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ISSUE 485: The high tech office- Feb 9 1999


Net directories and how-to books offer tips
for kids, veteran surfers and even newbies

While one of the biggest promises of the Internet is its international scope, one of the biggest frustrations is its tendency to see the world through American eyes. With only some exceptions, the language of choice online tends to be English, the currency the U.S. dollar.

No, I don't think this is an intentional conspiracy, but rather the result of the Net growing from U.S. roots, and from Americans making up, at least at first, the clear majority of Net users.

This is changing. Just as there is an increasing number of women on the Internet, more and more Web sites and Internet users are non-American.

One area in which this is evident is books about the Web. Book publishing, perhaps inevitably, is always a bit behind the times. Certainly what we find on our bookstore shelves is mostly blissfully unaware of the worldwide reach of the World Wide Web.

A year or so ago, I received a review copy of The Internet Kids Yellow Pages by Jean Armour Polly. A nice book, with lots of kid-friendly Internet sites, arranged by topic, useful for fun and for school -- and no listings for Canada. African-American children could use the book to find out about themselves on the Net, but apparently, Canadian kids didn't exist.

If you want something done right (or in this case, done at all), you sometimes have to do it yourself. For five years, Canadian authors Jim Carroll and Rick Broadhead have been writing and updating a Canadian Internet Handbook. The first edition was slim but -- reflecting the growth of the Internet and the growth of Canadian participation -- the book has grown in size and in scope. Their latest, The 1999 Canadian Internet Handbook 5th Anniversary Edition (Prentice-Hall Canada, $27.95), weighs in at 350 useful pages offering a Canadian perspective on working the Net.

It's not particularly aimed at new users. Its four sections are all focused on helping business users become more effective. The book starts off with tips on evaluating your Web site's design and improving its visibility to Web searchers. It goes on to look at security issues -- from viruses to vandals, securing your connection and protecting your privacy online.

A section on increasing productivity ranges from speeding up your connection to using better search techniques for "just-in-time knowledge." Finally, the authors look at adding electronic shopping and audio and video to your business's Web site. The enclosed CD offers the bulk of the content of the well-respected Tucows Web site.

But the effort to give the Internet a Canadian spin has grown beyond what Carroll and Broadhead can fit into a single book. A companion volume, 1999 Canadian Internet Directory & Research Guide ($29.95), fills the gaps in the U.S.-based Internet Yellow Pages. At about 500 pages,
it has doubled in size over last
year's edition.

This year's volume is split in two. The first part is devoted to search skills, including a chapter
on when it's time to go beyond free search en-
gines to a dedicated online database. The bulk of the book is devoted to the Yellow Pages-like listing of Canadian or Canadian-focused sites.

While the ever-changing nature of the Internet makes any fixed-in-time list like this grow stale quite quickly, most of the listings I tested were still up and running. And a book like this has an advantage over a search engine -- the authors have visited all these sites, guaranteeing that they do, in fact, relate to their topic.

But these two books are not everything that the authors have to offer in their quest to put a Canadian spin on the Internet. They also have a pair of oddly sized Quick Guides:

* Small Business Online ($18.95) describes itself as "a strategic guide for Canadian Entrepreneurs." The authors suggest that small businesses are ideally able to use technology and the Internet to build their enterprise, and offer tips on using the Net to help prepare a business plan, assess the feasibility of a proposal, set up a home office, register a company name, research tax implications, obtain licences and permits, and secure financing. A series of different strategies are illustrated, complete with examples of Canadian companies.

* 1999 Canadian Internet New User's Handbook ($16.95) offers the Canadian spin on "why the Net," along with a Web-based cross-Canada tour. New users (yes, Virginia, there are still new users) are provided with readable but not simplistic explanations of what the Internet is all about, how it works and how to get connected. Internet services such as e-mail, the Web and discussion groups are introduced, along with search strategies and even ways to build your own Web site.

Unlike some books aimed at newbies, this book tries to provide some balance.

A section titled "The Internet Is About Opportunity" is followed by one looking at "Challenges Presented by the Internet." The authors warn users to "be realistic in your expectations." *

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan