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Philip and Alex's Excellent Guide to Web Publishing

 openbook.gif (276 bytes)   The Best of Online Shopping

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greenspun.gif (5966 bytes)Philip Greenspun
AP Professional
608 pages
April 1999


Philip and Alex have a winner here. A revision of an earlier book about using databases to drive a web site, this wonderful, funny, personal, and richly illustrated book makes a tough subject easy to follow. I agree with J. Paul Holbrook, who is Director of Internet Technologies at CNN, and says, "Your book is the best one I've read about web publishing, bar none."

Greenspun and his dog Alex are a lot more modest.  "This book is a catalog of the mistakes that I've made while building more than 100 Web sites in the last five years," says Phil.  "I wrote it in the hopes that others won't have to repeat those mistakes."

Phil (the human) is on a campaign to free us from the "desktop application morass," aka Microsoft dominance.  He believes that the Web offers an open-source approach (giving away code rather than keeping the secrets so you can go on selling it forever), a way to collaborate with others as we create a Web site, and a method for creating a real online community. 

You get a sense of Phil's tone from headings like these:

  • Envisioning a Site That Won't Be Featured in
  • You Can't Say "Web Publishing" without the Word "Publishing"
  • Become Illiterate (I.e, Present Multiple Views)
  • Think of the Web as Primary
  • You Can't Do Web-based Services Without Programming

That last line is the kicker.  Those of us who rank programming somewhere below root canal operations tend to hope that some software somewhere will do the nasty work of coding.  And, of course, with so many Web publishing programs out there, you can go a long way without knowing an attribute from a stack overflow.  But once you decide to hook up a database to your site--as you have to if you are offering more than a few dozen products for sale--you dip your toe in programming.

Greenspun makes the dreadful SQL language for querying ancient databases sound, well, not too horrible. And he can explain the convolutions of database giant Oracle better than their tech writers. Still, most of us will remain resistant.

That's no reason to ignore this book.  In fact, all the more reason to read through it.  The many pictures he's added, from his vacations, weekends, and professional photo shoots, make the book a joy.  And his casual, off-the-cuff style make even the most technical subjects intriguing.  Phil gives away a lot of the book online, but as you read, you will find you want a hard copy to mark up, insert notes in, pound, reread.  Ironically, this exploration of the Web is a great argument for the book interface.


To buy this book at a discount, please visit's electronic bookstore.  We are proud to be an Associate.

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