Poor Richard’s Web Site, Peter Kent

Top Floor, 2000, 422 pages, C$47.95 tpb, ISBN 0-9661032-0-3

You’re a small businessman. You own your own little-to-medium company, but lately you’ve become concerned that this Internet thingy might be hurting your sales. Or, at the very least, that you’re missing out on some great marketing opportunity. Whatever the reason, you want to get a piece of the e-action. But building a web site is complicated stuff, right? Expensive too, if you’re to believe the stories in the newspapers.

Don’t.

As Peter Kent points out, the dirty little secret of the Internet is that “it’s a giant jobs program for computer geeks.” A bit unfair as a statement, but not quite as ludicrous as you’d imagine. Kent’s point is that most of what you really need to know about a web site can be learned quickly, and practiced cheaply. So here’s a fifty-Canadian-bucks book to teach you how to be cheap. Poor Richard’s Web Site is a giant ad for Peter Kent’s business.

All kidding aside, this book condenses in easy-to-read format a whole bunch of things most small business owners would be grateful to know about the Internet. Kent doesn’t do technical stuff (as he rightfully points out, there are plenty of other books that do that, and it’s not rocket science in any fashion.) but rather focuses on overarching business and design issues, plus spends a full third of the book on marketing.

In its first two-third, Poor Richard’s Web Site strikes an admirable balance between down-to-earth business advice, and technically correct information. People baffled by the techno-jargon of other more in-depth work should feel at ease here, while more technically-oriented persons won’t be able to nit-pick the advice to death and even maybe learn a few new tricks or two.

All throughout, Kent’s advice is sensible, often irreverent (if wholeheartedly supporting Microsoft can be considered slightly edgy) and often brought with a humorous slant.

So far so good, but the book is contaminated with the stink of shameless self-promotion. As the book advances, it becomes obvious that Peter Kent is trying to sell you something: A contract with his own web hosting company. One or two mentions would have been fine, but when the URL of his own business is brought up every chapter or so, enough is enough.

Things devolve in the last section, about marketing your web site. Though Kent at least has the decency to discourage spamming -noting that it may result in your web site being wiped out the face of the Earth-, his recommended “soft-sell” practices tend to run on the annoying side, especially when practiced on established communities that don’t really enjoy this type of thing. (eg; Usenet, where similar tactics are usually scoffed at.) At least Chapter 18 mentions real-world PR, which is where most of web promotion dollars should be going anyway.

But I’m being once again too hard on the book. Naturally, it will appeal more to those with a business-and-marketing oriented mind. Naturally, techies are better off reading something more specialized. On the other hand, Poor Richard’s Web Site does manage to fulfill its goal of providing a one-stop business web primer.

Just consider the opening five (!) full pages of blurbs as an advertisement of what you’ll learn inside…

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