February 10, 2010, Updated September 13, 2012

Two Israelis in Tel Aviv turn the virtual world on its head by transforming tweet texts into traditional books.



Preserving memories for the Twitter generation: Left, Asael Kahana, and right Jacob Shwirtz, founders of Tweetbookz.

It sounds like the ultimate in vanity publishing – or maybe just vanity. But there are actually plenty of good reasons why you would want to turn 200 of your Twitter tweets into an old-fashioned, printed book.

One reason would be parenthood, Jacob Shwirtz, CEO of Israeli startup Tweetbookz, tells ISRAEL21c. Tweetbookz transforms your virtual tweets into a physical book. “While Twitter users from a wide variety of backgrounds have been buying our Tweetbookz, one of the strongest markets has turned out to be parents, tweeting the activities of their newborns as a sort of memory keepsake book. It’s the way the Twitter generation preserves its memories.”

Twitter, of course, is one of the backbones of the new online social media, where you communicate with your own personalized online community – in bursts of text no longer than 140 characters. While the concept sounds strange – or even silly – to many, Twitter is growing by leaps and bounds, and tens of millions of people use it on a regular basis to update their “followers” (what the Twitterati call their online community) on all sorts of things.

If it’s good enough for Oprah and Obama…

There are still some “non-Tweeters” who think the whole thing is a waste of time – after all, who cares what you had for lunch yesterday? But if it’s good enough for Oprah, Ashton Kutscher, Barack Obama and a host of others, it’s probably good enough for me and you.

However, it turns out that Twitter is being used for much more than personal status updates. Time, Newsweek, CNN – and ISRAEL21c – all use Twitter to send out updates on new and interesting articles and stories, while job seekers use it to track down potential positions and leads. Businesses use it to alert customers about new deals and sales, and professionals use it to send out alerts on important developments in their industries. In other words, Twitter has become an indispensable tool for many of us.

In fact, it’s no longer ‘just’ an online web service. Twitter has become a platform, a base on which other applications and services are being built. Dozens of new Twitter services have cropped up in the last few months, with applications as diverse as micropayments (tweet a payment to someone’s account via Paypal), shopping (alerting users to bargains and deals) and even video broadcasting with your camera’s video camera function – with a link to your broadcast tweeted to the world.

Says Shwirtz: “We see it as sort of an inspirational book of poetry or the like. People can pick out the 200 tweets they feel are the most appropriate, and put them out in print form, giving them a kind of permanence. It’s is a fun way to look back on your favorite tweets and capture all the emotion of those moments to keep forever.”

Tweetbookz is self-funded, and was started just a few months ago by Shwirtz and partner Asael Kahana, from their Tel Aviv-based creative web agency Definitely Something. The product was introduced just in time for the Christmas gifting season, and indeed the pair say they sold thousands between late November and mid-December.

Bridging the digital and print divide

“We’ve gotten orders from a wide variety of people – business executives, poets and writers, kids – and especially from ‘early adopters,’ who wanted to witness the bridging of the digital and printed word,” says Shwirtz. The content ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, he adds, “anything from silly content and jokes to commentary on world events” and even compositions that could be called mini-novels. The company is working on developing custom models of the interface for corporations, businesses, etc.

Tweetbookz come in two flavors – hardcover ($30) and soft cover ($20). Users sign in to their Twitter accounts on the Tweetbookz home page, and each book is automatically filled with their last 200 tweets (a new version due out soon will allow you to edit and replace your tweets).

You can then remove any tweets that you would prefer not to publish and choose between one of four different design templates. Next you simply click on the big ‘order’ button, enter your payment and shipping address, and wait a couple of days while Tweetbookz gets your book ready. All books are printed on demand by a US printer and shipped directly.

Each tweet gets its own page and books can be printed in any language that uses English (i.e. Latin) characters and also in Hebrew. To ensure privacy, only the tweeter can order a book of his or her personal tweets (although gift certificates can be sent to friends so they can have their own edition).

Tweetbookz buzz reaches Today Show

The buzz on Tweetbookz has been nothing short of amazing (clearly a tribute to its creators’ finesse with social media), garnering mentions in places like the Today Show, the Wall Street Journal online, the Boston Globe and a panoply of web sites and blogs.

Twitter itself, impressed with the product, added a link to Tweetbookz to its main page, a singular honor, considering how many thousands of Twitter apps there are. “We didn’t write the app ourselves,” Shwirtz says – the pair hired programmers for that – “but we did come up with an idea no one else did.”

And that idea from two Israeli guys in Tel Aviv has propelled the tweets in a Tweetzbook across a technological and psychological divide, moving them from the ephemera of digital text to the permanence of the printed word. If nothing else, says Shwirtz, “it shows just what an institution Twitter has become. Tweetbookz is a case study for the permanence of content, and as the platform matures we will find even more ways to integrate Twitter with our lives.”

Meanwhile, watch what you tweet – what you thought was a throwaway comment could end up in the Library of Congress, preserved for generations, with your name on it.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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