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World According to Twitter
By David Pogue
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Format:ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 15, 2009. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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New York Times technology columnist David Pogue has tapped into the brilliance of his half-million followers on Twitter by posting a different, thought-provoking question every night. The questions ranged from the earnest (“What’s your greatest regret?”) to the creative (“Make up a concept for a doomed TV show”) to the curious (“What’s your great idea to improve the cell phone?”). Out of 25,000 tweets, Pogue has gathered the very best 2,524 into this irresistible, clever, laugh-out-loud funny book. The World According to Twitter is truly a grand social networking experiment, in which thousands of voices have come together to produce a unique and wonderful record of shared human experience.
Compose the subject line of an email message you really, really don’t want to open.
To my former sexual partners, as required by law (@markowitz)
RE: What seems to have been your car (@pumpkinshirt)
From: Your Publisher. Subject: Ha, good one! Could you send the real chapter now, please? (@ Lookshelves)
Make up a prequel to a famous movie.
Mr. Smith MapQuests Washington (michaelbuckman)
Snakes in the Terminal (@justinchambers)
Were Running Low on Mohicans (@rllewis)
There Goes Private Ryan . . . I Hope He’ll Be OK (@slightly99)
Describe your 15 minutes of fame.
My stepfather was “The agony of defeat” guy on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, before the ski jumper (he was the car spinning out at Daytona 500). (@BigDaddy978)
I juggled for Clinton’s inauguration. 20 minutes of FBI pat-downs, and then I wound up throwing knives around the president anyway. (@McEuen)
I’m on a Girl Scout cookie box (have been for 9 years, so it’s longer than 15 minutes)! (@libbyfish)
Add 1 letter to a famous person’s name.
The World According to Twitter
and His 50,000 Followers
“WHY SHOULD I CARE WHAT YOU HAD FOR BREAKFAST?”
ARRRRGHH!!! I can’t stand it when people say this about Twitter!
OK, asking that question is a fairly normal reaction when someone first hears about Twitter. I admit it: That’s the reaction I had when I first heard about Twitter.
But that is not what Twitter is about—even if the little box you type into is labeled, “What are you doing?”
Now, let’s get one thing clear upfront: This is not a book about Twitter.
Twitter just happens to be the first communications channel in history that could have made possible a book like this: real-time, interactive collaboration with half a million smart, funny coauthors. What you’ll find on these pages is their wit and wisdom, with very few references to Twitter itself.
But, in case you care, Twitter.com is a Web site where you can broadcast very short messages—140 characters, max—to anyone who’s signed up to receive them. It’s like a cross between a blog and a chat room.
Your “followers” might include six friends from high school, or, if you’re movie star Ashton Kutcher, 2.5 million faithful fans. At the same time, you can sign up to follow the “tweets” of other people, which scroll up your screen in a big column, all mixed together, like the screenplay for a global cocktail-party scene.
Fortunately, most people do not broadcast the mundane details of their lives. Instead, they make wry observations. They send links to interesting stuff they’ve found online. They pass along breaking news. (All kinds of news breaks on Twitter before it hits the mainstream media: Barack Obama’s choice of a running mate, the plane landing in the Hudson River, the Mumbai earthquake, the rebellions in Iran, and so on.)
And, oh yeah—they ask questions.
ABOUT MY CONVERSION
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a Twitter skeptic. Like most first-timers, I found Twitter to be filled with confusing conventions, rules, and shorthand. The first time I covered Twitter for the New York Times, I wrote, “Like the world needs another ego-massaging, social-networking time drain?”
But that’s the thing about Twitter: it takes a week or so to get it. And the possibilities slowly began to blow my mind.
My transformation into a full-blown Twitterphile began the day I served as a judge on a grant committee. I watched as a fellow judge asked his Twitter followers if a certain project had been tried before. In thirty seconds, his followers replied with Web links to the information he needed. I was amazed at the quality and quantity of the responses.
So a week later, I conducted a similar experiment myself. I was giving a talk in Las Vegas, and trying to explain Twitter by demonstrating it. As the audience watched, I fired up Twitter on the big screen and typed to my 5,000 followers: “I need a cure for hiccups… right now!”
Within seconds, responses came pouring in from all over the world. They were weird, wonderful, funny:
- Take 9 sips of water then say, “January.” Laugh now, but you’ll thank me when the hiccups are gone!
- Peanut butter on a spoon.
- Check your 401K. That should scare the hiccups right out of ya.
- I take large sips of bourbon. It doesn’t stop the hiccups, but I stop caring!
We were all cracking up. This wasn’t like anything else on the Internet. No Web page, chat room, or e-mail could have achieved the same effect, in real time, with this many participants. (The results of the hiccup-cure experiment are immortalized on page 74.)
It was rapidly becoming apparent that people on Twitter are not the same people who populate MySpace, Facebook, or YouTube. (Have you seen the level of discourse on YouTube? “Your such a tard” … “no U are!”)
Twitterers are a different breed altogether. According to studies by PEW and Quantcast, we’re an older, better-educated, higher-earning group. About 80 percent of us are over 25, and two-thirds of us have college degrees.
The bummer was that my followers’ brilliance was trapped. Not just on Twitter—on my screen. With certain exceptions, when you get a reply on Twitter, you’re the only person who sees it.
When I got home from that speaking trip, I mentioned that problem to my wife, Jennifer.
“You know what you should do,” she said. “You should ask a question every night, and then publish the best answers in a book.”
Now, Jennifer has always been a walking idea machine—her new-business ideas could fill a Wharton School catalog. But this one hit me right between the eyes.
This, I thought, could be a really interesting social experiment—and a darned entertaining book.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
And so it began. Every night, at about 11 p.m., I posed a new question to my followers on Twitter. “What’s your million-dollar idea?” “What’s your strangest habit?” “Make up a clever title for a sequel to a famous movie.” (The time—11 p.m.—was designed to maximize the number of people who’d be on Twitter: night-owls on the East Coast, after-dinner tweeters on the West Coast, and maybe even some early risers in Europe.)
Then, for the next two hours, I’d sit there on the couch, reading the replies and cackling like a deranged person.
But even then, nobody could see these responses except me. After a couple of nights, I couldn’t resist: I began retweeting five of the best responses. That means rebroadcasting them, passing them on to my entire group of followers, so that everyone could see them.
I used the standard retweet format, where you begin the message by crediting the original author, like this:
RT @justinchambers: “Snakes in the Terminal”
(RT means “retweet,” and the @ symbol denotes a Twitter name. For example, my address on Twitter is @pogue.)
I’ve never had so much fun putting together a book. Apparently, the Twitterverse public also enjoyed the ride; during the three months of Twitter-booking, I somehow picked up 495,000 more followers.
Not everyone was happy, however. Bloggers, who can always be counted on for snarky reactions to anything, were quick to pile on.
Two things seemed to bug them. First, that I’d be taking credit for a book that I didn’t actually write. “Apparently the days of actually ‘writing’ a ‘book’ are slowly coming to an end,” wrote one blogger. “You know, craft, art, substance, the actual minutiae that all go into making a book a piece of work.”
Second, the bloggers feared that I’d get rich off my followers’ brilliance: “If you, lucky you, end up being selected to be a part of Pogue’s scam project, you get compensated, right? Of course you do. Per Pogue himself, he’ll send you ‘a free copy of the book, inscribed to you.’ Oh, wow, lucky day!”
Hmm. Well, on the first point, compilations are nothing new; consider Zagat restaurant guides, Bartlett’s Quotations, joke books, household-hints books. As long as the micro-contributors all participated willingly, I didn’t see the problem.
On the compensation point—well, this book’s contributors knew the terms of the arrangement from the outset: If I include one of your tweets, you get an autographed copy of the book. And, as one participant noted, “I wrote 1 sentence and got a $13 book. That works out to $4,680 an hour. I’m OK with that.”
In the end, I posed 95 questions. They generated over 25,000 responses. It took my editor and me weeks to winnow them down to the 2,524 winning tweets in this book. A book like this is typically shelved in the Humor section of the bookstore, but to my delight, it evolved into something that goes way beyond jokes. Here are life stories, greatest regrets, poems, brilliant inventions, advice for lovers, wry observations, hopes for the future, and words to live by…here’s the whole world according to Twitter.
And a lot of great jokes.
As you’ll soon see, this book’s coauthors are some of the wittiest, sharpest, most interesting people on the Internet. They come from all over the world, they sleep in every conceivable time zone, they represent an astonishing range of life experiences.
And, thanks to the unique, real-time, communications channel called Twitter, they’ve successfully completed a massive collaborative experiment.
Too bad we’ll never meet.
ABOUT THE TEAM
There was a lot more to this book than just asking questions and collecting the answers. The technical challenges were especially difficult.
First, tweets don’t stay on the Internet forever. There is a search function on Twitter, but it “sees” only the last few days’ worth of tweets. Therefore, just figuring out how to capture the thousands of responses to my questions became a daunting project.
Second, once we’d selected our winners, we had to contact them—to get their official permission to display their edited tweets in this book, and to find out their shipping addresses for the free books.
But we had only a single piece of information about each person: his or her Twitter name. No e-mail address, no phone number, no mailing address.
So what’s the big deal? Just contact them on Twitter, right?
Sure, except that by the time we were ready to reach out to them, 234 of our winners had changed their Twitter names, or quit using Twitter altogether—or, in one case, died.
Fortunately, I had a team of three geniuses working with me.
First, my summer intern, University of Virginia student David Pierce, figured out how to capture all those incoming replies and massage all of them into a usable, editable format. Incredibly, he also managed to hunt down most of those 234 missing contributors. (He used sneaky tricks like Googling their Twitter names, on the premise that if you call yourself FirefighterNYC on Twitter, you might also be FirefighterNYC on Facebook or Gmail.) I’ll never forget his fist-pumping “Yes!!” across the room each time he tracked down another one of the missing.
Second, we struck gold when we discovered Twitoaster.com. This Web site bestows Twitter with something that it otherwise lacks: threading. In other words, it groups replies with the tweets that inspired them. From his home near Paris, Arnaud Meunier, Twitoaster’s creator, cheerfully offered to set up a custom Web site to help with this book project. At any time, we could click over to it to harvest the latest replies in a tidy spreadsheet format. Arnaud’s genius saved us weeks of effort.
Finally, I enlisted the aid of consultant Geoff Coffey—author of FileMaker Pro 10: The Missing Manual—to work with our master FileMaker tweet database. He trained it to automate the massive permission-seeking task, generating private Twitter messages to our thousands of contributors. He also created a custom Web site for the book’s winners, where they could approve my edits, grant permission for publication, and supply their contact information.
And while I’m thanking people, I should mention Mary Ann Madden. I’ve never met her, but for decades, she ran the weekly “Competition” on the back page of New York magazine. Her ingenious wordplay challenges inspired some of this book’s punnier questions.
My editor at Black Dog & Leventhal, Becky Koh, was sent from heaven. She grasped the project innately—we could practically complete each other’s sentences when talking about it—and her humor, smarts, and tact had a huge impact on the shaping of the book. In fact, it seems as though everyone at Black Dog & Leventhal is scrappy, smart, and funny. That includes the big dog himself, J.P. Leventhal, whose superb taste inspired him to publish the book in the first place. And designer Kevin Baier, who gave these pages just the amount of whimsy and class they deserved. (Did you spot his flip-book margin movie?)
Twitter, the company, is still struggling to keep up with its unexpected popularity. Yet at various times, Twitter’s Maggie Utgoff, Jenna Sampson, Jillian West, Santosh Jayaram, and cofounder Evan Williams took time out to help with this project in indispensable ways. I found it amazing that they were so cool about fielding my requests.
My agent, Jim Levine, jumped on the concept instantly and found the best possible home for it. Lesa Snider was not only my first Twitter teacher, but also my Webmistress for this book project. And my children, Kelly, Tia, and Jeffrey, were patient and forgiving during my prolonged absence from family life.
Above all, this book owes its existence to my wife, Jennifer. The whole thing was her brilliant idea, and it all would have collapsed without her love, effort, and support. As one of the modern-day greeting cards on page 38 puts it: “To my Tweetheart on our anniversary. After all these years, you still make me say OMG.”
Compose the subject line of an email message you really, really don’t want to read.
To my former sexual partners, as required by law —@markowitz
Re: What seems to have been your car —@pumpkinshirt
From: eHarmony. Subject: Your profile has been rejected. —@jadawa
I hate to do this via email… —@SusanEJacobsen
Fwd:Fwd:Fwd:Fw:Catz! lol —@danblondell
What happened in Vegas did NOT stay in Vegas —@jschechner
Your Dad is Now Following You on Twitter. —@CathleenRitt
From: Your Doctor. Subj: Good news, bad news... —@Baszma
Urgent notice to everyone who was at the hot tub party last Saturday! —@lavasusan
From: AT&T. Subject: Your international roaming charges —@kvijayraghavan
Hi! Remember me? I’m in town!! —@Stefaniya
Error in lab results —@ricksva
From: NIH. Subj: Important new information on link between computer usage and rapid-onset dementia —@maineone
Honey, you saved those tax papers from 1978, right? —@pumpkinshirt
From: Yale Office of Admissions. File Size: 2K —@perryan
We need to talk. Call me. —@_not_THAT_guy
From: Your Petsitter. Subject: Before you open the door when you get home... —@brianwolven
From: Your Publisher. Subject: Ha, good one! Could you send the real chapter now, please? —@Lookshelves
Your GM common stock —@scottmarkarian
Did you mean to hit Reply to All? —@Maggie_Dwyer
From: Your eldest kid. Subject: How do you get chocolate sauce out of the sofa? —@aymroos
Add 1 letter to a famous person’s name; explain.
Sonny Bongo: An upbeat percussionist —@davenik
Johann Sebastian Beach: He’s tanned and well-tempered but—don’t fugue with THIS guy! —@rponto
Yo Yo Mad: Angry cellist —@eboychik
James Blond: A spy who has more fun —@jml407c
Sparis Hilton: Hotel heiress who, thankfully, stays out of the tabloids —@lizardrebel
Tronto: Sidekick of the Canadian Lone Ranger —@pumpkinshirt
Scole Porter: Composer of the immortal song, “I Get a Kick Out of Chew” —@rponto
Hands Christian Andersen: Touchy-feely children’s writer —@eboychik
Robert E. Leek: Fought the Onion troops to a standstill —@pumpkinshirt
Sarah Paling: Alaska governor to install tanning bed to fix personal whiteness issue —@Styminator
Buckminster Fullear: Inventor of the geodesic Q-tip —@eboychik
Thomas Hardly: Mediocre British novelist —@dguinee
Crush Limbaugh: Outspoken right-wing wrestler —@robertgdaniel
Henry Fjord: Introduced the assembly line to Norway —@pumpkinshirt
Scooby Doob: Cheech & Chong’s crime-fighting canine —@rponto
Queen Evictoria: The unforgiving landlady —@cloud64
Neil Farmstrong: That’s one small seed for (a) man, one giant crop for mankind —@pumpkinshirt
Malcolm XY: Civil-rights activist, definitely male —@pixelshot
FU2: Iconic rock band unafraid to respond to haters —@noveldoctor
Sean Penne: Starchy, overcooked actor/activist —@sassone
The Telephant Man: Trunk-call specialist —@rponto
Nomam Chomsky: Controversial, but extremely polite, writer and thinker —@pumpkinshirt
Gringo Starr: Best drummer north of the border —@eboychik
Baitman: Dark knight of the sea —@john_cox
Elvish Presley: Middle Earth’s latest rock sensation —@alitheiapsis
Malice B. Toklas: The long-time enemy of Gertrude Stein —@pumpkinshirt
Time Rice: Highly processed movie scores in just 20 minutes —@lsmith1964
Henry Wrinkler: The Fonz is getting old —@christopherbmac
Seminem: Half-hearted hip-hop artist —@rkaika
ICE-TP: For a fresh, tingly clean —@calindrome
Arthur Fontzarelli: Known as The Fontz, he invented such classic ’50s typefaces as Aaaayrial —@pumpkinshirt
Sweeney Toadd: Demon amphibian of Fleet Street —@rponto
Twill Shortz: Publishes the Sunday NY Times cross-stitch pattern —@Maggie_Dwyer
Frank Skinatra: Adult film star with mob ties (but, naturally, sans neckties) —@pumpkinshirt
Barack GoBama: President of the Alabama Football Fan Club —@kevinpshan
Edward R. Murrlow: Iconic news commentator possessing subtle vanilla and oak overtones —@rponto
Mr. MT: Sad, existentialist action hero of the ’80s —@pumpkinshirt
Chez Guevara: Revolutionary Franco/Latino restaurant —@CanonDude
Thomas Hobbies: Life is just a bunch of nasty, brutish and short weekend projects —@livbem
Attila the Hunk: Conquered Gaul with charm and good looks —@richardhamilton
Carrie Sunderwood: Champion log splitter with a voice like an angel —@EShahan
Janeane GaROFLalo: Very funny woman —@interweave
Vladimir Puttin: Most famous miniature golfer in Russia —@JimFl
LOL Cool J: The Jolly Rapper
Simon Cowbell: Snarky music guy you can hear from a long way off —@noveldoctor
Felicia Day-O: Spunky banana boat actress —@CharPrincessa
B.B.B. King: Legendary bluesman and founder of Better Business Bureau —@robertgdaniel
RUN-DMCA: Hip-hop group devoted to defending copyright —@vidiot_
Kale-El: Superman’s vegetarian cousin —@pumpkinshirt
Jeff Probist: Host of a reality TV show that, trust me, you are grateful you never saw —@myhelfy
Gal Pacino: The first Academy Award-winning cross-dresser —@hobbesdream
Charlston Heston: You’ll pry these dance shoes off my cold, dead feet —@3x10to8mps
IraQ Glass: Host of This Mesopotamian Life —@gskull
Mr. TA: The teacher’s assistant who pities the foo’ —@arclite
Man O’ Wart: Ugliest thoroughbred, three years running —@pumpkinshirt
Aeronsmith: Brand of ergonomic chairs for aging rockers —@VenetianBlond
William Shatnerd: Half-captain, half-Vulcan Starfleet officer —@dmkanter
Nine Inch Snails: Gastropodal heavy-mucus band; some acclaim for album, The Slip ’n’ Slide —@rponto
Rebar McEntire: The country singer with a voice like concrete —@pumpkinshirt
Eminema: Colonic-obsessed rapper —@vidiot_
Summarize a famous book in 140 characters.
I love you, but family is FREAKING OUT. Wait, maybe we can elope. Oh…You’re dead. Screw it. (Romeo and Juliet) —@stevenaverett
God meets a nice Jewish girl. People are still talking. (The Bible) —@UNnouncer
Mothballs in wardrobe cause English children to hallucinate, crossbreed humans + animals, start a war, kill a lion. (Lion, Witch & Wardrobe) —@Remi_T
Single girl, pounds to lose
Keeps a diary, guzzles booze
Full of humor, angst & wit
She ends up with a handsome Brit (Bridget Jones’s Diary)
A (The Scarlet Letter) —@hriefs
War is peace? Ignorance is strength? Big Brother can’t be right. I won’t give in. They can’t break me. Oh, I love Big Brother. (1984) —@carolcdt
Bread can really ruin your life. (Les Misérables) —@jenatesse
It’s some random person you didn’t think of, in some random cult you never heard of, and all the Christians get upset. (The Da Vinci Code) —@christian_major
Couple conspires. Wife develops OCD out of guilt. There are some crazy old ladies with a cooking show involved. (Macbeth) —@OMG_Ponies
2 + 2 = 5 (1984) —@fourfootflood
The shoe is mine; scrub your own floors. (Cinderella) —@katnagel
You can make it through anything if you don’t lose your head. (A Tale of Two Cities) —@pumpkinshirt
There and back again. (The Odyssey) —@katnagel
Damn whale. (Moby-Dick) —@GlennF
Spice is the variety of life. (Dune) —@hose311
Happy setting, heart-tugging tragedy, road to recovery, happily ever after! (Anything written, produced or directed by Walt Disney) —@BerryLowman
Awesome, dinosaurs! Oh wait... (Jurassic Park) —@zcott
Kids do the darndest things. (Lord of the Flies) —@mehughes124
Spiders help to keep everything kosher. (Charlotte’s Web) —@pumpkinshirt
Buyer’s remorse. (Paradise Lost) —@cornedbeefgents
Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of impenetrable run-on sentences. (The Sound and the Fury) —@pumpkinshirt
No. no. no. no. no. no. no. Oh, all right. (Green Eggs and Ham) —@worldexplorer
What if it’s not just a cold? (The Stand) —@pumpkinshirt
Revenge is a dish best served many years and 1,200 pages later. (The Count of Monte Cristo) —@dhaucke
I made a man from spare parts. He didn’t like it. (Frankenstein) —@JimFl
- On Sale
- Aug 15, 2009
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Black Dog & Leventhal