WordPress MU 2.8: Book Review

The people at Packt Publishing asked me if I’d care to read and review a new book from them. It’s called WordPress MU 2.8 Beginner’s Guide. As WordPress is something we use ourselves (this blog is WordPress) and with our customers I was more than happy to take a look.

WordPress MU 2.8 Beginner's Guide

WordPress MU 2.8 Beginner's Guide

If you didn’t know, WordPress MU is the “Multi User” version of the very popular free and open source blogging software. MU allows you build a site where users can create and run their own individual blogs themselves. One of the best known examples is probably the WordPress.com site itself which serves tens of millions of hits on millions of blogs each day.

That’s a little background, now on with the book review itself.

Firstly, I was a bit confused by the title: “Beginner’s” and “WordPress MU” aren’t two words I would normally associate together. After all, a multi-user blogging farm capable of hosting literally millions of blogs doesn’t strike me as something a beginner would be doing. You can’t however judge a book by it’s cover as they say…

At approximately 250 pages the book is a reasonable size unlike some of those 1000+ page tomes that are too heavy to carry and won’t stay open due to the effects of gravity.

The book has a clearly stated objective:

This book will take you through the setup of a WordPress MU-powered blogging network, using a real, working blog network as an example, so that you can follow the creation process step-by-step. Your blogging network will be complete with professional features such as friends lists, status feeds, groups, forums, photo galleries, and more, to build your own WordPress.com – a place where users can quickly come and create a blog for themselves.

The book is written by Lesley A. Harrison:

Lesley Harrison has more than ten years of experience working in the world of IT. She has served as a web developer for various local organizations, a systems administrator for a multinational IT outsourcing company, and later a database administrator for a British utility company. Today, Lesley runs her own video gaming site, Myth-Games.com, and works as a freelance web developer. She works with clients all over the world to develop Joomla! and WordPress/WordPress MU web sites.

When I first thumbed through it I was a bit put-off by the style and layout – it felt like it might be one of those “books for stupid people”. Each short piece is wrapped in the same set of three headings:

  • A Title,
  • the main content called “Time for action“,
  • and a short review headed “What just happened?“.

After a couple of these you also get:

  • a “Pop Quiz” with some fairly simple questions,
  • and something entitled “Have a go hero” that gives the reader some guidance to exploring the subject further.

In one way, I’m somewhat confused by this book; the styling and layout feels, to me at least, rather condescending and childish, and yet the actual breadth and depth of content is really very good. You can get a feel for the style in this short excerpt from chapter 7.

Over 12 chapters the author leads the reader from a brief overview of WordPress MU itself and some discussion about the choices you will need to make with regards to hosting etc. through installation of the basic system, installing and customising themes, user management, security, adding features through plugins and extensions, getting money from your site, and finishes off with some optimisation and troubleshooting advice.

There is a huge amount of information in this book. The shear quantity of extensions selected, described, setup and configured makes this well worth the money, just for the time it would take to find them yourself. Lesley uses a fictitious site for Vampire Slayers as the theme and builds a highly functional and comprehensive WordPress MU installation that delivers not just a blog network but also tightly integrated forums and social networking features. It’s obvious she knows her stuff and there are some real nuggets in the book that I wasn’t familiar with myself. There are plenty of screenshots showing what needs clicking and configuring and lots of code snippets where the editing of various WordPress php files is required.

As well as the breadth of information, it’s surprising just how much detail there is in between the covers of WordPress MU 2.8 Beginner’s Guide too. I wouldn’t think of a “Beginner’s” book covering things like Apache’s mod_rewrite and writing your own rewrite rules in .htaccess for example. On the flip-side there were one or two items that felt like they had finished half way, leaving the reader to go and do their own research. So again I question the title and styling of the book against the kind of reader I would expect that would want to buy and use it.

It’s a quick book to read, and is fast-paced which I like. There is minimal waffle or superfluous language – something I’ve noticed with other Packt books in the past too. Perhaps this is part of their editorial design? It certainly helps if it is “by design”. I’ve other technology books that are a real chore to read, requiring the reader to fish the information out of a vast sea of irrelevant language. You can easily read the whole book through in a few hours. It then becomes a great reference device (another benefit of succinctness) when you start to build your MU blog network.

To summarise then, I thought this book has great content, lots of information, good detail in most places and does what it set out to do with regards to the quote at the top of the page. In other ways I found the book a paradox; I thought the layout and style was too infantile for the subject matter and I think the title really doesn’t do the book justice. The saving grace is that these shortcomings don’t really get in the way of the content.

Had I picked up this book and thumbed through it in a bookshop I’m not sure I’d have bought it. By dropping the “Beginner’s Guide” from the cover and making the style a little more adult I probably would have. Of course in this case, Packt sent the book to me so I didn’t have to make that choice and my “job” was to read it and comment. It’s a good book. I enjoyed it, and it has really good content, but I’m not sure it’s being targeted at the right potential buyer. In this case, don’t be put off by the cover.

[Please Note: If you use the links from here to Packt’s website and decide to buy any book from their site, we will get a small commission that we can use towards the upkeep of our servers etc.]

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  • Hi,

    I am the author of this book. Thanks for taking the time to review it, I really appreciate your comments.

    Was the troubleshooting chapter one that you felt left some things unfinished? I was attempting to touch on as many issues as possible in the space available, and point the reader in the right direction. I’ll re-examine that chapter so that in future I don’t leave things hanging early.

    I believe all Packt Beginner’s Guides use the TFA / WJH structure, and authors are encouraged to build an example site around something humorous – I know one other author used an Egyptian Pyramid Salesman as his case study. I had a lot of fun with the SlayerCafe example, perhaps, from your feedback, too much fun? If so, that’s something I’ll remember for future titles.

    Thanks again for taking the time to do a review!

    • Alan Lord says:

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting Lesley,

      I’m not sure how much more troubleshooting you could have covered really. As the book is for “beginners” you probably covered as much as is sensible and gave pointers to where to go for help. If you are thinking of my comment about leaving something half way, it wasn’t about that at all. I remember reading the book in bed the other night and finding something that seemed to end prematurely. IIRC it was something in Chapter 8 on bbPress. I think it was about writing some php if statements for something or other.

      But that’s the paradox really – I really don’t think this is a “beginners” book. There’s nothing wrong with “fun” and using a story to get the point across and add some context to the narrative. I’m just not sure the people who should read this book will read it if they see the front cover and scan through a few pages in a shop.

      It’s a book with loads of great information in it that will be very useful. I’m not sure the title and style do it justice.

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