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Book Review: Creating Web Sites – The Missing Manual

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If you spend much time on the Internet at all, at some point you’ve said to yourself, “Maybe I should have a web site.” It can be a bit intimidating, and many people don’t get beyond that “Maybe I should …” phase. If you want to progress further, this book is for you.

The book is laid out in a logical progression from concept to interaction to making money with your site. Each stage of web “development” has its own section in the book — which is a huge plus: you don’t have to wade through a lot of basic information to get to what you want.

The first section covers the planning stage of website design. There’s a discussion about choosing a hosting service (including the problems with using the free space that many ISPs give to their subscribers) and an overview of HTML editing software. There’s also a brief introduction to HTML — just enough to get you started.

Section two takes it from there. You’ve found a hosting service, you’ve got the software, and you have the skeleton of a site. NOW you want to make the site look good. This section covers pictures, links, and tables, and even goes into some basic CSS. You learn to turn a bunch of separate web pages into a web site, add content so people want to visit your site, and make the site look good so people want to come back.

Section three goes where the average HTML tutorial doesn’t go and talks about driving traffic. Getting search engine hits, creating your own message boards, and even (once you get the traffic) making money on your site. This is the part of the book that will have broader appeal — the information will be valuable to novices as well as more experienced webmasters. The only disappointment in this section was that the subject of hit counters and stat tracking services wasn’t covered in much depth. I would have liked to have seen more information on the various tracking services, rather than a one-page mention.

Part four starts to enhance the site. Javascript menus and buttons, and audio and video. This is a dangerous section, and the book does preach caution in adding many of these features (I noticed that there was little mention of animated GIFs, which I was very thankful for). The section on creative menus using Javascript and DHTML was very useful, and I plan on implementing some of what I have learned on my own site after the first of the year. The section covering audio and video was brief, but contained enough information for the novice designer to completely annoy visitors with embedded audio. Thankfully, the council in this section was moderation in all things — they make sure that novices realize how annoying embedded audio can be.

Part five covers blogging, specifically working with Blogger. This is a good idea, though most new bloggers will eventually want something more powerful. Syndication is also briefly explained (though they don’t tell you how to create your own RSS feeds). Blogger-specific tweaks are covered briefly, and budding bloggers are encouraged to use the skills they’ve gained by reading the rest of the books to customize their basic Blogger templates.

This book is a valuable asset for novice website builders, and contains many useful tips for more advanced users (though most power users will find little in it that they don’t know already). It’s up to date with the latest standards, though they spent more time talking about using table tags for layout than I would have liked, and not nearly enough time on div tags. I understand CSS a lot better now than I did before, and I’ve got some great ideas for improving my own sites. I think that the most valuable part of this book — and, really, one of the reasons I love O’Reilly books so much — is the fact that you can do everything in this book with free software. You can use Dreamweaver or Frontpage, but you can make a great site using free software that’s readily available on the Web. Highly recommended.

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About Warren Kelly