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 know 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 that 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.
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, 8×5.9×0.7 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.
Title: The Twitter Book
Author: Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein
Publisher: O’Reilly Media, Inc.
Tagline: If you want to learn how to use Twitter like a pro, The Twitter Book will quickly get you up to speed.