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How to spot a rubbish internet book

They said that the internet would be the death of books. But book publishers fought back by publishing a ton of books about, er, the internet. And sure, books are handy and pleasant in ways that webpages aren't. So we are happy to read books about the internet. But not rubbish ones. And the race to produce books about the web has led to numerous regrettable volumes. Happily, this guide shows you how to avoid buying the really useless ones.

Books with 'cyber' in the title

Some of these are OK, and we can be forgiving about those published before around 1995, when it might have seemed cool (but which are now out of date anyway). Otherwise, be scared about authors who thought that the formula {"cyber"} + {what the book is actually about} was a good way to produce their title. However if someone wants to write a book about all things cyber, called "CyberCyber", that might be quite good.

Books 'by' TV stars

These cynical cash-ins are obviously not the best sources of useful advice. But if anyone is stupid enough to think that Carol Vorderman's Guide to the Internet will be good because they have seen Carol do some sums on [UK TV game show] Countdown then . . . well, they don't deserve to be shortchanged by Carol as well as by God, do they.

Books which claim to 'make easy' things which were perfectly easy in the first place

Since bookshops display piles of books with dumb titles like Email Made Easy, people who haven't actually used email before may reasonably infer that using email is so complicated that you need a book to show you how. This is clearly not the case: even if you are paralysed by incomprehension when faced with typical email-program buttons like 'Create new message' and 'Send', the built-in 'Help' is invariably as helpful (and much more specific to your own system, by its nature) as any book.

Even more redundant are the books which try to explain bits of technology "for" a particular constituency -- Easy Email for Business, for example. I look forward to such titles as Exploring the Internet for Dentists and The Web Explained for Deep-Sea Divers. See also my review of The Internet for Students.

Books with horrible design

If you wanted a book about farming or something, the design may be irrelevant, but if a book about the internet is badly-designed, it is a very worrying sign. See for example the various large-format 'Internet made easy' type books with yellow and black covers which are trying to look a bit like the 'For Dummies' books. (The 'For Dummies' books are designed OK, but the bargain-basement imagination-free imitations are hardly welcome). Brrr. It's like asking a man in a golfing jumper for fashion advice.

Academic books which talk about 'CMC'

Hundreds of years ago somebody came up with the acronym 'CMC', meaning 'Computer Mediated Communication', and being ambitious, they set out to make people believe that talking about 'CMC' was terribly cool and meaningful. Academics, of course, are hilariously gullible about this kind of thing. Whilst it certainly is the case that there is a unique character to communication between people when they do it via computer-based interfaces, saying 'CMC' a lot is clearly irritating and only seems to encourage people to say really bland and obvious things.

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