Review: The Twitter Book(: The iPhone App)

In the last few weeks I’ve gone from someone who thought Twitter was the apex of pointless self-obsession to, well, someone who reads books about Twitter and then writes reviews of them.

While there is definitely more to Twitter than “I’m eating a ham sandwich” posts, it isn’t a complicated piece of software to use, either.  To get up and tweeting, you can get just a) go to Twitter.com, b) select a user-ID and password, and c) fill in the “What are you doing?” box.

Most Twitterers quickly go beyond this to using other Twitter software clients, integrating keywords like “RT” (retweet) and #hashtags into their posts and sampling the rapidly proliferating web sites that extend the Twitterverse in some fashion.

Still, is there really enough to Twitter to merit a book?

The answer is yes, albeit a short book.

Happily, the authors of The Twitter Book have resisted the temptation to pad the book with abstract musing about Twitter.  (One of the authors is Twitterato Supremo Tim O’Reilly — the guy behind the O’Reilly publishing empire — who currently has about 819,500 more Twitter followers than me, the guy behind the GigaMegaBlog publishing empire.)  The book is chock full of tips, suggestions and recommendations, most of which are not at all self-apparent to the average Twitter user.

For example, I had no idea that each Twitter post has its own URL, and only a vague notion of when to use the “via” keyword vs.  “RT” when referring to a tweet.  While a Google search on “Twitter” shows that there is no shortage of web sites that provide add-on features and services, I hadn’t used any of them until I read about the good ones in this book.

Sample page from The Twitter Book iPhone app
Sample page from The Twitter Book iPhone app

The book is well-written and an easy read, and you’ll likely find that it takes just a couple of hours to go cover to cover.  There are only 6 chapters, the last of which is devoted to using Twitter for business use.  Casual Twitter users should not be put off by that, however, since the other 5 chapters don’t have a “business book” tone.

I read the ebook version,  as an iPhone app.  The big advantage of this format, as of July 2009 at least, is the low price – just 5 bucks.  The big disadvantage, of course, is that you’re reading it on a 2 x 3″ screen.  Personally, I’m quite used to ebooks and don’t find this to be a drawback at all, but if you’ve never tried reading an ebook on an iPhone I’d advise you to download the free Stanza app first.  The Twitter Book, like all of O’Reilly’s iPhone ebooks, uses the same engine as Stanza with the same wide range of settings.

Another relatively low-cost option for the Twitter Book is O’Reilly’s Safari web site.  If you’re a frequent reader of tech books then Safari gives you a great bang for the buck – I can’t seem to help gushing about it.

The one area where I found the iPhone app format to be a constraint is graphics.  The books makes extensive use of screenshots to show examples of effective tweets, and the text in some of the graphics is a little too fuzzy to make out. As shown in the screenshot above, the graphics are reasonably large when in a landscape format.  If the above screenshot (which is at its full iPhone resolution) is readable then you should be fine, but otherwise this app offers no way to zoom in on a graphic. Correction 7/29: Silly me – I pinched and poked at the graphics without realizing that you can zoom in on them.  If you hold your finger down on a graphic, the app switches to a special view, shown below, that supports the usual iPhone zoom controls.

Zoomed screenshot
Zoomed screenshot

All things considered, The Twitter Book is a very worthwhile read, even for casual Twitterers.  If you’ve been tweeting for awhile and scoff at the idea of a whole book being devoted To Twitter, then you are exactly the type of person to benefit the most by reading it.

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