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Philip & Alex's Guide to Web Publishing Paperback – April 29, 1999

4.7 out of 5 stars 231 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This isn't another cookie-recipe approach to planning a successful Web site. Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing, by MIT veteran Philip Greenspun, is both broadly conceptual and deeply technical, and it assumes that the reader is willing to think seriously about the challenge of building a content site, a community site, or an e-commerce store before plunging in.

Although heavily Unix-oriented, it does not set out to proselytize a product, or even suggest that there is only one way to solve certain technical challenges. Rather, it encourages the reader to think about Web content and functionality as something designed to help visitors answer questions or do something useful. This may sound nebulous, but his observations about why Web sites go bad are illustrated with many well-chosen examples.

The core of the book is quite technical. Three long sections on publishing, community, and e-commerce architectures are illustrated by the author's data models and working open-source systems, so someone with C, SQL, and a good understanding of Internet Protocol (IP) under his or her belt will get the most out of the discussion. Such technical readers will find numerous Web addresses and other citations for further technical information. The author also invites readers to use his code if appropriate.

Although there is a lot of technical meat here, Greenspun dispenses with a dry, technical tone. Throughout, he manages to speak to the reader in a way that is always interesting and frequently bemused or ironic. The overall effect is that of a wry professor who knows his stuff, has thought about the problems, and isn't about to engage in commercial puffery. --Kathleen Caster

From Library Journal

A technical manual that is also a lavishly illustrated coffee-table book, this is the oddest, most interesting guide on web design and publishing this reviewer has ever read. "This book is a catalog of the mistakes that I've made while building more than 100 Web sites in the last five years," writes webmaster Greenspun, who teaches at MIT. Covering web publishing and web-based services in a lively, engaging tone, he makes complex technical ideas simple and accessible to beginners and nontechies who have to manage large web sites. Drop-dead photos taken by Greenspun and available for free on his site (www.photo.net) illustrate the text. Greenspun also gives away almost all the software he writes about and uses, and the entire book is available on the web (http://www. photo.net/wtr/thebook/). Still, all libraries should seriously consider getting one or two copies of the wonderful print version.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Morgan Kaufmann; 1st edition (April 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558605347
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558605343
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 7.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (231 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,505,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gregg on December 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
... because it is the first coffee table book that I've ever bought and then proceeded to mark up - underling passages, writing notes, questions etc.
It is a totally unique book on many different levels. A computer book with photographs? I am attracted to bizarre juxtapositions, loved the concept but was confident that the execution would be lacking. I was wrong.
I didn't understand everything (this book has a good deal of code (which I skimmed over)) but at the same time is both quite accessible and an incredible resource for non-programmers. An extraordinary accomplishment.
Greenspun makes a compelling case for what he believes a web site should be and at the same time manages to offer lots of specific, practical advice. His core advice - what to do and the technologies to use - has to be on target. It's what smart people pay lots of money to smart consultants for. Unlike any other book I've read, I got the feeling that I had hired a really smart consultant who was telling me exactly what to do and what not to do.
If all of this were not enough, the book highlights several free services his site offers to other web site owners interested in providing different kinds of collaboration and interactivity. The services run on his monster machine. Cost, zero.
In closing, I'd like to give some examples of his sense of humor.
"CORBA circa 1998 is a lot like an Arizona housing development circa 1950. The architect's model looks great. The model home is comfortable. You'll have water and sewage hookups real soon now".
"Johnny drives to the bookstore and spends $30 on an 'I stole the program and now I need a book on how to use it' book".
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Format: Paperback
This is the best stand alone book on web publishing that I have found. It serves as both a reference and a pretty good cover to cover read, which is rare. The loosely related photographs throughout and the high quality paper make it a good buy. It covers all the bases of putting up a web site including the hardware, programming, hosting, design, etc. (plus an outstanding primer on e-commerce) It provides great references for all its topics on both the web and in print. It has some small but useful tutorials on SQL and HTML which can help you at least get started. The thinly veiled contempt that Mr. Greenspun has for Microsoft and even Macintosh is somewhat off-putting for those of us not quite ready or able to embrace Unix; but he does try to point out the benefits of all major platforms, web servers and databases.He doesn't talk much of the future of web design because I don't think he believes that what defines a quality site will change much when we all have cable modems; he often mentions how most current "advances" in programming and operating systems were actually born in the 60's and 70's. Overall, the book gives a strong sense of being up-to-date,unlike most books about the web which seem dated by the time they are printed. I have yet to see a more useful resource for allowing would-be web publishers to see what they are up against.
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Format: Paperback
Greenspun writes in a very direct, down-to-earth and, at times, self-critical manner. Graphics designers, MBA's, bloated corporate management and packaged Web solutions receive ruthless trashing (but: with good arguments to support the trashing). This book contains both technical information (albeit heavily biased towards AOLServer, TCL and Oracle) and clear explanations of the ideas and design choices.
Note, this is not a book that will teach you fancy HTML tags, really cool SQL queries or powerplay server-side scripting. You should read it for its ideas and then seek additional documentation for implementation specifics.
The book is printed on heavy, glossy paper and is stuffed with Greenspun's photographs (which may be appreciated much more at [...] a website he started several years ago). The quality of the book's binding is, sadly, quite insufficient. Even with proper care, several pages have fallen out within a few months.
In short: I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is serious about (starting in) Web design and, most importantly, online communities.
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Format: Paperback
It's interesting how a lot of readers complain about the book being all about Phil's ego and Arsdigita,(the company he created that is now part of redhat). It seems those people didn't understand much of the book or found the subject disappointingly tougher than they thought... Yes, web publishing requires more intelligence and thoughfullness some would like to believe. And this book makes you realise that, whether 1998 or 2002.
Most web sites that are data driven these days still use the same principles explained in this book. Most don't use the ACS but the whole idea behind the ACS is one that comes from a sincere desire to facilitate the creation of dynamic (data driven) web sites.
One can tell Greenspun is more than a technologist, but a humanist as well. This would explain the appearance of the book some like to critisize. Certainly Greenspun ego is present, but what can you expect from someone who's got a vast array of knowledge and wisdom to share. Definitely a book any intelligent person will love.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what it takes to create web services. Also, this book is the perfect reference for teaching a class on website development, in a manner that gives students a broad perspective before they delve into the inevitable geek stuff: web application programming, data models, and SQL queries. I've used this book at work to educate some of my cooworkers who were programmers or designers, and to give clients instructive lectures on the subject.
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