Tag Archives: Twitter

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 Social Media Marketing Book

smmb

I’m used to the 600-page behemoths O’Reilly publishes on topics like font encoding and search engine optimization, but the company has also been publishing small, horizontal-format books in the past year on topics like Twitter and now social media. The Social Media Marketing Book is one of those small books, roughly 220 pages with half of them full-page illustrations. I think it’s a good review of social media websites, marketing strategies and community best practices but it’s not as thorough as other books out there, such as Friends With Benefits.

The Social Media Marketing Book has a very broad overview of the social media world which I like—there’s too many types of social media, such as blogging, social networks, media, news and forms, and even virtual worlds which are not covered as often as something like Twitter. This book surveys them all, so it delivers the big picture better than most books. The downside is, with its small size, no one product is covered in fine detail. Twitter, which has had entire books written about it, is covered in less than 20 pages here.

Because of its broad focus, I do not think this book scores very well as a marketing handbook. I expected quite a bit of case studies, strategic ideas and general tactics for each type of social media but sometimes this kind of information is just not there. The section on ratings and reviews, for example, does not delve too much into how reviews can help your business—but it does offer general tips for specific websites like Yelp. This is also beneficial but doesn’t drill as deeply into strategic marketing as I’d like it to.

If you take it for what it is, The Social Media Marketing Book is a good social media overview book. I should point out some sections are more detailed than others and you can score some very good tips not usually known. I’d recommend it for social media users—not necessarily marketing professionals—who want to begin learning how to leverage social media for their businesses.

The Social Media Marketing Book
Dan Zarrella
Published by O’Reilly
US$19.99
Rating: 7/10

Dom Sagolla’s 140 Characters: Fragmented Writing Creates A Difficult Book

140characters

The thought of reviewing 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form excited me in several ways. Author Dom Sagolla is not only a respected Twitter user (almost 10,000 users) but he was one of the engineers on the original “twttr” project, so he has a trove of stories and insight into the creation of this brilliant media. I later learned he’s “an English major at heart,” having a writing degree from Swarthmore College. Besides these points, being a writer myself I was intrigued by the notion of “a style guide for the short form,” thinking this book could have something in common with Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, one of the great rulebooks for great writing. 140 Characters could have been another timeless book….

Writing style breaks the book

…But I found 140 Characters to be ultimately a disappointment, a difficult book to read—too many random thoughts, not enough organization, and difficult to digest. I felt like I was reading a collection of quotations or sentences, each one making sense and seeming to be a valuable bit of insight, but not gelling together into a well-structured book. I wasn’t sure why I felt this way, but began to suspect that perhaps the book was rushed to publication. I later learned from Dom that this was true: in a direct message on Twitter, he told me he “wrote it from a sense of responsibility, in 3 months.” He also confirms this on page 68 of the book. 140 Characters could have benefited greatly from an extra three months of writing time.

But the book, despite its short writing time, suffers from something worse: the fragmented writing style itself. Only a sentence or two is devoted to an idea at any one time. It reminds me of the “stream of consciousness” method of writing, which can work well in fiction and drama but doesn’t do well with non-fiction and guides like 140 Characters. On page 68 Dom admitted to not just the short writing period but also some writer’s block, and described how he adopted a fragmented writing style (as he declared on Twitter):

“Fragment. Then there is a sentence. Sentences become paragraphs. Inch by inch, a book is written.”

It’s an interesting theory of writing but 140 Characters is a weaker book because of it. Some sections of the book are fully fleshed out in paragraph form, but most is a series of thoughts on a variety of Twitter topics: followers, retweeting, tweeting frequency, capital letters, “small society,” and a hundred other topics including writing for the short form, which is what the book is supposed to be about. Chapter 10 is about the only consistent coverage of this last topic, and it’s an interesting read, but the rest is a melange of random thoughts on related topics.

Other annoyances

There were a couple other aspects of 140 Characters I found annoying:

  • Sometimes a tweet is placed beside a paragraph, as if it is supporting the point, but the connection isn’t clear:

    “Someone is always there to read and listen. There is always an audience for anything. Never doubt that.”

    ((supporting_tweet)) Shut up, or I’ll blog you.

    or:

    “@DarthVader is the original gangster.”

    ((supporting_tweet)) “Away for a few days & when return I have 50K+ followers. Pretty meh for a backwater world. On Coruscant I’ve got 1.2 trillion.”

    I’m sure the connection is clear to Dom, but not necessarily to me or other readers.

  • 140 Characters is structured around chapters and sections titled with single words. “Value”. “Master”. “Branch”. “Iterate”. They are terms Dom uses for particular methods or actions, but they are not explained very well and are confusing. Sometimes the meaning is clear enough but the chapter doesn’t match the title. Chapter 17, “Iterate,” is a particularly weird example: the first couple paragraphs illustrate the meaning of “iterate” (which I think is a good process for any kind of improvement) but the rest of the chapter has nothing to do with improvements through iteration, focusing on unrelated topics as where to write, casual gaming, Threadless Twitter Tees, referencing one’s home state, and “being the change you want to see in the world.” And I had been looking forward to this chapter on iteration.

What I like about the book

I haven’t said much yet in favor of 140 Characters, but there are many small gems to be found in the text. They won’t always help you with Twitter (“Don’t lie”? “Exercise”?!) but some will make you think about what you use Twitter for, and may spark some personal insights. I am also glad to see a book in the field that attempts to look at Twitter from the writer’s perspective, because I do think there is something about the 140-character medium that has sparked some stellar online writing. I think Dom could have found far better examples to use throughout the book: several are tech bloggers or Dom’s friends from Twitter, and almost none of them approached poetry.

The fact that Dom has connections within Twitter also makes 140 Characters an interesting read, at least in the beginning where he devotes the introduction to a retelling of the creation of Twitter. This was a highlight of the book and describes in vivid detail how the social media phenomenon was created and engineered. Stories like these are always enjoyable for those who use the technology or make their living off of it. I’m reviewing another book right now, BlackBerry Planet, and the fact that I use a BlackBerry makes it very interesting for me. Twitter fanatics will want to pick up a copy of 140 Characters just for the Twitter connection.

Conclusion

140 Characters is a unique book: the subject material and the ambition is well-placed but the unorthodox execution weakened the book, making it an interesting collection of thoughts and meanderings on Twitter but not the well-organized style guide I was hoping for. If you take it for what it is, 140 Characters can be an interesting read, but I wouldn’t expect it to become the “Strunk and White” of social media writers. I would recommend it for Twitter aficionados who love the medium. For those who want to get more out of their Twitter account, 140 Characters may or may not spur some insights.

140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form
Dom Sagolla
Published by Wiley
Rating: 6/10

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