Web Commerce review

Published in Internet Research


Web Commerce Cookbook: Everything you need to know to build a profitable Web site

McComb, Gordon (1998), Wiley and Sons, New York, 395 pp., ISBN 0-471-19663-0, $34.95. CD ROM included.

This is a book for people who need technical advice on how to implement a web commerce idea. The focus is on the nitty-gritty of general practical tips plus specific HTML pages and programs. Like many other cyberspace pioneers, McComb believes the Internet is ‘changing the landscape of commerce.’ In the spirit of the Internet as a ‘sharing medium’, he offers a great deal of solid and functional information and programming on the CD ROM for free, requesting only an acknowledgment. Because most public web sites are based on UNIX, the focus is on UNIX servers, but there is lots of guidance for Windows-based servers.

McComb distinguishes two forms of Internet commerce: The first is items (atoms) that must be packaged and shipped, and therefore require a delay in delivery, and usually, human action. The second is selling information such as newsletters, software, clipart, etc. Because it involves only electronic transfer (bits), this kind of commerce can theoretically be fully automated. This is where access control and user authentication become most important. He covers these topics in depth, as problems in these areas can quickly derail an electronic commerce effort.

The book is also planned so that people with varying degrees of experience can enter at the appropriate point and pick up additional background they need to set up their site. As with most do-it-yourself options, developing an electronic commerce site from scratch is a cost-effective but time-consuming alternative to expensive turn-key solutions, such as those offered by Microsoft and Netscape. McComb offers the Web server tools to get an electronic commerce project up and running, with maximum development potential and flexibility for the future.

He takes readers through various options, with programming examples, and explains both what they do and the situations in which they are most useful. Although not for the faint-hearted or those without any programming experience, the book is intended to get even a dedicated novice up and running. As with any good cookbook, it should become a handy reference for more experienced programmers seeking to extend their web commerce sites to incorporate more sophisticated and profitable features.

The accompanying CD ROM provides copies of analog, a popular freeware log analysis program, Apache, a popular unix web server, and source files for Perl programs. In addition, there are lots of helpful graphics that would dress up any web site, and an extensive set of links to surveys, research, publications, web development information, low-cost web hosts, web page advertising, user authentication (13 sites, including a tutorial), script programming resources, script repositories, HTML validation, payment systems, CGI resources and counters and the more mysterious SSI (Server Side Includes). These are a useful collection for any web site development project that has an interactive component, and most do.