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THE CUTTING EDGE / PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | BOOKS / KRISSY
HARRIS

Web Sites--Fall in Love All Over Again

September 22, 1997|KRISSY HARRIS

The Web can be a vast and scary place, even if you've been on it for a while and know what you're looking for.

Search engines are fine, but unless you're a master at searching, you're bound to end up with a million options after typing in the word "recipe." And sometimes there's stuff out there that's helpful, but you'd have no way of knowing about it.

The answer to this puzzle is, believe it or not, a book.

Following are some titles of Web site guides, all of which offer up sites you've probably never even imagined were there.

THE WEIRD WIDE WEB by Erfert Fenton and David Pogue (IDG Books Worldwide; $12.99).

Remember your first few times online, when everything seemed really cool? But then the novelty wore off and you gave up looking at all the sites your friends dredged up.

"The Weird Wide Web" is like rediscovering the Internet--except probably funnier than the first time around and without all that pesky download time.

The book is divided into categories such as "Pop! Goes the Culture," "Relaxation Made Easy" and "Fun With Food." And each of those chapters is further divided into such subjects as "When Bad Things Happen to Good Appliances," "Exploding Celebrities" and "Yes, We Have No Banana Slugs (Thanks to George Deukmejian)."

It's good, old-fashioned fun. And it's not just a site guide; Fenton and Pogue give fairly detailed accounts of what you'll find at the sites. "The Weird Wide Web" is more of a narrative, and sites are lumped together by subject. Some descriptions go on for pages, others are just a few paragraphs.

The authors seem to delight in the weirdness of the Web. They want everyone to appreciate the Web sites for Sock Puppets, the Naked Mole-Rat Colony Cam and the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! Fabio-filled home page. And who can blame them? Some of these sites you might have seen, others you'll probably have heard of and still others you'll wonder how you missed.

THE WORLD'S WEIRDEST WEB PAGES by Hank Duderstadt (No Starch Press; $12.95).

"The World's Weirdest Web Pages" takes a sampling of "Weird Wide Web" sites, describes them and then interviews the Webmasters. It looks at the method behind the madness, if you will.

In fact, the two books have a lot of overlapping sites. Sea Monkeys, SPAM and the Flaming Pop-Tart experiment, to name just three.

"The World's Weirdest Web Pages" isn't as funny as "The Weird Wide Web" and its scope is not as great, but it does provide some interesting insight into the people who are putting together all this weird stuff.

GREAT AMERICAN WEBSITES: An Online Discovery of Hidden America by Edward J. Renehan Jr. (Osborne/McGraw Hill; $24.99).

No, it's not just page upon page of Thomas Jefferson and Statue of Liberty sites. "Great American Websites" is actually a great little find. Although not as entertaining as some of the other books reviewed here, it was one of my favorites.

There's the FBI's Famous Cases Archive, John F. Kennedy's Birthplace home page, the Electric Chair, Buffalo Meat Is Good for You and Annie's Pumpkin Walnut Cheesecake: A Recipe. You'll also find sites for American mainstays such as Disney, Louisa May Alcott and Dolly Parton.

Renehan also provides some interesting historical facts and anecdotes. In the Lincoln Tomb site description, Renehan relates the site's tale of how President Lincoln was laid to rest--or unrest, as the case may be.

Though the short reviews are a little boring and devoid of personality, the selections are interesting and diverse.

And while there isn't much detail in terms of what you'll find at the site, "Great American Websites" is a nice little intro to Americana and U.S. history--worth the price.

WHAT'S ON THE INTERNET Third Edition edited by Eric Gagnon with Edwinna von Baeyer (Peachpit Press; $19.95).

Sure, lots of other books will tell you what's on the World Wide Web, but for a complete list and description of newsgroups on the Internet, this is pretty much it. Though with something like 15,000 different newsgroups listed in "What's on the Internet," what else would you need?

Some of the newsgroups listed include the Lefthanders' Social Club, Holocaust discussions (where scholars, students and relatives of survivors and victims meet), Lego toys, "Star Trek" (of course) and the winner of the it-probably-sounds-funnier-than-it-really-is contest: alt.drunken.bastards.

Three elements of "What's on the Internet" stand out. First, the index. Newsgroups are listed alphabetically and by subject, so you can look up newsgroups that correspond to topics such as Camille Paglia, gossip, computing, politics and pop culture. Second, there is a "related newsgroup" designation next to some listings, which joins groups with similar topics.

The third standout feature is something the book calls "Jump." Each newsgroup listed has a "Jump" number, and if you go to the book's JumpCity site, you can type in that number and go to the newsgroup, sample photo images, FAQ files and other newsgroup-related stuff.

Not all the newsgroups on the Net are listed, but there's a pretty good representation of just about every subject you might want to explore.

FREE STUFF FROM THE INTERNET Second Edition by Patrick Vincent (Coriolis Group Books; $24.99).

Let's get one thing straight here: "Free Stuff" is just a big, fat gimmick to sell books. Not that information isn't a perfectly valid commodity, and I'll give them the origami and puppet-making sites, but if you're going to advertise a book as having free stuff from the Internet, and it's going to outweigh you by about 10 pounds, it better darn well have some good free stuff.

Alas, that's not what you get. Instead there are pictures and freeware to download, databases to search, mailing lists, job postings, snail mail catalogs and online games.

"Free Stuff From the Internet" is a site guide, and as a site guide, it's not bad. It does a good job of telling what you'll find at the sites.

Krissy Harris can be reached via e-mail at haringbat@mobsters.com

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