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The Twitter Book 88

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
stoolpigeon writes "Microblogging service Twitter has undeniably been a hit, with growth rates that were at times in excess of 1400%. The growth was rapid enough that the site became well known for its periodic, and, at times, extensive downtime. Even with these issues, the service continued to grow rapidly, and with celebrities getting into the mix Twitter was quickly on the radar of mainstream media. The ubiquity of Twitter and ever-increasing coverage of 'tweets' has also brought the inevitable backlash. As with anything that gains high-profile popularity, there are plenty of Twitter haters out there, though the role Twitter has played in the recent Iranian elections seems to have brought more legitimacy to Twitter in the eyes of many. With popularity come books, and quite a few are already out there about and for Twitter, but my favorite so far is The Twitter Book by Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein." Read below for the rest of JR's review.
The Twitter Book
author Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein
pages 234
publisher O'Reilly Media, Inc.
rating 9/10
reviewer JR Peck
ISBN 978-0-598-80281-3
summary If you want to learn how to use Twitter like a pro, The Twitter Book will quickly get you up to speed.
What makes The Twitter Book work so well is that it functions in a manner very similar to the service it describes. The book itself is small, 8x5.9x0.7 inches, and the font is a bit larger than most tech books. This means the most text dense pages probably contain the same content as one third of a page in a traditional O'Reilly book. Most pages aren't text though, there is a liberal use of color, bold text and graphics. When a page is relatively heavy on text, the facing page will be equally focused on graphics with pictures, graphs or large colored bubbles around text.

All this combines to make The Twitter Book contain many of the same elements that create such a passionate response, positive or negative, to Twitter itself. This means if someone absolutely hates twitter, can't think of a single reason it should exist and wishes it would go away; they are probably not going to like this book. On the other hand anyone that loves Twitter and wants to learn all the ins and outs of the service, there is a high likelihood they are really going to take to this guide. It's format is one of those genius moves that seems incredibly obvious in hind sight. When I've shown it to other fans of Twitter, the usual initial response has been, "A twitter book, really?" and they are not all that enthusiastic. But once I start flipping through it and letting them see the way it is formatted, the reception becomes much warmer and quite a few have quickly flipped from skepticism to a desire to take my copy.

O'Reilly and Milstein both have been using the Twitter platform extensively and speak from experience and data that backs up their assertions. The format may make the whole thing look rather simple, but there is a lot going on here and one can very easily find a lot of bad advice out there on how to get the most out of Twitter. The Twitter Book leaves the reader in good hands that have already tread the paths they lead one down.

Of course this does raise and important question, is a guide to microblogging really necessary? All one does with twitter after all, is post 140 word updates. If kids can text vociferously, who needs how to do the equivalent to a web site? Well, there are two things in play that I think make this worth having. The first, and I think possibly the more important, is that Twitter is a social service. Beyond the simple technical aspects of the various clients, and technologies supported for the sending and receiving of tweets, there are the mores and customs of what has already become an established community. O'Reilly and Milstein aren't just guiding the reader through a simple how to, they are giving an introduction to a massive community that can save the reader from making more than a few mistakes that could really make getting going with microblogging a rough start.

The second reason is that while basic twitter functionality is drop dead easy, some of the more powerful or useful features are not built into twitter itself. They are methods and tools that have come up from the user base itself. Some of them require a little thinking outside the box as it were and are not immediately obvious. Others do seem incredibly simple once they've been implemented but their simplicity belies their usefulness. The book gives solid information on third party clients and tools. Tips on use are backed up with statistics on existing use within twitter.

As this is The Twitter Book, I have been talking about Twitter quite a bit. I'm sure the name is going to help the book sell but much of the information is just as valuable in the context of microblogging in general as opposed to just Twitter. The only real exception may be the clients and tools mentioned previously. Some of them have been slow to support other platforms. I think this book is just as useful still, to anyone microblogging with another service such as idenit.ca. Identi.ca is built on the free and open Laconica software. I personally base all my microblogging from identi.ca and forward things over to twitter. I still interact on twitter because at this point is where the majority of the players are at. But the social guidelines and strategies laid out in The Twitter Book carry over directly to identi.ca.

I don't really have any issues with the book. The scope is purposefully narrow and within the defined limits the authors have covered everything very well. I'd have loved to see something on identi.ca or Laconica but that would have widened the scope quite a bit and I think we can all relate to hating scope creep in a project. SlideShare has a nice preview of the book. Of course this format is not suited to every purpose. Any in depth study of just what makes twitter so popular and the impact it is or is not having on society will need to take place in a manner more suited to such topics. This is simply a case of using the right tool for the job. But dismissing this format as useless would be a mistake it is uniquely appropriate to the job at hand. I think this book is a lot like a screw driver. When used in the manner intended, no tool is better at the job. The only way to break a screw driver is to use it in an unintended way. In that case it isn't the tool's fault. Looking for a meaty discourse on the pros and cons of twitter? Do not look here. But if getting the most out of the service is the goal this may just be the best tool available.

You can purchase The Twitter Book from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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The Twitter Book

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  • Hey (Score:4, Funny)

    by JumpDrive (1437895) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @12:17PM (#28545153)
    Why didn't they just send this review in a twitter, if it's so popular?
    • But it had 2 many WORDZ!

  • by reboot246 (623534) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @12:18PM (#28545165) Homepage
    I thought this was going to be about the death of Twitter.

    I'm soooo disappointed! :)
    • The only version of this book worth reading would only be 140-characters long too
    • by Ponga (934481)
      Seriously. I hope to God that I'm not the only one here that DESPISES myspace / facebook / twitter!!
      • by reboot246 (623534)
        You're not the only one. I think those are fine for other people (the kind of people I try to avoid). I much prefer to interact with people in person or at least on the phone. Too much meaning is lost in short cryptic text.

        I have plenty of friends, but I don't want to know every little detail of their lives.
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Logical Zebra (1423045) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @12:18PM (#28545171)

    Is it really necessary to write a 200+ page book on how to write 140-character "microblog" posts?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by eldavojohn (898314) *

      Is it really necessary to write a 200+ page book on how to write 140-character "microblog" posts?

      Agreed. After reading the preview, it's basically a tutorial on Twitter. From the link to the preview [slideshare.net] I found these general sections:

      1. Get Started
      2. Listen In
      3. Hold Great Conversations
      4. Share Information and Ideas
      5. Reveal Yourself
      6. Twitter for Business: Special Considerations and Ideas

      I'm sorry this looks like a "how to use Twitter" book that could, at best, be a social networking book. What is O'Reilly doing publishing this book?

      The review tends to center on formatting and typesetting. Great. If I want to know how to publish a guide on using my site, I understand this book sets the bar.

      But how does it get a 9 out of 10? Did the reviewer wal

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        > What is O'Reilly doing publishing this book?

        Doing their job: making money.

        It's the population's (yes, you and me, and everyone else) fault that shit like this gets published, or any really bad shit gets sold (MS Bob). Companies put out products that people are willing to buy. Supply and demand.

        This will sell a few thousand copies because of the fad alone.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Threni (635302)

          Hmm. Making money by printing shitty books might work in the short term, but if you damage your brand such that people can't rely on your name "Oh, I'll get an O'Reilly book - they're never shit!" then in the long term you'll make less. Yeah, I know, it's all about the short term these days.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by amicusNYCL (1538833)

        What is O'Reilly doing publishing this book?

        That probably has something to do with the fact that Tim O'Reilly co-authored the book, since he's apparently an avid user himself.

        • by nametaken (610866)

          They'd have done a typical O'Reilly book, but they couldn't figure out which animal to put on the cover.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I think the better question is how is Twitter getting all of this press? Twitter is really really useless. Its uselessness is clear within minutes of you logging on. Yet celebrities are flocking to it, and the site is a media darling (I am pretty sure TechCrunch and SAI have a whole twitter department at this point). To me, it just doesn't make sense. I am highly skeptical that these sites really care all that much about Twitter, and I feel there must be some "convincing" going on to get all this press. May

        • by riceboy50 (631755)
          You are not alone. Twitter is utterly inane. I think a lot of people really are that narcissistic that constant status updating appeals to them, but on the flip side, the amount of hype being garnered really is like the emperor's new clothes [wikipedia.org].
        • . . . but Twitter the phenomenon is obviously a handy place to hang marketing and hype. I doubt Twitter is behind the PR at all, or getting much out of their fame. Rather, PR/marketing teams for companys/celebritys are fueling the Twitter phenom because it is a new, low cost platform on which to manage publicity/marketing campaigns. Twitter doesn't get a slice when AnyCo. or Joe Superstar pays a PR team to come up with the idea of starting a Twitter account. All Twitter gets is the headaches of managing

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sunderland56 (621843)
        it's basically a tutorial on Twitter.

        If you need a tutorial on Twitter, maybe computers just aren't your thing.
    • by gzearfoss (829360)

      Necessary? No.
      Profitable? Probably.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by akadruid (606405) <slashdot@NOSpaM.thedruid.co.uk> on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @12:32PM (#28545451) Homepage

      Young people mostly don't use Twitter - it's just older people desperately trying to be cool. A perfect market for this book.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dzfoo (772245)

        True.

        +1 Insightful

                -dZ.

      • Yeah. We "younger" people know, that our beloved ICQ or SMS, are just what Twitter is, if you put the log file of the IM client up on the net for everyone to "subscribe".
        And we also know that it is pointless, except for karma whores.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      If you want to cash in it is.

  • Ka Ching!
  • by rueger (210566) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @12:25PM (#28545315) Homepage
    Following Iranian elections on Twitter was amazing, but from what I can see 99% of Twitter traffic boils down to "I had a bagel for lunch" and "I'm going poo-poo and Twittering it on my iPhone."

    I still think Twitter is grossly overrated and expect that it has already peaked big time.
    • by Deag (250823) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @12:45PM (#28545695)

      99% of Twitter traffic boils down to "I had a bagel for lunch" and "I'm going poo-poo and Twittering it on my iPhone."
       

      Well that is like complaining that phones or the web are overrated and pointless because most of the content is of no interest to you. You don't have to read those posts you know!

      I don't post on twitter, but I do find it useful to get a real-time sense of what is going on. Searching it for phrases to see if something is down for example, or getting a sense of peoples reactions.

      And following the odd celebrity like the mythbusters [twitter.com] is interesting.

      • And following the odd celebrity like the mythbusters

        Odd celebrity, indeed.

      • by schon (31600)

        that is like complaining that phones or the web are overrated and pointless because most of the content is of no interest to you.

        I disagree. It would be more like complaining that the 5-second time limit for phone calls, or the 140-byte limit for web pages is pointless... except that these limits don't exist.

        You don't have to read those posts you know!

        But you do have to wade through them if you're trying to find something interesting - which is the exact problem with Twitter.

        Here's a rundown on why (and virtually everybody I've ever met) dislikes twitter:

        Prelude: Traditional publishing relies on publishers and editors deciding what everyone should read. They take massive am

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      Following Iranian elections on Twitter was amazing, but from what I can see 99% of Twitter traffic boils down to "I had a bagel for lunch" and "I'm going poo-poo and Twittering it on my iPhone." I still think Twitter is grossly overrated and expect that it has already peaked big time.

      Wow, your quality of content argument could almost stand on it's own...If it were not for those other rather small sites that host the same level of utterly pointless shit, Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube.

      Pretty much resembles what the major networks are broadcasting these days as well, with just a splash of (biased) news and weather in there for flavor.

      • At best, social media is competing for the portion of time that people waste on mainstream media, but AFAIK none of those sites are capitalizing as effectively. Before we start confusing "pointless" content with "quality" content, lets remember that the point of any of these endeavors is to make money.

    • "I'm going poo-poo and Twittering it on my iPhone."

      http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2008/4/23/ [penny-arcade.com]

    • by radish (98371)

      Sounds like you need to find more interesting people to follow. Twitter's what you make of it, you need to be thoughtful about who you listen to.

      • Agreed (Score:1, Flamebait)

        Sounds like you need to find more interesting people to follow. Twitter's what you make of it, you need to be thoughtful about who you listen to.

        Ignoring people who use Twitter is a good start.

      • by zaren (204877)

        The people you DON'T follow make it interesting, too. Thanks to my mindless personal ramblings on Twitter that other people found, I have learned about, among other things:

        o Where to buy a good digeridoo
        o Modern-day old-school radio plays being performed in Britain
        o The benefits of acupuncture over chiropracters

        I have also won a $25 Amazon gift card thanks to Twitter, and gotten a free cell phone upgrade (from my provider's support contact) as well!

        I used to have the same complaints about Facebook that othe

    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      Yeah, the problem with Twitter isn't Twitter itself, but the people, and what they think passes as something worthy of being read.

      Same thing for blogs, but blogs failed Joe Sixpack because everyone including his friends and family think his blogs are TL;DR. Twitter works because your long-winded and poorly written recollections and thoughts must be condensed into something to the effect and length of "I just dreamt I was a pirate! It was awesome!!". Still no one really cares, but at least it's concise eno

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I was firmly in the "pointless waste of time" camp; but the more I see, the more I am unsure. People post .. erm.. 'tweet' what they're thnking at the moment. This means we can dip into the collective stream of consciousness of hundreds of thousands of people at any give moment. There's a certain value to that - no matter how pointless the individual thoughts are. Fascinating for someone who likes to study the human animal.
    • nonsense (Score:3, Funny)

      Following Iranian elections on Twitter was amazing, but from what I can see 99% of Twitter traffic boils down to "I had a bagel for lunch" and "I'm going poo-poo and Twittering it on my iPhone."

      Thats not true at all. I follow a lot of people on twitter and though there are frequent poo messages, people actually eat a lot of different things for lunch. Bagels aren't nearly as common as you think.

  • by geekmux (1040042) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @12:26PM (#28545347)

    I feel the need for this book about as much as a book on using toilet paper, which oddly enough, has something in common with Twitter. They're both used to collect shit. That's about it.

  • Another reason why we librarian types should be reading /.
  • "Tweet" what you're thinking about. Reply to other people's tweets. Follow interesting people. Don't be a douche.

    (Wait, scratch that. Obviously "don't be a douche" has no place in social networks.)

  • Here [twitter.com]. I think that's why I like twitter. A big company like Rackspace can use it to keep in touch with customers, and the discussion continues through thick and thin. So Rackspace suffers a rare outage, tweets about it, and people have some idea of what's going on... or at least we know they're working on it.

    Plus twitter's search functionality works well. 5 minutes into the outage you could seach for "rackspace" and see a bunch of folks confirming that it was down for them too.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Mozk (844858)

      5 minutes into the outage you could seach for "rackspace" and see that Twitter is down too.

      FTFY.

  • Is this a sign that the Twitter Shark has been jumped?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The funniest (or perhaps most depressing) part of Twitter is the apparent rise of Twitter-based protocols. It's funny, because various applications have started to train humans to write things that are transparent in other protocols. Just look at these hash tags, or whatever they're called, the @ symbol, and the control text used for the 200,000 different "apps" controlled by Twitter. Between that and the horrible contortions people subject their messages to in order to fit in 140 characters, Twitter can lo

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't hate Twitter because it is popular; I hate it because of the overexposure. Twitter is just a service; it is what you want it to be. I don't care if you're reading about Ashton Kutcher shopping for groceries or Iranians being oppressed; all I ask is that you don't hype it up so much that I want to punch you in the face (alternatively, I would settle for actually punching you in the face).

    • I don't hate Twitter because it is popular; I hate it because of the overexposure. Twitter is just a service; it is what you want it to be.

      Hate? Really? You find the oddest things to waste such energy on-- after all, it is just a service.

  • The new second life.

    Seriously, I have been looking at some messages on twitterfall and I realise how useless this is. All I see is a bunch of self-absorbed people letting the world know of their mundane daily activities.

    For example, the anti Iranian goverment channel (called #iranelection) is a useless collection of messages. The post, who are limited to 140 characters are mostly useless. I'd say that 40% of the messages is people posting short angry rants, 30% is a retransmit of old messages, 20% is releva

    • by rednip (186217)

      I'd say that 40% of the messages is people posting short angry rants, 30% is a retransmit of old messages, 20% is relevant data but in itself not nearly enough information and 10% spam and other deceptions.

      And how is that different than a typical conversation on any site?

  • by MrCrassic (994046) <deprecated&ema,il> on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @12:44PM (#28545691) Journal
    At first, I thought it was a waste of time and was kind of waiting for it to disappear. It was only after I attended many networking events that I realized how ingenious the idea really is.

    Think about it: Everybody asks each other how they're doing. It's even customary business etiquette; even if the two parties could care less how they're doing, they ask each other anyway to relieve tension and make small talk. Sometimes, it remains just that, but there are other, much rarer, times where someone's day actually is quite interesting.

    Maybe that person had some life-changing experience that could change one's life upon hearing about it. Maybe they learned of critical news that could change one's life for the better. If one never asks, one will never know. Hence the premise of Twitter.

    For most people, Twitter is pretty useless; George Carlin put it best, "People are fucking boring." However, it's those other people that make it the amazing and highly informative service that it is. I've found out about exclusive parties, specials and news that can only be found through the agility and brevity offered by Twitter.

    So if you don't see the value in it, make a couple of friends and try to find it. At worst, I can see it being bought out by a bigger Internet presence, like Google.
    • So, let me summarize:
      • if I find it useless, I just need to try harder.
      • A 140-character message could be life-changing, even though you also assert that it's just another way to make small-talk like "how are you doing".

      Hmm. No, I think I'll keep doing something else. Thanks.

      • "I've just been Diagnosed with Hepatitis C (AIDS,Clamydia, etc)"

        "I just found out I'm pregnant"

        "My (insert favorite relative) just died"

        "My birthday is tomorrow"

        "I just got in a car accident"

        "I'm choking (seizing, having a heart attack/stroke, killing myself) send help"

        "Has anyone seen my purse (keys/dog/kid/spouse etc)"

        Those are all some pretty significant frickin things to find out about, and lemme tell ya, I guarantee someone has found out they need to be STD tested via a tweet, or found out they need to

    • Think about it: Everybody asks each other how they're doing. It's even customary business etiquette; even if the two parties could care less how they're doing, they ask each other anyway to relieve tension and make small talk. Sometimes, it remains just that, but there are other, much rarer, times where someone's day actually is quite interesting.

      The reason you ask in a business setting is to make small talk, contacts, etc. It's not the response but the subtext that's important. Twitter strips the subtext

    • If you acknowledge that its a rare instance when how someone is doing is actually worth hearing, how is a service that encourages as many people as possible to constantly update their status not a step in the wrong direction? Now you have that much more noise to filter through.

      I also see nothing about Twitter that would make it the only way one could possibly learn about "exclusive parties, specials and news" (which sounds like a euphemism for "advertising" anyway).

  • by Dekks (808541) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @01:01PM (#28546059)

    Anyone who is familiar with bitter cynical social commentator Charlie Brooker might of already seen this:

    http://twitter.com/charltonbrooker/status/1603115783 [twitter.com]

    "HarperCollins just asked to use one of my msgs in a book called 'Twitter Wit'. They can use this one for free: "HarperCollins R cunts LOL"."

  • This book is way too complicated.

    I Just couldn't get through it.

    I preferred 'Ping for Dummies."

  • by SCHecklerX (229973) <thecaptain@captaincodo.net> on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @01:41PM (#28546825) Homepage

    ... when it was called finger.

    Blogs were better when they were called 'homepages'

    Now get off my lawn.

  • Seriously man, what exactly is the fascination with twitter? Everyone is on twitter and if you want to hang with the "cool kids", OMG, you must be on twitter! Newscasters on twitter, politicians on twitter... all the while I'm saying WTF!?
    I have often wondered what the fascination is with these social networking sites. myspace, facebook and now twitter. I don't understand it at all. Does anyone out there have any insight or theory why people blow their load over these sites?? I'd appreciate it. In the mea
    • Seriously man, what exactly is the fascination with twitter? Everyone is on twitter and if you want to hang with the "cool kids", OMG, you must be on twitter!

      Even so, it is cool that such inertia exists.

      I would like to find out what generates such inertia, and apply it to something worthwhile, like free and open source software. Wouldn't it be cool every other week to hear about which new celebrity has switched to a GNOME desktop, or has chosen to release their new album exclusively on Ogg Vorbis?

      Didn't think so.

      Sounds pretty stupid, and that's probably why there's so little traction with regards to FOSS among mainstream. Firefox is probably the most mainstream

  • The twitter book costs.12-14$ + shipping.
    Here's a free copy of tim's first book, the one that turned him into a writer.
    "My first book, Frank Herbert, is online at http://tim.oreilly.com/sci-fi/herbert/ [oreilly.com]."
    It's about the author of Dune,
    and it's one of the best pieces of literary criticism I've ever read.

  • He'd be twitter.

    1) A bland product with demand created out of thin air by skillful marketing

    2) Overrated and seemingly pointless

    3) Far less interesting than those that came before and will come after

    4) Probably driven by nice enough people but backlash or complete disinterest is on the horizon.

    SMS aggregation isn't a fad, it's definitely a way of life -- but there isn't any barrier for entry for competition. All it will take is a company that does it slightly better to unseat them and twitter will be the ne

  • I am seated in the smallest room in my house. I have your review in front of me, and very soon it will be behind me.

    Answer: I am also seated in the smallest room in my house. I have your book's pages in front of me, and very soon they will be behind me.

    Realization: Hey, Tweets have the perfect size to be printed on one sheet of toilet paper. I think I have a business idea! *runs to venture capitalist*

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