Tag Archives: O’Reilly

BOOK REVIEW: The Twitter Book, 2nd Edition

The Twitter Book cover

Back in 2009, Twitter was relatively new: celebrities were picking up their first million followers, businesspeople wondered how it could make money and everyone seemed to ask why anyone would care to “tweet” their mundane activities. Tim O’Reilly—the founder of the O’Reilly publishing company and a devoted Twitter user—and Sarah Milstein—an early Twitter user and speaker—wrote The Twitter Book, one of the first comprehensive books about Twitter in 2009. I reviewed the book then and thought it was “the definitive resource for Twitter users,” though I noted a book—ink on paper—could never stay current. Be sure to read my review of the first edition, if only for the dated comments about Twitter’s “arcane technology” and “a lot of people don’t actually know what [Twitter] really is.”

Late last year, Tim and Sarah published the second edition of The Twitter Book. It looks very much like the first edition: the cover image is practically the same and you’ll find images on the verso pages and text on the recto pages, exactly like before. Since the book covers topics for beginners as well as advanced users, a lot of the early chapters haven’t changed much. They are still well-written and useful to grasping the concept of Twitter and how to use its basic features. I’ve always been impressed by Tim and Sarah’s evangelism of the Twitter platform—they are passionate about its various uses and try hard to dispel the notion that it’s a niche media for tech geeks or those glued to mobile devices. This notion was more prevalent in 2009 than it is now.

My main criticism against the first edition of The Twitter Book still stands in the second edition: the book fails to catch all the great tools being created around Twitter, and can’t cover the ones created after publication. Interestingly, when the first edition was published, desktop Twitter apps like Tweetie and Twhirl were popular; today, Twitter’s own app has supplanted those and I find more growth in online analytics services (like Twittercounter) and online apps built on the API (like fllwrs.com). Neither Twittercounter nor fllwrs.com are in The Twitter Book, and more tools will be released in the future.

One suggestion from my review that Sarah Milstein actually commented on was the number of long, full URLs in The Twitter Book. Shortened URLs make perfect sense in a book like The Twitter Book, and the first edition did not take advantage of them. In the second edition, most URLs are actually still full URLs but almost all of them are not long anyway. URLs like http://business.twitter.com/ are not hard to remember or type. There are some bit.ly’d links throughout the book, such as http://bit.ly/dooce-maytag, which show that the suggestion was indeed used for the longer URLs.

The second edition of The Twitter Book is an updated resource on Twitter and most of what I send about the first edition applies to the second. I think the book has more competition from online news sources in 2012 compared to 2009, but if you want to read about Twitter and it needs to be ink on paper, pick this book up and enjoy.

The Twitter Book, Second Edition
Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein
Published by O’Reilly
US $19.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of SEO and The Art of Community

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

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

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
US$44.99
Rating: 8/10

The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation
Jono Bacon
Published by O’Reilly
US$39.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: Search Engine Optimization for Flash

seo-flash

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Flash was the red-hot new technology for the Web. Designers were building user-unfriendly splash screens and sometimes building complete websites all in Flash. Eventually a counter-movement developed that steered designers back toward semantic HTML markup, web standards and other lean, user-friendly web design methods.

One of the claims made against 100% Flash websites was that they are not indexed by search engines, since they cannot read text set in Flash. This never made sense to me because my own website at jeremyschultz.com is 100% Flash and it is indexed very well—some of the work in my client portfolio actually scores higher than my clients’ websites or names. One can only conclude that Flash can co-exist with a well-optimized website, and Todd Perkins‘ book Search Engine Optimization for Flash explains why.

Working with Flash

SEO for Flash had a lot of great information I didn’t know about—for example, Adobe has given Google and Yahoo! a special version of Flash Player that allows those search engines to index Flash text and links with no problem. Flash applications and movies can be optimized for search engines just like a regular HTML page—it’s just done differently, and it gets more complicated with JavaScript, AJAX and dynamic content are thrown into the equation. SEO for Flash details all the techniques needed to maximize search engine optimization for a variety of Flash projects. It goes even farther by including a chapter on optimizing Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) built with Flex, an application development program that uses the same ActionScript as Flash. This was an unexpected inclusion.

What brings the book together is the final chapter on optimizing a Flash website. Over 40 pages were devoted to this chapter and it tackles real-world examples, so it may be the most useful segment of the whole book. Some books make the mistake of teaching guidelines and techniques without applying them—which then requires the reader to practice and figure out how it’s done. SEO for Flash gives the reader more insight into this critical step of the process, such as focusing optimization efforts on searchable text, deep links and shared data sources.

Where’s the files?

I really love this book—it debunks several myths, does a great job teaching its readers and focuses on a neglected segment of web design. However, there is one glaring flaw: there are several exercises throughout the book that refer to Flash, HTML and XML files. Unfortunately, these files are quite hard to find. The book does not come with a disk and the online version (available at safari.oreilly.com) does not link to them. The files are actually found on the book’s page in O’Reilly’s online catalog under the term “Examples.” The download is a large ZIP file, which makes me wonder why the publisher doesn’t break the exercises down into smaller packets for easy access and hyperlinking.

Despite this, Search Engine Optimization for Flash is a great resource for Flash designers building projects for the Web. Todd does a fine job explaining all the important techniques for optimizing Flash content for search engines, and given Flash’s evolution from a cool animation tool to a content delivery application I think it’s important for all Flash designers to understand how to maximize search engine optimization for their projects.

Search Engine Optimization for Flash
Todd Perkins
Published by O’Reilly
US$29.99
Rating: 9/10

The Twitter Book Is The Definitive Resource (So Far)

twitter_book

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:

http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/4439/State-of-the-Twittersphere-Q4-2008-Report.aspx

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.

The Twitter Book
Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein
Published by O’Reilly
US$19.99
Rating: 10/10