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Facebook 'Idiot's Guide' Inadvertently Makes Case for E-Books

Writing a how-to book in a static medium like paper about something as dynamic as Facebook is challenging at best.

No one likes being called an idiot, even though plenty of people feel like one from time to time. That feeling, though,  has been a rich vein for the Penguin Group, publisher of the popular "Idiot's Guide" series of books. However, with the rise of the Internet and, more importantly, electronic books, idiots interested in the dead-tree versions of these kinds of guides may be harder to find in the future.

That point was hammered home, unintentionally, in a recent release in the series, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Facebook (second edition). As anyone who uses Facebook knows, the social network is constantly changing. Trying to write a how-to book in a static medium like paper about something as dynamic as Facebook is enormously challenging at best and at worst, just plain...well...idiocy.

Granted, the authors -- Mikal E. Belicove, a columnist, blogger and social media expert for Entrepreneur magazine and Joe Kraynak, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Computer Basics and Google: Top 100 Simplified Tricks -- didn't have their heads in the sand when they took on this project. "During the writing of the book, we checked everything, step by step, not once, not twice, but three times to verify its accuracy prior to publication, but we're 99.99 percent sure that by the time you read this, something will have changed," they acknowledged in the book's introduction.

And they're right. Account setting menus don't jibe with those referenced in the book. If you try deactivating your account by the tome, you'll get lost because that function has been moved from the account settings section to the security section. Matching the locations of privacy setting items from book to display will be challenging, too. And if you're interested in listening and sharing music on Facebook through Spotify, forget about it. However, the link for totally erasing any memory of your existence from the social network still works.

That's not to say the advice offered by the authors in this 286-page book isn't helpful and informative, especially for the static aspects of the social network. For example, not only novices but seasoned Facebook users may find the etiquette section of the book informative. The section on using Facebook for business -- which includes creating and promoting fan pages, using them to drive traffic to a commercial website, and offering special deals -- can be especially valuable to would-be entrepreneurs or old businesses trying to get a handle on this newfangled social media stuff.

While I'm conflicted about electronic books versus paper ones, there's no doubt in my mind that the electronic version of a book on a subject like Facebook is much better than its pulp counterpart. Although the text in the Kindle edition is still outdated, at least the screen shots accompanying the text are in color on color tablets, instead of black and white, and they can be enlarged so you can actually read what's on them. You can also do full text searches of its pages, which is a lot easier than consulting the index at the back of the paper edition. And the Kindle version costs less, too -- $9.99 versus the list price of $18.95, although Amazon is selling the paperback for $12.69.

While there's something to be said in favor of aggregating the kind of information about Facebook in this book between two covers, it's much more valuable if those covers are virtual instead of made of paper.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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