05/09/2013

Tweeting Church (by Paul Alan Clifford)

I had never heard of Paul Alan Clifford. Moreover, although I have once or twice taken a look at the Twitter site, I could never really see the point of it. My best guess was that it was like Facebook without the pictures, and without any easy-to-follow comment trails. Add to that, updates being severely limited in length, and everything available to the general public… and it all seemed rather pointless.

So the only reason I downloaded ‘Tweeting Church’ for my Kindle was that it was on special offer - free - back in June, and was one of the most popular in the ‘Christian’ section of Kindle books. The ratings were good.. and I did feel a mild curiosity about how the Twitter network could be used constructively. Still, it took me a few months to get around to reading it. I half expected to browse the first couple of chapters and abandon it.

How wrong I was. Paul Clifford somehow manages to write an inspiring and very readable account of his forays into Twitter, with examples of some of his interactions that made fascinating reading. He explains the basics without being condescending, and then talks about what he did to increase his ‘followers’. I did find myself wondering, for a while, how he ever managed to get anything else done if he was reading tweets by thousands of other people every day, but he explains how that simply isn’t possible. I was then even more puzzled about how he could adjust his own feed daily - following and unfollowing depending on all kinds of criteria - but he explains that, too, by introducing some of the various tools which have been developed to make this easier.

Gradually I began to see that Twitter serves a very different purpose from Facebook. It’s not for hanging out with friends, or sharing cute pictures. It’s not for lengthy updates, or rapid conversations between several people. It might be used by some for describing their day-to-day life in tedious (if short) detail, but then one doesn’t have to follow everyone. Facebook is for keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances, real-life or virtual, around the world. Twitter, I learned, is more appropriate for sharing links or significant thoughts with the general public. Not that most of the public will see most tweets but they might, if they happen to be online at the right time. Twitter is great for posting links to new blog posts or interesting articles. It’s also good for low-key networking with those in one’s profession, or who share one’s interests.

As I read the book, I found myself more and more intrigued. I could see the potential, perhaps for the first time, for a place to put links to all my blog posts, and new pages on my websites. I could see, too, that it could be an excellent way of ‘following’ some of my favourite writers, both Christian and secular. I really don’t recall the last time a book inspired me quite so much as this one did.

When I had finished reading I wrote a question on Facebook, asking what my friends thought of Twitter. I had a variety of responses, but they included two who use it pretty much as described within this book: for networking with people beyond one’s ‘friends’. With this confirmation it was the work of a moment to sign up and start the journey of finding people to ‘follow’. Thanks to having read ‘Tweeting Church’, I felt familiar with some of the jargon straight away.

The one thing that confused me was that the link in the back of the book took me to a Twitter page with someone called Paul Clifford, but he had only something like 14 followers, and no tweets at all. A far cry from the thousands described in the book! I almost gave up at that point, but decided to do a search for his full name - and found the correct Twitter page, so that I could follow. It seems a rather unfortunate error!

Other than that, I can find no fault with this book and would recommend it highly to anyone - Christian or otherwise - who would like to read an encouraging and inspiring account of someone who actually uses and engages with the Twitter network.

No longer on free special offer, 'Tweeting Church' is still pretty good value in the Kindle editions on both sides of the pond, and is also available in paperback form in the US (the link to Amazon US is to the paperback edition).

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 5th September 2013

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