Customer Reviews: Database Backed Web Sites: The Thinking Person's Guide to Web Publishing
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on January 7, 2006
Some of the specific technology described in this book is a little outdated now, but the core techniques live on.

Greenspun's writing is a delight to read, and the information he shares here will provide you with the foundational knowledge on which to build a wide variety of web applications.

Buy this book (or read the online version at, follow the examples, and start building yourself (and others) great, content-filled, easy-to-use web sites.
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on December 22, 1998
Philip Greenspun is a rare find: a techie who knows how to communicate. He doesn't even limit himself to one media! While other books may take a schlolarly approach to building websites, Greenspun's story is told by someone who's rolled up his sleeves. As the reader, you get to view web-database design through Greenspun's eye for detail. All tech books should be this good.
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on April 10, 1998
This book focuses on the goals of Web site design rather than the nuts and bolts. Although the book contains specific code fragments, it is not a coding book. Rather it is a chronicle of Greenspun's experiences in setting up more than 50 Web sites over the years. This chronicle contains many hard-won lessons that will help prevent the reader from making similar mistakes.
Greenspun has an easy-to-read writing style and a wry sense of humor. (The book has no CD ROM attached to the inside back cover but a picture of a CD ROM with the international "No" symbol overprinted. All code an more is available from Greenspun's Web sites, as you would expect from a book about Web sites.) He also emphasizes esthetic choices and subscribes to a minimalist visual style, in the book and for Web sites, that enhance reading and make downloads as fast as possible.
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on November 8, 1997
It would be inefficient to repeat all the glowing compliments about this book made by previous reviewers. My favorite aspect of this must-read book are the true-to-life examples that bring the esoterica of this topic to a level the rest of us can understand and enjoy. As an example of such an example, I've quoted this from Chapter 11, on why backups are vital: "At noon, an ugly mob of users assembles outside your office, angered by your introduction of frames and failure to include WIDTH and HEIGHT tags on IMGs. You send one of your graphic designers out to explain how 'cool' it looked when run off a local disk in a demo to the Vice-President. The mob stones him to death and then burns your server farm to the ground." Need I say more?
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on October 18, 1997
An entertaining book, no doubt, but highly subjective and cynical. The author is obviously not a Microsoft fan (a lot of NT bashing) and he doesn't have much good to say about the Unix camp, or for anything else for that matter.
The excessive use of sarcasm makes the book fun to read but it's obvious that the author has spent way too much time in the academia.

If you don't know anything about web database publishing, after you read this book, you still won't. But it's fun reading and there's some good web secrets here and there. I enjoyed it anyway.

The author is certainly a knowledgeable person and does a good job telling you what's wrong with the current tools. Unfortunately, he doesn't tell you how to fix them. Get it for the laughs.
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on December 17, 1997
There is seemingly an endless supply of books about 'The Web', so it's hard to get excited about any one in particular. Philip Greenspun's "Database Backed Web Sites: the thinking person's guide to web publishing", on the other hand, is very good. As opposed to being a compendium of HTML tags and pre-made home pages "so you can be online tonight!", the book's aim is to make the reader aware that there's more to the web than cute Java scripts and silly animated GIFs. The main idea is that a static web site resembles a coffee table book with pretty pictures: you look at it once or twice, then it's just taking space. Greenspun explains how to create web sites with databases behind them to manage the content, provide interactive discussion forums where the users provide a lot of the content, and help analyze the server logs to see what your users are doing while visiting your web site. Instead of the step-by-step approach, teaching is done by case studies, which I consider a preferrable approach, since it makes the reader think and forces understanding before something can be produced. There's plenty of light humor throughout the book, without getting too silly or distracting from the main purpose. And the book doesn't come with a CD. This is actually a good thing, since the author makes what would be on the CD available on the Internet via FTP servers. This has the advantage that the material can be updated over time. The book includes a light discussion of Internet connectivity options, as well as a somewhat detailed description of the web server software and operating systems in use. While not complete (VMS, for example, is not mentioned), it's impossible to be current while publishing a book. Even a monthly magazine is out of date before it hits the stand. In sum, definitely recommended reading.
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on January 3, 1998
Very unique book. Presents viewpoints that one has to look very hard to find nowadays: accurate, not sugar-coated, and honest.
The most useful *concept* in the book is that sticking to standards is good; a site that looks great but is all line breaks and font tags is a (mostly) useless site.
The most useful *tool* (for me) was actually learning how a relational database works; they're a lot simpler than one would think. I've often heard of them but not even bothered to find out more because they seemed overkill for the task.
Also, AOLserver is the last thing I would have used, it being owned by the same people who brought us America Online, but it's really the best tool I've seen for the job if you really want to put up an online database; only problem I have with it is that I've not taken the time to learn some of the more advanced configuration syntax, which isn't the server's fault.
Which brings me to the third most useful toolset, Lisp and MetaHTML. (Including them together because MH is largely inspired by the former). Lisp is another thing I'd heard about but thought was the wrong tool or overkill. It's really one of the easiest languages I've seen to learn, and certainly the most elegant.
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on December 20, 1997
What E. Tartuffte did for graphical information in his _Graphical Display of Quantitative Information_ and _Envisioning Information_ the author of this book does for the Web.
Why don't you want to clutter your site with virtual knick-knacks? The author explains.
What is unique about the Web that offers literate people something they can't find in the books they love which drives them to seek it out on the Web? The author explains.
Why do users tear hair at sites that try to entertain as they attempt to convince users to do business with them on the Web even as those users who clicked into them looking for specific information stare at slow-loading pages laden with irrelevant images and gratuitious 'design features'? The author explains.
I'm not sure the particular project I'm contemplating will directly utilize many of the technically specific suggestions the author includes in his opus, (if I can afford to even do the thing) but he has articulated most of what was loose and vague in my own dissatisfaction with what I've found out there in netspace.
I am sure I'm not alone.
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on January 21, 1998
MIT computer science professor Greenspun has been designing and implementing web sites (big successful ones) for years rather than months, and it's obvious from the book he knows of what he speaks. No punches are pulled skewering software and hardware companies for design flaws, bad customer service, etc... names are named! A fair amount of code is given, but the main attraction is his intelligent overviews of all the major issues I, a novice to this area, was looking for (e.g. fundamental design issues, pros and cons of various scripting languages and servers and database engines). The site design perspectives in particular are very valuable. Grenspun has a wicked sense of humor... reading the book literally had me laughing out loud every few pages! The book is written for 'the intelligent layman', and he 90%+ succeeds IMHO; there were parts I felt I needed more more programming background to really understand. Other than that one caveat, I view it as an almost flawless book that I'd recommend to anyone interested in this topic. BTW he has a dynamite web site
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on December 12, 1997
Elegant. Concise. Opinionated, offensive. Muhammad Ali takes on web publishing. This book does a very good job of explaining why there is no single approach to web publishing. Most books out there tell you how to "Publish in the Web using (insert your favorite platform here)" Philip Greenspun is the first author to come up with an articulated methodology to build web sites that add information value, and he does it by covering a myriad of different tools and explaining why and in which context they work. Although I do not agree with everything in the book (especially the author's claim that LISP is the best programming language ever), no design decision is made without a convincing explanation. Although the design philosophy fluff is pretty good by itself, he has also included enough code so that you can understand how the innards of web information systems work. Must-read for anybody who needs to do anything dealing with databases and the web.
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