Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Review: The Twitter Book

Authors: Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein Format: Paperback, 240 pages Publisher: O'Reilly Media, Inc. (May 26, 2009) ISBN-10: 0596802811 ISBN-13: 978-0596802813 This book is marketed to everyone who uses or wants to use twitter with an eye on being popular, either personally or professionally. I don't mean that in a frivolous way. Twitter has become an important tool for self-promotion of individuals and businesses. OK, I doubt that Bill Gates worries that the number of followers he has in any way affects Microsoft's profit margin (actually, I can't find the "real" Bill Gates on twitter, but there are a number of "parody" profiles with his name on them), however there are a number of "big bananas" on Twitter who tweet regularly for more than just a lark (if you'll pardon the "bird" metaphor). According to twitterholic, the top 20 twitter users include Barack Obama (number 1.), DowningStreet (number 2.), The Onion (number 6.), Guy Kawasaki (number 12.), and ESPN Headlines (number 15.). Adam Ostrow (alias @mashable), states that twitter saw a massive 752 percent growth in 2008 with no end in sight. All this would seem to indicate that twitter is "where the cool kids hang out". Reason enough to at least consider O'Reilly's and Milstein's book if you want to know more about twitter than just its name. The Twitter Book is easy to read in the extreme. It's general format is less like a standard book and more like an instruction manual "for dummies". I don't use the term "dummies" in the pejorative sense, but to indicate that the content is designed to be accessible to the widest possible audience. The book in fact, starts out with answering one of the mysteries to twitter newbies: what is a hashtag? The answer on page 3 is only a brief mention and suggests the reader will learn more in Chapters 1 and 3, but it is one of those little details that makes tweeting less than easy to understand. The actual Introduction section doesn't start until page 5 and goes into a brief history lesson of what twitter is and where it came from. As the reader moves through the book, screen captures abound. Text per page is large and limited, so like twitter tweets themselves, information is presented only in small, bite-sized, bits (although there are more than 140 characters per page, fortunately). Pages 9-17 address what a lot of people might want to know about twitter: What's it good for? Turns out "ambient intimacy" is the number one use (at least in terms of being presented first in the list) of twitter; having "lightweight but meaningful" conversations. My personal opinion is that not all tweets are "meaningful", but they certainly are lightweight. If you can talk like a T.V. sound byte, you can successfully tweet on twitter. Chapter 1 gives the reader the basics required to get started using twitter (which at ground level, isn't really such a chore). If you've created a personal account on any social networking or similar site, you can create a twitter account. Of course, there are probably people who would use twitter who might not also use Facebook, MySpace, and so on, so including such basic instructions is a good idea. Since attracting followers is a main goal, page 23 covers creating a "compelling profile"; something that will draw others to you. I've been using a lot of twitter-specific terms in my review thus far and, if you're not familiar with twitter, you may be having difficulty following some of my content. Fortunately, page 25 defines the term "following" and many more "jargon" definitions follow. Believe it or not, compressing what you want to say into 140 characters (including spaces) isn't always easy. The book provides helpful little hints (everything seems diminutive when describing twitter) on how this is accomplished. The long and the short of Chapter 1 will get you going quite well as a twitter user, but wait! There's more. Chapter 2 covers a variety of twitter related tools including search, finding people, following trends, and twitter clients for the desktop. TwitterGadget, the client I use (on Ubuntu) wasn't present, but it may not have been available when the book was being written. Chapter 3 goes to the heart of the matter: getting followers. Actually, the chapter talks about getting "great" followers, and tells you to get great followers, you need to be worthy of being followed. I thumbed through the basic suggestions and I probably don't follow a lot of them. I tend to either tweet too little (when I'm busy on projects) or to tweet too much (which is often). I suppose that's one of the reasons I don't have as many followers as the "big kahunas" (though I'm sure there are many other reasons). Of course, you have to really care about the number of followers you have for this to be important to you but then, isn't that part of what twitter is all about? Chapter 4 describes how to use twitter to promote your blog, website, events, and so on; using twitter as the link or lure to get people to enter the rest of your world. Chapter 5 emphasizes making twitter "personal" rather than tweeting dry, informational updates. The idea is that people will be more likely to follow you if you come across as a real human being (and there are bots on twitter). On the other hand, a large number of tweets about what color socks you're wearing or what you had for lunch can get a little dull. Chapter 6 presents data on using twitter to promote your business. This may be especially interesting to you if you have a small business you are trying to grow or are just launching a start up and are trying to attract some buzz. All in all, a worthy book though somewhat "lightweight" and definitely written with the traditional "end user" in mind. You may not end up reading the whole book and instead just focus on the parts of interest, though it's only 240 pages long and, with the large-print formatting and large number of images, it takes no time at all to burn through this work, cover to cover. If you are both interested in twitter and interested in the authors, you can follow them on twitter: Tim O'Reilly (@timoreilly) and Sarah Milstein (@SarahM) both tweet regularly. For that matter, your humble reviewer is @jamespyles on twitter. If you've heard about twitter and want to learn more, you can find out all the basics of the application and how to use it within the pages of this book. I wouldn't say it contains any amazing secrets, but it is a good, common sense primer for becoming active in twitter. Happy tweeting.