How fares the Web today?


World Wide Web Journal, Vol 1, No 4, O'Reilly, £18.50 Webmaster in a Nutshell, Stephen Spainhour & Valerie Quercia, O'Reilly, £14.50

TWO new books provide a snapshot of just how far the Web has come in six years. Neither is exactly light reading, but each has a lot to offer developers or even philosophers of the Web.

The latest issue of the quarterly journal published by Tim Berners-Lee's WWW Consortium (see story above) brings together the latest thinking on several of the most pressing technical and policy issues facing the Web. These include the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS)which the consortium is promoting as an alternative to Net censorship.

PICS allows content providers and independent agencies to rate Internet sites on criteria such as bad language, nudity and violence. Consumers can then avoid, or be directed away from, sites likely to offend. The journal contains a detailed description of the PICS proposal, along with others for HTTP 1.1 (a new version of the Web's basic protocol to try and cope with the massive growth in Web traffic) and keeping track of Web connections using "cookies".

Some of the articles describe standards ready to be adopted, others are works in progress, subject to change by participants in the widespread review process that is typical of Internet standard setting. Together, they lay out the latest evolution of the Web and point the way towards its future as well as showing that even the most avid proponents of electronic publishing can find a use for a paper journal.

ESTABLISHED standards are the material for Webmaster in a Nutshell the basic commands on which the whole global matrix depends. They're all here HTML commands for creating Web documents, CGI techniques for creating interactive pages, HTTP for the Web's transfer protocols, plus the still evolving JavaScript to add fancy features to Web pages and configuration commands for five popular Web servers.

Hundreds of commands are described briefly, some with examples. There is little detailed explanation, so it's not learner material. But for the experienced user a book bringing together an up to date reference on so many varied commands is invaluable.