Not For Sale

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.


  • I had another question, but couldn’t figure out how to shoehorn it into what I wrote above, so I’m including it here: what exactly is the criteria for becoming a Twitter “power user”?

    Is it having a lot of followers? Is it having a certain kind of follower:following ratio? If it’s a numbers game, how do the numbers account for “real” relationships/connections as opposed to unmonitored or “broadcast-only” accounts? If two Twitter bot accounts each follow 100,000 people and 25,000 auto-follow back, are they “power users” even though no eyeballs might be seeing what’s coming across the feeds?

    Or is “power user” just an ego stroke to get a person on board with a service like this, like the time I was stopped in a mall and asked if I ever considered doing any modeling, and then was handed a business card and info packet on how to get my own set of professional headshots for the low low price of…

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Whitby, Damian Bariexca. Damian Bariexca said: New Blog Post: "Not For Sale | Apace of Change" ( ) […]

  • A couple months back a company that encourages teachers to sell their lessons on its own online marketplace asked me if I’d write some blog posts for them. I refused on philosophical grounds, as I feel there’s too much value in freely sharing lessons to keep them locked up behind a paywall.

  • I’m with ya, Dan, and if we’re thinking of the same organization, I got an invite from them as well. I guess I’d see it as polluting a pretty decent little ecosystem we’ve got going on Twitter, at least within the confines of what my own network looks like.

    That said, I’m certainly not averse to pulling in a paycheck if I’m asked to travel somewhere and conduct a training session; that takes significant time and preparation beyond the lesson/material prep. But if someone on Twitter needs an activity to do in Act III of Hamlet? Here’s a link; knock yourself out.

    Bill Ferriter’s latest blog post posits that a merit pay system could mean the end of open sharing of resources & materials. Interesting take I hadn’t considered…

  • […] Not For Sale | Apace of Change […]

  • To a certain extent the contacts we are making on twitter can help us monetize our messages. I am certain many of the people I follow have gotten speaking gigs out of their involvement. In effect, the time they spend online developing relationships are part of their preparation for these engagements.

    On the other hand, no one likes ads. We especially don’t like to be fooled when we are tricked into viewing an ad. Using your “influence” to do so would not be a good thing.

    I have been asked (by email) several times to promote products or run ads on my class blog. Can you imagine a class blog running a an ad on the sidebar or posting a glowing recommendation of a printing company? Surely these people are bots….

  • This whole idea of whose a “power user” and what it all means is interesting to me largely because my own feelings on the issue are conflicted.

    Philosophically, I’m in the intellectual philanthropy camp: I freely share darn near everything with anyone and believe that doing so is the right thing to do because that kind of open generosity is what keeps other people sharing right back. The long term health of our little Twitter community is dependent on the norm that we’ve established which says I’ll help you freely because I know that you’re going to help me, too.

    But I’d be lying if I said that my numbers—both in Twitter and on my blog—don’t matter to me. As a full-time classroom teacher, no one beyond the classroom really takes me all that seriously—until they realize that thousands of other people take me seriously! Numbers give me tangible proof that my ideas have credibility—something that no one has ever really told me in the flesh before.

    In a sense, numbers give us classroom teacher types a kind of credibility and authority that we’ve never had access to before.

    Does this make any sense?

    And I guess the link between my two philosophical positions is that those who share the most are also those who are likely to have the most followers—at least in the Eduworld. So a “power user” is the person who has shared enough resources to be seen as credible by others in the community.

    Enjoying this strand of conversation,
    .-= Bill Ferriter´s last blog ..Read This: Merit Pay for Teachers a Poor Idea =-.

  • @wm Bots, or they just don’t get it. I don’t think advertising on a class blog is appropriate at all, which is one of the reasons I like that Wikispaces and PBWorks remove their ads for their K-12 wikis (and recommend them highly in my travels).

    @Bill I hear you on the numbers = credibility equation. I’m with that, but I guess on Twitter it’s difficult to quantify the numbers, if that makes sense. Am I being followed by 1400 teachers who are interested in what I have to say, or 50 teachers and 1350 spambots? There’s no way to gauge the strength or validity of these connections. I used to block advertisers, bots, etc., but it just got to be too much to keep up with. This is one of those weird situations where numbers are not as black and white as they maybe should be.

    I think it’s natural to crave the numbers, the attention, the validation, especially in our profession, for all the reasons you describe, plus just the fact that we’re humans. I actually just left a comment on Jose Vilson’s blog about how I’m moving away from that, but I still do check Feedburner (mainly just to see if anyone’s reading what I write at all), and I can’t lie – I would be disappointed, at least temporarily, if a ton of people stopped following me on Twitter. But for me it’s less about ego (which is the tactic I think the original company is taking) and more about the desire for connection and conversation for both social and professional purposes. OK, maybe a teensy bit about ego. 🙂

    Glad to have you fellas in my network, as always.

  • Two more quick things:

    Talk of embedding advertising in a personal Twitter stream just reminded of this scene (edited) from Wayne’s World.

    Also, a mere TWO DAYS after I posted this, Twitter’s COO @dickc posted his thoughts on in-stream advertising (see also ReadWriteWeb’s writeup). Evidently, great minds think alike.

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