July 2007

Drew Nellins

nonfiction

Rule the Web: How to Do Anything and Everything on the Internet -- Better, Faster, Easier by Mark Frauenfelder

I was going to start my review of Mark Frauenfelder’s new book, Rule the Web: How to Do Anything and Everything on the Internet -- Better, Faster, Easier, by saying that it’s like The Joy of Sex for computing, but then I noticed that Xeni Jard already blurbed it as “like The Joy of Cooking, only it’s about the Web instead of meatloaf.” Personally, I think my comparison is better, because the book is way more fun than meatloaf, if not quite as engrossing as sex.

If you don’t know Mark Frauenfelder, you should. He has written a couple of books, including a terrific science experiment collection for kids, and lots of great articles for publications including L.A. Weekly, Wired (where he worked as an editor), and The New York Times Magazine. He’s the editor-in-chief of the always fascinating and totally original Make Magazine. And, most impressive (at least to me), he is co-founder of what is undoubtedly one of the greatest websites on the planet: BoingBoing.net, which he updates constantly, along with fellow badasses, David Pescovitz, Cory Doctorow, and Xeni Jardin, blurber extraordinaire.

Basically, Rule the Web is a 400-page compendium of methods and sites that help you get things done online. If you’re under the age of 40, you probably already know how to tool around on the Web pretty well. You know to use quotation marks in Google searches. You know how to find movie times in your city and check the weather forecast. You can check your e-mail, read the news, all the standard stuff. But that’s not what this book is about. Frauenfelder does not target that frighteningly large group who needs a glossary to figure out how to double-click. Though, I must concede, in the very beginning of the book he does define “blog,” “podcast,” and “domain name.” But that’s as elementary as it gets, and things start looking up soon after.

He covers territory relevant to just about anyone who regularly uses a computer. In fact, the scope of the book is so broad, it’s almost funny. He covers topic as diverse as RSS feeds, tracking down unlisted phone numbers, how to reach beyond the scope of Google, and even which are the best online pharmacies. For us bookworms, he reviews the best methods for tracking your books in online library catalogs and locating free audio book and utilizing databases of free magazine articles. He finds the best sites for comparing airfares (other than the ones I with which I was familiar) and explains how to search the Internet without being traced; he breaks down the method for using your Bluetooth mobile phone to gain laptop Internet access, how to navigate corporate voicemail systems to get to a live representative, creating your own ringtones, speeding up your hard drive, using iTunes to its utmost, merging multiple PDF files, how to create meals with the ingredients you have on hand, and, well, everything else. Best of all, Frauenfelder’s a frugal guy, so he finds the best of all things free.

If it wasn’t for his relaxed, personable style, Frauenfelder might come across as a regular know it all, but instead he comes across as a personable guy who, by chance, actually does know it all. Or at least he knows where to find out about it all. Within a week of purchasing this book, I had already consulted it at least ten times. Page through it once and you’ll learn something that you didn’t know you needed to know, but which will make some small daily task a whole lot easier. Better yet, you might learn how to do something you probably shouldn’t know how to do.

If MacGyver had written a guide to the internet, it would be Rule the Web.

Rule the Web: How to Do Anything and Everything on the Internet -- Better, Faster, Easier by Mark Frauenfelder
St. Martin's Griffin
ISBN: 0312363338
416 Pages