The Accidental Webmaster

Phil Bradley (Consultant, Billericay, Essex, UK)

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 1 September 2004




Bradley, P. (2004), "The Accidental Webmaster", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 38 No. 3, pp. 214-215.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The Accidental Webmaster is a very personal account written by Still about her initial forays into designing and writing Web sites. It is aimed at individuals who have not been trained as a Web master, but have found themselves in the position of having to create and maintain a site. Still shares her experience with the reader and provides a lot of practical information on how to get started, deciding policies, selecting content, getting user feedback, fundraising and creating sites for various types of organisation.

The book is divided into two parts: basic concepts, covering such items as setting policies, hosting the site, design issues, marketing and keeping up, for example; part two looks at specific types of sites, such as religious, cultural, family group, fan sites and school and children‐oriented sites. Each chapter ends with a short bibliography and the book has a comprehensive index. As already stated, the book is designed for people who have little or no knowledge about creating sites and it does not provide any information on the more technical aspects of creating a Web site – there is little or no HTML code given at all. Consequently it is not in the slightest bit daunting, and it is very easy to read.

It is always interesting to read of the experiences of others, particularly in areas where they are keen to encourage others, and Still cheerfully shares her own, both good and bad, experiences of Web site design. To that extent, The Accidental Webmaster achieves its aim, and the author provides a lot of food for thought for those individuals who are considering taking on the responsibility for creating and maintaining a Web site. For example, she clearly and concisely explains how and where the site can be hosted, and the various advantages and disadvantages of these options. She is also refreshingly down to earth, pointing out for example that it is likely that local or specialised sites simply won't generate a great deal of traffic. Still leaves the reader in no doubt that the majority of sites will never be “big hitters” in the world of the Internet and makes no pretensions that they will.

Having said that, I found the book was disappointingly frustrating. In ensuring that the book will appeal to a large readership she has deliberately limited any sort of technical discussion to an absolute minimum. For example, she explains how useful it is to track users and explains how this information can be used to improve the site. However, what she doesn't do is provide even a brief explanation of how to collect or analyse the type of statistics that she refers to. The reader is left very much “up in the air” over this, and is given no pointers about how to even go about finding out this information. In another example, she explains that it can be very useful to know which sites link to yours, but doesn't give readers any idea on how to actually do this, when all that would be necessary would be to add in an example of the syntax used by Google, which is hardly technical!

I was also concerned about some of the statements that she makes. She talks about “buying a domain name” for example, but in actual fact no‐one ever “buys” a domain name in the way in which she implies – they are only ever leased or rented, and this simply isn't made clear. This brings up another consideration – if someone is an “accidental Web master” the clear implication is that they don't really know what they are doing, and while Still makes some good points about legal issues, for example, I would certainly be concerned about taking what she says as “gospel”; I would want to check what she says with a number of other authoritative sources just to be certain.

I was also astonished to see that, while the bibliographic references are sound, they all relate to books or hard‐copy articles. There are only six references to Web sites that accidental Web masters could refer to. While this may be acceptable if you have the resources of a library available to you, the very people she has aimed the book at are much more likely to have access to the Web, and not a library. Given the sheer wealth of information freely available on the Internet, I think this has to be viewed as a grave omission.

The chapters on specific types of sites were also rather disappointing in some cases: the chapter on “School and children‐oriented sites” is a single page in length; the chapter on “Small business and e‐commerce” was also very short, only covering “Bricks and Clicks”, “E‐Commerce” and “Design Issues” in three pages. Her treatment of the subject is so brief as to be almost valueless, I'm afraid to say.

In conclusion, this book is a quick read designed to point readers in the right direction. However, it can do no more than that, and anyone who wishes to take on the responsibility of creating a site is going to need to invest in other volumes, or spend a lot more time researching useful Web sites for themselves, without any help at all from the author. It's disappointing, because the author could have shared so much more information with the reader I'm sure, and could have written a very useful book. Unfortunately, in trying to keep things simple I think she's made things so simple as to be almost valueless.

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