Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo’s Friends With Benefits is one of many books on the market about “social media,” that mishmash of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other websites that connect us and our personal content. I’ve reviewed several books about social media and Friends With Benefits was a surprising standout for its blend of research and insight.
Many books on social media provide an overview of the main products, such as Facebook; explain how to use them; and list best practices and/or case studies from a marketing perspective. Friends With Benefits spends fewer pages explaining how to use the tools and more pages on historical overview and marketing best practices, which makes it a good resources for marketing professionals, especially those who haven’t embraced social media yet. Chapters are devoted to topics such as metrics, net etiquette and building a pitch—all things that many social media mavens either know naturally or don’t pay enough attention to, but are on the top of marketers’ minds.
The book is well-written: Darren and Julie have a writing style that’s matter-of-fact but still conversational and funny at times. The language sounds like it’s been copied from a spoken presentation. I like the design too but I always prefer a book printed in color, even when there aren’t many pictures. Friends With Benefits is built like a textbook when other social media books like The Twitter Book have more interesting formats and pages in color. However, this isn’t the only social media book without color.
I really enjoyed reading Friends With Benefits: the book has solid insights backed with research and some great case studies. I also find the writing style makes it accessible to everyone, though it may be a little more traditional than some other social media books on the market. This makes it ideal for marketing professionals who don’t mind the raciness of the title.
Friends With Benefits: A Social Media Marketing Handbook
Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo
Published by No Starch Press
SEO Warrior has one of the more militant titles of most industry books I’ve reviewed, with a stern Eleonora’s falcon on the cover. The title and image foreshadows the rigorous material between the covers, for SEO Warrior is a book for advanced users wanting to learn more about search engine optimization (SEO). I’ve reviewed several books on the topic, and some that I would consider for advanced users only, and SEO Warrior stands out for some very advanced techniques that will be found in it.
There are some drawbacks to the book, however. Despite its 2010 publication date, a few new search engines such as Bing.com are mentioned but not really looked at in depth due to unfortunate timing. This is not normally a big deal—every book in our industry misses something due to ever-changing technology—but other books published in the same year did get Bing.com explained more fully. SEO Warrior is also quite technical and can be tough for beginners and intermediate users to digest. This book really is for experienced SEO professionals.
SEO Warrior does distinguish itself for its thoroughness and also its big-picture overview of the general SEO techniques. My review of The Art of SEO pointed out that that book didn’t have much focus on the basic tenets of SEO, but SEO Warrior doesn’t fall into that trap. I think there could be more, because I think basic things such as writing good content constitute the majority of a website’s SEO success, but the book is well-balanced as is.
John I. Jerkovic
Published by O’Reilly
O’Reilly’s two books The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization and The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation tackle two important aspects of web design that have been heavily researched and written about in the past couple years. There are a lot of books on the market about social media, online communities and search engine optimization, and these two books offer thorough surveys of their respective topics.
The Art of SEO
The Art of SEO is written by four authors, which generally worries me because such books often feel like compilations of diverse voices rather than a unified piece of writing. The authors mostly avoided this, making The Art of SEO a good read. It seems like an advanced book with a lot of technical information that SEO intermediates and experts will appreciate but novices and readers in other professions—such as marketing and design—might find dry and hard to slog through. I’d expect some IT professionals who are in charge of corporate websites will also find the book helpful.
The other thing about The Art of SEO that impresses me is it has some cutting-edge information, such as coverage of Bing.com and other new search engine technologies. One thing I would have liked more of in the book is general tactics and emphasis on strong content, and less emphasis on all the little tools and technologies out there. A commenter on Amazon.com used the old phrase “not seeing the forest for the trees,” and I think this is close to the truth.
The Art of Community
I think The Art of Community is really interesting because it’s the only book I know of that focuses on online communities—social media circles, news sites, mailing lists and so on. Jono Bacon used to manage the Ubuntu Linux community, so he has a strong pedigree working with online communities and I thought his insight was very remarkable. He has some good anecdotes and also has contacts who moderate other online communities and have been quoted in this book.
Being about human behavior and online participation, The Art of Community is not too technical and is often more about psychology than technology. I was really surprised at the level of planning and thought that goes into creating and conducting an online community, but there really is more to it than setting up a list server and letting users go at it. Given that the subject matter really is human behavior and emotions, sometimes I wished The Art of Community had more compelling stories and didn’t read so much like a textbook, but I suppose it wouldn’t be right for Jono to reveal some major flame wars in these pages.
The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization
Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, Rand Fishkin and Jessie C. Stricchiola
Published by O’Reilly
The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation
Published by O’Reilly
I don’t normally review books on public speaking, but my contact at O’Reilly suggested I take a look at Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker and I enjoyed it very much. I do some speaking on design and branding, most recently a presentation on OpenType for my local InDesign User Group, and I have been interested in improving my speaking skills. This book focuses on speakers who present to large and small audiences—not really those who present to clients—and is uniquely entertaining and illuminating.
Scott Berkun is a wonderfully intriguing author, speaker and tech insider who is perfect for Confessions of a Public Speaker. He’s extremely candid—he even reveals how much he makes, which few people in any profession are comfortable doing—and has unique viewpoints on everything from “15 minutes of fame” to speaker’s fees to Americans’ place in the scheme of worldly wealth. He’s also a wickedly funny writer and I’d recommend the book if only for its humor.
Confessions of a Public Speaker also is a strong resource for speakers and presenters of all kinds. I do think the book is written for people speaking in front of audiences but some of the material is also helpful for those presenting to clients or coworkers, or even teaching others in general. The anecdotes Scott uses throughout the book are beautiful gems; one of my favorites is the the story of him taking a driving lesson from his brother to start out the chapter “The clutch is your friend.” It makes for a good lesson for public speakers as well.
The combination of dynamic writing, experience, compelling anecdotes and a focus on the presentation makes Confessions of a Public Speaker an exceptional book, and one that I’m happy to give a perfect rating for. The book may not be too technical or throw around much speaking lingo, but what it does do is even better.
Confessions of a Public Speaker
Published by O’Reilly
In 2005 I adopted web standards to improve my skills in web design and make that a major component of my work, and the book that really drove it all home was Jeffrey Zeldman‘s Designing With Web Standards. Part pundit, part teacher, Zeldman walked me and many others through web standards and turned the discipline into the gold standard for building websites. This point was made clear in 2006 when I wrote a less-than-exuberant review for a piece of software and the creators responded by pointing out my personal website does not validate with XHTML Strict.
Now it is 2010, HTML5 is emerging and Zeldman has written the third edition of Designing With Web Standards with the help of Ethan Marcotte, who also wrote a bit of Handcrafted CSS. As a reader of a previous version, I found the new third edition to be less useful than the first because much of the old material still exists in the new edition. Many chapters are the same or similar and new game-changing technologies, such as CSS3 and HTML5, are covered but still in the early stages of adoption. XHTML, the central language of web standards, hasn’t changed much at all in the past decade. The next decade will be more important, as XHTML is supplanted by HTML5 and browsers really begin to converge on one standard (even Internet Explorer).
Zeldman’s writing is sharp and clear as always, and the third edition is an essential read for those new to web design or web standards. For experienced web designers who know web standards, the third edition is a great refresher but not too different from the first or second editions.
Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Ed.
Jeffrey Zeldman with Ethan Marcotte
Published by New Riders
Harald Mante‘s Photography Unplugged is not much more than a book of photography, with a foreword and blurb on the back cover offering very little copy. I personally like to read more than look at photography, so this is disappointing, but the premise of the book beyond featuring Harald’s images is a very intriguing one. Given the fact that practically every image published today is retouched to perfection, Photography Unplugged presents photography in its raw Kodachrome state by a film photographer from Germany, “one of the prominent contemporary photographers in Germany today” according to the dust jacket.
The photography itself is candid and beautiful, showing a refined taste and judgment on the part of the photographer. Much photography shown in books by Scott Kelby and others who revolve around him are often commercial and/or focused on people, so it’s jarring to see very few people in Photography Unplugged. Most images reveal everyday objects and places in the more exotic places in Europe, the kind of material one might expect from art photography. This makes Photography Unplugged a refreshing volume.
At almost US$50, this is an expensive book but art books often are. Film photography fans and especially Kodachrome fans will enjoy the book a lot: Kodachrome was discontinued just before this book went to press, and Harald considers it his final paean to the film stock that helped produce the bulk of his work.
Published by Rocky Nook
Leave it to O’Reilly to publish over 600 pages of material on a web design topic as small as statistics and monitoring! I’m not saying Complete Web Monitoring is full of fluff in order to increase the page count, only that monitoring is a very small piece of the topic of web design and I am always impressed that O’Reilly’s authors have the depth needed to write such large books on such small topics.
Alistair Croll and Sean Power have written an interesting book that I think speaks more to marketing directors and businesspeople than to web designers and developers. There’s a lot of pages dedicated to business and analytics models, interpreting data, devising methodologies of metrics, and other business-related aspects of web analytics. There’s also a lot of material on deploying measuring tools and software to actually gather the data, which of course will be what designers and developers will focus on, as well as project managers and such.
Like other O’Reilly books, the sheer depth of Complete Web Monitoring can make it difficult to grasp. There’s a huge amount of information here that speaks to varying audiences, and while it makes the book comprehensive it also makes it tough to digest. There’s a lot of content I’m not sure I will ever be able to or want to implement, and ironically my clients often are happy just to see visitor trends and such given all the other things they have to worry about in this economy.
Measuring web traffic and statistics is one of the most-overlooked aspects of managing websites, and I think Complete Web Monitoring should be required reading for anyone in charge of a website or web presence of some kind. The material is excellent and comprehensive almost to a fault—but no one’s required to read it cover to cover.
Complete Web Monitoring
Alastair Croll and Sean Power
Published by O’Reilly
Paul Tondeur and Jeff Winder’s Papervision3D Essentials is a solid book with clear writing, a very hands-on approach to learning Papervision 3D and a thorough coverage of the material—at 400 pages, it’s a meaty book despite its size.
Papervision3D is an open-source ActionScript 3.0-based engine for generating 3D content for Flash. It seems 3D is becoming more important for Adobe and Flash: even though Adobe still has not produced an application strictly for creating 3D content, a few Creative Suite apps are adding 3D functionality to their features, most notably Photoshop which has had 3D tools for a couple versions now. This means that more and more 3D content will eventually reach Flash Player and a framework for handling such material is more and more pertinent.
Papervision3D Essentials is mostly exercises and written lecture, which is advantageous for readers who want to learn by doing. It’s comparable to the Classroom In A Book series, though I’d say Papervision3D Essentials has less explanatory material that is sometimes important to explaining concepts. I’m disappointed the book doesn’t have a companion CD, though the code in the book is available for download online.
As far as the exercises themselves go, they are solid and provide good training for Papervision3D for beginners and intermediate users in particular but also for advanced users. The exercises I did were fairly easy to follow and made some impressive results by the end. I’m a learner who likes to dive into more explanatory copy at the beginning of the chapters, and I wish the book did flesh out the concepts a little more, but it was an enjoyable learning experience and the authors should be proud of Papervision3D Essentials. I could go for a book with color pages and a more interesting design, but the material itself is very good.
Paul Tondeur and Jeff Winder
Published by Packt Publishing
Last year I reviewed Even Faster Web Sites, an eye-opening book that revealed some website performance tricks “hidden in plain sight,” due to their simplicity and reliance on everyday aspects of web technology. I learned this book is actually a sequel to another highly-regarded book, High Performance Web Sites, so I had to review it.
High Performance Web Sites is extremely similar to its successor. Steve Souders authored both books and has the same analytical, left-brained approach to measuring performance and capturing best practices in simple rules. Thorough testing is conducted and reported, and the tests can still be duplicated at stevesouders.com, three years after the book’s publication. There’s nothing as illuminating as conducting tests on your own, with Steve’s clear guidance.
Despite its age, High Performance Web Sites is still very pertinent because it improves performance on essential things such as reducing HTTP requests, structuring external script and stylesheet requests to keep data moving and other very basic tricks. This book is even more simple than its successor and deals strictly with the basics. This makes it a very helpful book for all web designers at all skill levels, which in itself is hard to do.
I don’t give out perfect ratings very often, but I did for Even Faster Web Sites and I will do the same for High Performance Web Sites. The book is clearly written, very effective, almost unprecedented in its usefulness for all designers, and thoroughly researched. The only thing I wish is that it were longer.
High Performance Web Sites
Published by O’Reilly
Every designer and computer nut worth their salt love industry tell-all books, and with brands such as Apple and Microsoft that marshal real zealotry it’s easy to have some exciting books in the field. One brand that has a healthy following is BlackBerry, the ubiquitous smartphone that has an extremely high reputation among the corporate and government communities. I am a designer but I use a BlackBerry instead of an iPhone, since AT&T coverage doesn’t reach the rural area in Iowa where I grew up and still visit.
So I was excited to get my hands on BlackBerry Planet, Alastair Sweeny’s well-researched book about Research In Motion (RIM) and the little product that keeps millions of people connected. The book is more historical than sensational, with less insider gossip and more traditional research and interviews. I think those who like gossipy insider books will be a little bummed by the tone, but the BlackBerry story is still compelling and the characters—with founder Mike Lazaridis in the middle—are interesting. The story arc that culminates in the creation of the BlackBerry is twisting and an exciting read, though sometimes the story is delivered almost like RIM promotional material and without total objectivity.
The last part of BlackBerry Planet veers away from this story and focuses on the “TeleBrain” concept, something Sweeny devised that seeks to capture the BlackBerry’s role in our lives. Basically, our devices serve as our TeleBrain—our brain outside our bodies that augments the original. This is good theory and worth exploring but I thought it didn’t belong in BlackBerry Planet: this is a book about RIM and the BlackBerry, not about humans’ dependence on ever-smaller computers at our fingertips. That topic is best served with another book that can devote more than a chapter to our complex relationship with the BlackBerry and other devices that came before it. I understand how the TeleBrain relates to the BlackBerry, and Sweeny’s interviews with RIM leaders and tech gurus really illustrate how the concept drives their future plans, but the TeleBrain belongs in another book.
Published by Wiley