than clicking a retweeet button — but for Twitter, each of those engagements become evidence that people are into their platform.

      That’s tough to fight against because it also feeds into our personal needs to feel validation. Retweets and likes of our messages inflates our sense of self.

      But it’s definitely something that I’m fighting against. I’d rather have three good blog comments than a thousand retweets because the blog comments make me think.

      Anyway — thanks for extending the conversation,

  6. Matt Townsley

    When I started my professional learning in social spaces (Twitter, blogs via RSS, etc.) around 2009, I think a few things were different. First, there were fewer “voices” and therefore, it seemed a bit more intimate. If someone shared one of my posts or one of my family members’ posts (at the time, the Townsley crew was all pretty Twitter/blogging active), it was something to talk about for days, possibly weeks. Today, a few shares seem to get lost in the rest of the feed and not because any of my ideas are being shared widely, but because there are SO MANY more voices in our space. It’s not such a bad thing to have many more perspectives, but it does create a lot more “noice” in which to filter through. Second, I think Peter DeWitt in his commentary, “Why Are We So Uninformed? We Don’t Read What We Share” really resonated with me earlier this month. Memes, infographics, blog posts, news stories and witty quotes are so quickly and easily shared (remember: Twitter has significantly changed what a re-Tweet is and can do in the past ten years), yet there’s no guarantee these bits are actually being READ. With that said, I did take some time to read this post and Dean’s tweet, and wanted to say, “I AGREE!” if it’s true that the learners in our sphere of influence (adults and/or kids) should be modeling after our own learning, I think we owe it to them to do more than merely like/share/retweet on a regular basis, even if it means what our friend William Chamberlain said on Twitter, pruning the feed a bit. Just my $0.02 to end 2018. Looking forward to learning with you again in 2019, Bill!

  7. Derek Hatch

    Hey Bill…hope you are having a great Christmas!
    I, like you, really appreciated Dean’s post for what it was…a conversation starter and a statement of his personal opinion. Whether someone agrees or not, that’s not the point. We should be free to share our opinions without being judged or having offended someone. Just like in real space, we should be able to have a professional discussion in which people’s opinions may be different from our own.
    All the best for 2019…I still enjoy reading your stuff!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Hatch,

      Thanks for stopping by and too bad about those Seahawks last night! I was pulling for you.

      Second, you said something important here. You said, “We should be able to have a professional discussion.” That’s the key for me. Those professional discussions used to be far more common in social spaces than they are today. That’s what I want people to work towards — reinvesting in discussions, wherever or however they may happen.

      Maybe Twitter’s not the space for that — and that’s fine. But if they don’t happen somewhere, I think we are missing out on the real potential of social spaces.

      Rock right on,

        1. Bill Ferriter Post author

          Hey Hatch,

          I actually think we learn most from the conversations where we disagree!

          That’s another important lesson to learn — that we have to find sources of challenge to add to our professional streams, too.

          Hope you are well,


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