Twitter can be an arcane technology, requiring tricks for functions like sending direct messages or executing a successful search at Twitter.com. This combined with the fact that Twitter is the hottest social media sensation today is problematic—everyone knows Twitter is the hot communications tool of the moment, but not many know how to use it effectively and a lot of people don’t actually know what it really is. If Twitter is to achieve mainstream success (which it has not), then it has to be as easy to use as e-mail.
For now the next best thing is The Twitter Book by Tim O’Reilly (founder of the publishing company O’Reilly) and Sarah Milstein, who was the 21st person to use Twitter—back when it was called Twttr. They are the perfect duo to write this book: they have a strong Twitter pedigree and a down-to-earth writing style that is just right for a book like this. The result is a book that’s not a textbook or even the usual O’Reilly technical book—it’s a book that feels more like a conversation, which is ironic since the authors maintain that Twitter is a conversational tool as much as it is a micro-blogging tool. This all means that The Twitter Book is a good fit for the uninitiated as much as it is for the fanatics.
Complete coverage, yet never complete
Twitter is relatively new and so it is constantly changing, with more apps and marketing theories surrounding it every day. Unfortunately, books do not change once the ink hits the paper and so The Twitter Book is already beginning a slow crawl into obsolescence. This can’t be helped—it’s the nature of the printed page (as opposed to the HTML page)—and so I am otherwise impressed by the completeness of the book. It’s well-organized with sections on:
- Getting started with Twitter and following others,
- Building a Twitter account people will want to follow,
- Publishing pictures, links and entire stories on Twitter,
- Perfecting your Twitter profile, and
- Using Twitter for business: goals, managing staff and tweets, building PR and even making money.
I can’t think of a Twitter topic this book doesn’t cover. A few topics could have been covered with greater depth—the swarm of Twitter apps, for example—but they are better served by online resources that can keep growing as they do. Some books, including many printed by O’Reilly, offer extra material online that would have been wonderful for The Twitter Book, but for some reason the book offers nothing like this. It does cite many third-party websites though.
The Twitter Book‘s design and layout is not too flashy and serves its purpose very well. I’m normally bothered by books that puts all its pictures on the left pages and all its text on the right pages but in this book it seems to work well. Maybe it’s because the pictures aren’t just photographs but screenshots and charts that carry content. One improvement I would recommend to the authors is to better handle the web addresses (URLs) in the book: it’s fine to have them on the pages where they are referred to but an appendix listing them all by topic would be ideal. And it’s very ironic that, even though URL shortening is an essential Twitter skill, no URLs were shortened in this book even when it was desperately needed. Here’s one from page 163:
The only way to check out these links is to type them in, and it’s quite a chore. Using a URL shortener like bit.ly would have been a great help to readers and also allowed O’Reilly to track clickthroughs.
A definitive resource
Despite a couple little things that I thought could be improved, The Twitter Book is the definitive resource for Twitter users and particularly useful for new users. I can’t think of a book that covers Twitter with the same depth and style. Unfortunately there is a lot more to be read about Twitter, and for that one will have to start browsing the Web. But for those who want to start with words on paper, The Twitter Book is the one to buy.