How I read a book in 2 hours

I promised this post to my students. This is how it works for me:

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Preparation:

  • quiet time, free of distractions and noises (TV, music with words)
  • clear, rested, focused mind (coffee or tea help, or read in the morning)
  • upright body posture to maintain alertness: sit at table, not lounge chair or bed. Look down at book.
  • keep large notebook & pen on hand (for outlining main argument and/or book’s structure)

Clear goals in mind:

  1. to understand what the book is about (TOPIC)
  2. to understand the MAIN ARGUMENT of the book
  3. to understand what types of SUPPORTING EVIDENCE the author uses to support the main argument

My strategy: get the big picture of the book by understanding its structure (outline).

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I read word for word, in this order:

  • inside flap – b/c it’s usually a concise summary of the book
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  • back cover – the praise for the book tells me in which contexts the book has been found useful (i.e. education, or marketing, or economics). This helps me place the book in context. (oh, this is useful for marketing professionals).
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  • table of contents – I spend a lot of time with the table of contents, because it tells me what the outline/structure of the book is. If the chapter tiles as smarty-pants instead of descriptive (boo!) I flip through the book to see what the author means by a certain smarty-pants chapter title. Here, I make my selections of chapters I might be more interested in than others.
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  • Preface, Introduction, first chapter – the Introduction especially gives me 80% of what I need to know: the problem addressed in the book, the book’s main claim (thesis statement) and an overview of the contents of the book. I ask myself: if this book could be summarized in ONE sentence, what would this sentence be? I hunt for this sentence and underline it boldly when I find it (sometimes I find 2 or 3, but not more – you have to be very picky here).

For example, I think this is that ONE sentence from Content Nation, found in Ch. 1, p. 2:

“In the process of becoming publishers who can reach and interact with a potentially global audience whenever they need to or want to, something is changing in the way that everyday people look at themselves and their world. […] We are beginning to look upon institutions that we used to rely on for providing us with cohesion and value in our lives as less valuable in the face of publishing technologies that allow us to organize ourselves and our lives more to our suiting.

This is, I believe, the thesis statement of the book. It tells me what to look for from now on:

  • I know the book is about self-publishing – I will look for definitions and explanations of self-publishing (TOPIC)
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  • I know the book is about change brought about by self publishing – I will look for an argument about the nature and the dynamic of that change (MAIN ARGUMENT)
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  • I know the book will talk about change in specific contexts or institutions – these will be examples, EVIDENCE that SUPPORTS the main argument

Once I identified the 3 main ingredients of the book, I go looking for them in the other chapters. I will read carefully (if I have time) the parts that inform the 3 main ingredients above (topic, main argument, supporting evidence). But, to get an idea of the entire book, I read:

  • the first paragraph of each chapter – it is usually the thesis statement of that chapter. If it’s not the first paragraph (boo!) then I look for it further down the page.
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    • the first sentence of each paragraph (GRE tip, remember?). If the book is well written in the U.S. writing style, the first sentence of each paragraph is the paragraph’s main idea. In European writing style, it’s more complicated. It may be the last sentence.

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  • headings and subheadings (love them!), and the first sentence/para under each of them
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  • the last paragraph of each chapter, because it should be a summary/conclusion of that paragraph
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  • the Conclusion chapter (last chapter) because it should contain a summary of the book, some context for the book, and takeaways.

Try it out. Share tips that have worked for you. And most importantly ask yourself:

Do I write such that people can quickly grasp the meaning of my text?

[update/one more thought:] – ultimately, no matter what you do, make sure you get a few specific ideas out of your reading. If, after spending time with a reading, all you have in your head is an amorphous blur and no specific ideas, then you know you’re doing something wrong.

Brizzly: making Twitter more like Facebook

I’ve been playing around with Brizzly this morning, and here are some initial thoughts. My default Twitter app is Tweetdeck, so I’m comparing to that.

  • for most part, it works as advertised in the demo, except it’s a bit slow sometimes, and when I tried to save a search, it experienced an error (but it’s a private beta, I can live with that)
  • I like that I can see photos and videos on screen, and don’t have to click links to view them.
  • I like the option to store groups on the side column, because I hate lateral scrolling in Tweetdeck. With Brizzly, I can see myself creating more groups.
  • How about mobile? I haven’t found a corresponding iPhone app, so if only for this feature alone, I’ll stick with Tweetdeck.
  • Auto-refresh is spotty, at best. I still haven’t figured out if or how it works. Sometimes I see a message to refresh the page, or a bubble next to a Group, sometimes I don’t – but I refresh the page and see there are new updates anyway.

But here’s the major change that Brizzly introduces, and for me, a concern:

  • The user experience is a bit more like Facebook, but that can be very misleading. See the screenshot below:

Brizzly_screenshot

My reply with a comment about the cat shows up (for me, in Brizzly) – right under the photo. So the context of my comment is very clear to me. However, for the recipient, if she uses another Twitter app, my reply will show as a usual @ tweet in her stream.

The problem is that for me, the context is very clear, but for her, it may be confusing. If I reply “awww…. !” she has to put 2+2 together to figure what my tweet is about. I usually try to include context in my tweets – I’d usually reply “awww… cute cat!” – so she knows that the tweet is about. I try to avoid using “this” and “that” in tweets and instead specify what I’m referring to.

I posted a photo, and people’s comments didn’t show under the photo, like in Twitpic, but just as replies in my twitter stream – so no context there for me on the receiving side.

It’s confusing to have context for some people, in some instances, but not for others. If some people use Brizzly and others don’t, I can see a lot of misscommunication happening on Twitter.

Although Brizzly might enhance MY Twitter experience, the confusion about context might reduce the overall community experience.

Watch the Brizzly demo:

Research Study: @sockington is more influential than @chrisbrogan

This Webecology research report has been making the rounds on Twitter. I haven’t had time to read it until now, here are my reading notes:

The Webecology team uses large scale data mining to identify patterns indicative of online culture and community. Wish I’d do this, too – and will, as soon as I find a research partner to help with the data mining part.

For this project, the authors set out to create a more accurate measure of influence on Twitter that goes beyond either:

  1. number of followers; or
  2. followers/friends ratio

The authors defined influence on Twitter as:

influence on Twitter = the potential of an action of a user to initiate a further action by another user

Specifically, influence means the potential of a tweet to generate replies, mentions (conversational behaviors), RTs, and attributions (content-pushing behaviors).

This is an atheoretical, operational definition of influence (the study’s Achille’s heel).

As far as I understand, all 4 actions were weighed equally. So, a RT factors the same as an @reply in determining influence.

They selected 12 Twitter accounts to study. The selection was based on this criterion: the 12 accounts were  “widely perceived to be among the more influential users on Twitter.” It is not clear who did the perceiving, and what definition or measure of influence they used in the process of perception. IMO, the arbitrary selection of the sample is another major weakness – but in this case, I can live with it, because the purpose is not to derive conclusions about Twitter culture as much as it is to demonstrate how the methodology can be used.

Then, the 12 users were grouped into 3 categories. Here is a table with the accounts they analyzed, and their number of tweets over 10 days, as well as the number of followers and friends at the end of the 10 days:

Celebrities Username Tweets Followers Followees
Ashton Kutcher aplusk 3,205 3,407,385 209
Shaquille O’Neil THE_REAL_SHAQ 2,072 2,092,541 562
Stanley Kirk Burrell MCHammer 6,016 1,331,797 31,202
Sockington sockington 5,711 1,089,984 380
Justine Ezarik ijustine 7,718 605,441 3,039
News Outlets Username Tweets Followers Followees
CNN Breaking News cnnbrk 1,096 2,712,530 18
BarackObama.com BarackObama 330 2,018,016 761,851
Mashable.com mashable 17,914 1,363,510 1,925
CNN cnn 11,607 193,625 50
Social Media Analysts Username Tweets Followers Followees
Gary Vaynerchuk garyvee 7,532 862,790 9,683
Chris Brogan chrisbrogan 48,341 94,715 88,431
Robert Scoble Scobleizer 23,112 94,295 2,423

The data that they mined was as collected over 10 days, in August 2009. The data included:

  • The 2143 tweets generated by the 12 users
  • The 90,130 actions (responses, RTs) triggered by the original 2143 tweets
  • All the tweets generated in connection with the 12 users (by their followers and friends;a total of 134, 654 tweets, 15,866,629 followers, and 899,773 friends/followees)

The authors produced 2 types of influence reports, based on the type of action that was triggered:

  1. conversational action (people replied, or mentioned the user – e.g. “meeting @stockington for catnip”)
  2. content-pushing action (people retweeted, or gave attribution – e.g. “via@username”)

Please note that a mention may or may not be a response to a tweet. If they were not responses to a tweet, they fall outside the authors’ definition of Twitter influence, and they should have been excluded from the analysis.

Here we go, on to the findings:

Conversational action

This graph shows you the amount of conversational activity (@replies and mentions) each user got in response to one (average) tweet.

Content action

This graph shows you how much content action (retweets and attributions) each user got for each (average) tweet:

So here we see that, per tweet, @sockington did get more retweets than @chrisbrogan.

The authors claim that these graphs of influence/tweet are the most accurate measure of Twitter influence so far. Therefore:

@sockington IS more influential on Twitter than @chrisbrogan,

because the fake cat gets more retweets. (sorry, @sockington, I do love you!!!)

I know exactly what you’re thinking, it starts with B and ends with T.

That’s because here we have a problem of construct validity. The measures do not actually measure influence. I wish the authors had read some research in communication & persuasion about the concept of influence, then worked their way from a conceptual to an operational definition.

Obviously, @sockington gets more retweets because he’s cuter & funnier than @chrisbrogan (sorry, Chris!). We don’t know why people reply or retweet. This study ignores a very important aspect of human relations: meaning. There is meaning in tweets, and meaning in why people retweet. But that is not captured in this study.

That being said, the report shows what can be done with data mining – it’s awesome! With a bit of help from people who know how to study meaning (hint, hint!), this type of research will be extremely valuable.

If anything, let this be an argument for computers & communication people working together, across disciplines.

In a future post, I will review conceptual and operational definitions of influence.

Search Engine People interview

Ruud Hein of Search Engine People questioned me 🙂

Read my interview, on various PR topics, here.

I wrote about social media culture & social norms, how not to be “creepy,” how to plan strategically for public relations, misunderstandings about what PR is, could, and should be, and tempered the idea of conversational PR.

Twitter competition: Flutter

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f8/271557392

“Too academic”

I’m not getting into this. But what I picked up was the use of being “too academic” as an explanation – as if being “too academic” were a bad thing. It’s not, not always [1].

Here’s my list [2] of the main characteristics of being “academic:”

Has this been said before?

Academics research thoroughly what has been written before on their topic and related concepts, in one or more disciplines. They don’t reinvent the wheel. Lack of familiarity with previous literature reduces one’s credibility and increases the risk of reinventing the wheel. Keyword: library (yes, library!)

I remember of a dear and very much appreciated analyst who was working on a report on communities and was crowd-sourcing the definition of “community.” There are full library shelves on the concept. Read ’em. Cite ’em. Think of the literature review as a different from of crowd-sourcing 🙂

Claim + Supporting evidence

Academics follow this formula very rigorously. For every single claim (every single sentence, sometimes word in a publication), you need evidence.

Claim: Tomatoes are red.

Evidence: ??? Can be empirical (inductive) – based on observations, surveys, etc. or can be a logical argument. In which case, avoid fallacies.

My dear mentor [3] would question every single statement in my papers and in the process taught me that you cannot make a claim without solid supporting evidence. And when you only have this much evidence, you make a smaller, more specific, claim.

So, if: “The public has been ignored in public relations” = claim, what is the evidence for that? What kind of evidence would you provide, and are you sure that the evidence is sufficient and valid?

Academic writing is specific & precise

… and that’s what makes it inaccessible. Oh, why do we need the word “stakeholder” when we have “public”? Well, because we define concepts and we need words to refer to the specific concepts. We need to avoid confusion with the general usage of the word. Inaccessibility is the downside.

The upside is that, good academic writing is not vague – it has (almost – see[1]) surgical precision. You need that surgical precision to stand up to scrutiny, to make sure you don’t over-generalize, and that there’s good fit between the evidence and the claim.

I strive to produce both academic AND accessible writing, and maybe so should you. Go ahead. Be academic.

Footnotes:

[1] Academic thinking will teach you to avoid overstatements and over-generalizations; to be specific if possible, inclusive or ambivalent otherwise.

[2] I can hear my dear mentor’s [3] voice: Why do you put only these things on the list? How do you know you’ve exhausted all possibilities? What are the criteria for inclusion/exclusion/sorting of the list? Beware the laundry list fallacy.

[3] Carl Botan

Post-script:

This is why I recommend graduate school. I don’t care if it will make you more money or get you a better job. It will sharpen your mind, enhance your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and teach you humility – at least you know what you don’t know, and you learn to question everything, your work and yourself included (downside: bye-bye, self-esteem!).