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Why Twitter beats Facebook in PLNs

Posted on: September 8, 2014

According to The Guardian, Twitter beats Facebook for breaking news.

It used the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, as an example. While the news of this broke (and was updated) on Twitter, Facebook feeds were filled with feel-good ice bucket challenge videos for ALS.

The Guardian then went on to say that social media was not one amorphous beast and that “Twitter and Facebook are radically different networks”.

Why is this the case? The Guardian explains:

What you see on Twitter is determined by who you follow. In contrast, what you see in your Facebook newsfeed is “curated” by the company’s algorithms, which try to guess what will interest you (and induce you to buy something, perhaps).

If this sounds familiar, I reflected on this yesterday in response to thought leaders writing about Twitter’s possible move towards algorithms.

I will offer this perspective: Twitter is better for the personal learning networks (PLNs) of educators worldwide. In an impromptu #edsg chat yesterday, I mentioned that 1) Twitter & educator PLNs are practically synonymous, and 2) I have yet to see successful Facebook or Edmodo-based PLNs.

What draws educators to Twitter?

First, it is relatively simple to use. With only 140 characters to share a thought or a resource like a website, video, or image in the form of a short URL, you have to get to the point immediately. It is professional development at its most efficient, and if the resource is meaningful to you, most effective.

The brevity of tweets allows you to consume many in one sitting. Imagine reading comic cells instead of War and Peace tomes. The bite-sized experiences can be very empowering.

Second, you choose to follow people of substance. You do this by manually adding to your Follow list or subscribing to a list of recommended tweeters. Unlike Facebook friending, when you follow tweeters professionally, you are more likely to benefit from their distilled wisdoms instead of their inane navel-gazing.

That is not to say that there is no personal connection or humour or noise in Twitter. It is that you get to choose people who choose to share in a certain way.

Third, you can manually tune in to discussions via hashtags like #edsg. Whether the online discussions are synchronous (fast and furious chats) or asynchronous (slow chats), you are in the company of like-minded folks who have questions and answers that interest you. Hashtagged chats are like tuning in to specific radio channels except that you can participate instead of just listening. The hashtag is so powerful that even Facebook and Google+ have some form of it.

All this is not to say that PLNs cannot be formed in Facebook, Edmodo, Google+, or any other platform. The adoption of a platform is a sociotechnical phenomenon, and while Twitter was not designed specifically for PLNs, it currently ticks most of the right boxes. Educators have appropriated Twitter for personal learning and have adapted to its idiosyncrasies.

The power of a Twitter-based PLN lies in human connection, content creation or curation, and communication. If Twitter moves the goalposts by introducing a more algorithm-driven timeline, educators the world over will decide whether on not they want to keep playing Twitter’s game on Twitter’s field.

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