Before about 20 minutes ago, I’d never heard of Kevin O’Keefe. My introduction to him came via this blog post, which came up when I Googled an excerpt from an email I received earlier this week. Based solely on that one blogpost, the only evaluation of Mr. O’Keefe I can give you is about his jib.
I like the cut of it.
Y’see, Kevin and I each received the exact same email, he about a month before I. You can read the exact transcript at the linked post above (aside from some minor syntactical differences in the first paragraph, the content is identical), but the gist is that he and I are “power Twitter users”, and we’re being invited to leverage our power-user-hood to (wait for it) make money on teh Internets by incorporating advertisements into our regularly scheduled programming Tweets.
My jib-admiring stems from Kevin’s explanation of why he finds this distasteful, which very closely mirrors my own thinking. I get flak for my advocacy of Twitter as a networking tool for educators, but I’ve found it to be a fantastic way to make connections in the nearly three years I’ve actively used the service. The tool itself, however, is secondary at best in importance to the people who live in my computer on the other end of all those other Twitter accounts who share ideas, information, opinions, and resources. Twitter and services like it have the potential to help people make connections that:
- overcome geographical boundaries
- overcome many issues of ability and disability
- are established on the basis of trust and transparency
Of course, this doesn’t apply if you use Twitter to auto-follow everyone in a hashtag search plus your favorite celebrities, but it does appear to apply to a large number of educators who use Twitter as a part-social, part-professional online water cooler. Everyone uses Twitter differently: personally, I like to cast a wide net, and I try to follow back every individual (not company) who follows me, as long as we seem to have some mutual interests. Obviously, I don’t have a tight working relationship with all 1100-some-odd people I follow, but I do take in a lot of what comes across my feed (and I appreciate it all), and I engage in discussions and relationships with a smaller cross-section of that number. Of the people with whom I have established relationships, I would hate to a) spam them with ads, and b) have them think I’m spamming them when I’m recommending a product or service I legitimately enjoy or find useful.
In the post linked above, Kevin O’Keefe says, “If I like a restaurant, I’ll share word of it with people who trust me. The restaurant needn’t pay me.” At just about every professional development workshop I’ve given, I have always been self-conscious enough about my own authenticity that I have disclaimed any professional relationships with the services I demonstrate (e.g., Wikispaces, TodaysMeet, Google Apps) other than as a very satisfied end-user. To me, it’s important that I not be seen as a shill because, rightly or wrongly, the question of who is paying my paycheck can very easily distract from more important questions, like “How can we use this to improve teaching” and “How might my students benefit from this?”
I’m not against anyone getting paid for what they do, especially if they do it well, and I understand that businesses have to advertise. I just really don’t like the pseudo-social approach that this company wants to take – it feels sneaky to me. I admit that may be an unfair characterization, but that’s how it feels in my gut, and I don’t want to be a part of it. If I were to punctuate all my IRL conversations with frequent pitches for Amway or Avon (“You sure you don’t need any more bisque? We’re having a sale this month, and–hey, where are you going?”), I’d quite rightly be ostracized by colleagues, friends, and family. Similarly, I’d rather keep Twitter a space for me to communicate freely with other educators. Whether I am discussing personal, professional, weighty, or silly topics, the content is original and genuine – it’s all me, for better or for worse. I have gained and given trust in establishing ties with these folks, and I’ve gained much, not only in terms of professional knowledge and resources, but I’d also like to think I’ve established some good personal relationships and friendships via the medium, as well. I would hate to taint that by feeding my friends and acquaintances ads every so often, even if they are ads I can hand-pick, as stated in the email.
I’ve managed pretty well for myself for three years without the burden of sponsorship – I think I’ll keep it that way.