Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: The Twitter Book

Publishing info
Title: The Twitter Book
Author: Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein
ISBN: 9780596802813
Price: $19.99. US
Subjects: Web/Internet Application

Normally when I need to research a technology topic for a presentation or an article, I like to scour the Internet for my references and examples. I’ve always felt that I would be able to get the most up-to-date information that way. It just seems like published tech books would be too out-dated too quickly.

Recently I was supposed to facilitate a workshop on Social Media in Museums for the Arkansas Museum Association (it had to be canceled and we are working on rescheduling). Due to other work projects, I knew I wouldn’t have the time to search the Internet and figure out which references were reputable and which weren’t. I particularly needed to research Twitter since it was the newest (and hottest) of the social media apps, and although I use Twitter personally and professionally, I also realize I’m not an advanced user. I needed a trustworthy reference, a reference that would cover a lot of aspects about Twitter at once (particularly the parts I wasn’t familiar with), and I needed it all in one place. In short, I needed a book.

I’m familiar with O’Reilly Media Inc. because a lot of their books are in my house. I’ve never read any of these books; they’re my husband’s books. They are the books of a computer programmer and developer. Even with their cute black and white cover art of animals, they intimidate me. These are the books for REAL computer people, not a regular computer user like me. So when I first searched Amazon for Twitter books, I was apprehensive when O’Reilly’s ‘The Twitter Book” came up.

Knowing my husband holds O’Reilly in such high regard, I thought I could spare a few minutes to look over the Amazon page and see how much of it I might be able to understand. I was pleasantly surprised and added it to my list of possibilities, then a few weeks later while at my local bookstore, I took more time to peruse the pages and ultimately decided to get it.

The 234 page book is divided into 6 chapters covering how to get started, how to “listen in,” how to participate in conversations, how to share info, some advanced skills, and to finish it off a chapter devoted to how businesses should use Twitter. The book is indexed, and on many pages quick Twitter Tip balloons are included.

The formatting is great. The writing on every page is precise and gets straight to the point, and the authors do not fall into techie jargon. Every page includes words or phrases printed in color and bold text so you see the main points at a glance, while chapter references are in color so they are also able to see. Each facing page gives some type of artwork (i.e. screenshots or graphs) to further demonstrate authors’ points.

I can see where some readers may get intimidated by the shear number of third party URLs that are included in this book, but I appreciated all the information. I will say that it might have been helpful to have included a separate index of just the URLs that were included in the book. They also include the names of a number of Twitter users; however, I feel that they don’t always do a good job of explaining who these users are.

Overall I feel that this is an excellent book for those just jumping into Twitter or those looking to bolster their knowledge of this hot application.

Tim O’Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc. and Sarah Milstein is the cofounder of and during her time on the senior editorial stuff at O’Reilly she developed the Missing Manuals series.

You can find The Twitter Book here:

Note: I purchased this book at my local bookstore.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Using Social Media to Put the Life Back into Your Home Part 2

Note: This is the second half of an article that I wrote published in the HHMAG RAG, Historic House Affinity Group Newsletter Volume 9, Issue 2, August 2009, pg. 7 although I have made updates to it.

Last week I discussed two social media platforms that I think Historic House Museums can use to help the public connect on a more personal level to the home and how to get started with them. Today I want to get down to the more nitty gritty ideas of content.

Suggested Content
Now that you know the basics and have tips to get started, let’s get to the heart of the matter. What can Historic Houses do with these media to make the house more like a home?
If you have diaries from the people who lived in your historic home, consider blogging their diary. Consider the journal postings on and

I personally would love to read a blog entry where there is a picture of something in the house accompanied by diary excerpts about the object, perhaps about it being delivered or if the item was a gift. If the family purchased the object and you have the receipt, consider scanning the receipt and including a picture of it in the post. Suddenly you have an entry that shows me a beautiful picture of your home, and you've made the family more real by including their words and thoughts about that object. You show me that your house wasn’t just a building, it was a home, and the objects in that home meant something important to the people who live there, just as my possessions in my home are important to me.

Depending on the people who lived in your home, their diary entries may be short enough to post on Twitter. My husband's grandfather wrote short diary entries every day for decades. Just everyday observations, such as: “Brought the cows up from the back pasture, mended the south fence.” (Note 11/4/09: Little did I know as I was drafting this back in the Spring that the Massachusetts Historical Society was getting ready to do this exact thing with John Quincy Adams’ diaries.)

If your museum doesn't have this type of record, perhaps you could write generic tweets about the type of work that would have been going on that day or time of year. If you have living history presentations, talk about the actions that they will be doing that day. As I’m writing this, we are getting ready to harvest the potatoes in our working garden, and I’m planning on tweeting about it. I like this idea because it brings back to life aspects of rural living that the majority of people don’t have to deal with anymore. Consider this: How many people today take the time to hang their rugs up outside to beat the dust off? I’m told that is something my great-great grandmother did religiously, but frankly it never occurs to me while vacuuming that you used to have to do it that way.

Twitter is all about personal, conversational communication. Imagine what it would be like if, among the posts about what jelly people are eating on their toast or where they're stopping for coffee, there were posts about people drawing water from the well in order to even be able to cook their breakfast! Imagine using Twitter to remind the public what life used to be like, and what daily activities and tasks used to be necessary for survival.

Some quick ideas for other things to blog or tweet about:
- Things your visitors say (you know they have some great quotes)
- This day in history or other factoids (the more it relates to your home or area the better)
- Behind the scenes information (big projects, recent finds/donations, disappointments)
- Quirky information about your institution or home

But remember that since Twitter is about conversation you need to interact with your followers -- ask them questions, comment on their tweets, and encourage them to give you feedback through Twitter. Just like in a conversation, you have to be a listener and a talker.

I believe Historic House Museums can turn social media platforms into very helpful tools just by answering the simple question “What are you doing?” Tell the public what you are doing!

Recommended Twitters:
John Quincy Adams -
Lakeport Plantation -
Monticello -
Mount Vernon -
Shiloh Museum of Ozark History -