Truth be told, I’ve never actually read a book on WordPress until WordPress 3 Complete by April Hodge Silver. All of my learning to this point was from trial & (lots of) error, articles, blog posts, and reading the Codex. I’ve always felt, and continue to feel that self-teaching is an important characteristic for a developer. More often than not I would be too involved in the work I was doing to have the patience of waiting for a book to come in the mail.
On the other side of that coin lies a strategic, clear, and hopefully concise method to learning, however. That too is really important when learning to do things the proper way or get some insight into your own practices by comparing and contrasting to someone else’s. Books tend to fill that void quite nicely for me. It was great to read a book on WordPress targeted towards someone who may not have even used it before.
Who WordPress 3 Complete is for
Narrowing down an audience for this book was pretty straightforward. I would suggest this book to a developer who caught wind of WordPress at some point and was interested in finding out more about it. I’d even suggest this book to a seasoned developer looking to give WordPress a trial run to see how it compares to their system of choice.
The biggest barrier to entry here would be that you’d need to have existing experience with HTML/CSS, and written at least some PHP before reading. It would also help if you’ve had some first hand experience using WordPress. Not necessarily developing a theme or plugin, but interacting with a WordPress install prior to reading the book will be that much more helpful.
WordPress 3 Complete is divided into 11 chapters, but could also be divided into two parts. The first ‘part’ consists of chapters 1-5 and lays the foundation of WordPress, what it’s all about, and how to use it out of the box. Chapters 6-11 get you writing code and discusses theme building, plugin development, and other more intermediate subjects. What I like about that format is that WordPress’ core nature is put flat out on the table for exploration from the start. The author discusses where WordPress came from and shows what WordPress does best.
Chapter 1 guides you through the background of WordPress, and since the book is titled WordPress 3 Complete, the author takes the time to point out what it is about WordPress 3 that sets it apart from previous versions. Not completely necessary, but since WordPress 3 was truly a ground-breaking release, I’m glad the subject was given the attention it was.
The next chapter covers getting up and running with a WordPress website, whether it be on wordpress.com or a self-hosted solution. The author does a good job describing the differences between the two options, and carefully guides first timers through installing a self-hosted version of WordPress on their own server.
The third chapter is all about content generation. We’re walked through creating posts, working with advanced post options, comments, categories and more. The chapter (and book as a whole) is full of up-to-date screenshots which are always helpful to beginners when walking through something technical.
Chapter 4 continues passed Posts and covers Pages, Plugins, image management, and Menus. Each of these features deserve the attention they’ve been given by the author, as WordPress has refined the process has some of the best systems in place to managing content or plugins. The author does take this opportunity to plug WPtouch to make your site ‘mobile friendly’ which follows a trend of recommending specific plugins throughout the book. More often than not they’re quite popular and trusted plugins, which can help beginners put the new knowledge of installing Plugins to the test.
Chapter 5 continues where chapter 4 left off and discusses the location, installation, and activation of additional WordPress themes. The WordPress Theme Directory is referenced, and you’re walked through the retrieval and implementation of a theme.
In Chapter 6, the book shifts into a new gear and we’re finally able to get our hands dirty with actual PHP. I like how the author approached relating an existing design and making it “WordPress friendly.” It’s sometimes tough to explain to someone very new to the field how to design “for” WordPress. In this case, the author took a very blog-centric approach to explaining how you should design a WordPress friendly site, and I think that’s the best way to go about it. I like that you’re walked through the creation of the site in static form first, and it is in turn broken out into the pieces that make a WordPress theme. That’s how I build themes, and I think it’s a great way to go about it.
Feeds and podcasting are examined at good length in Chapter 7. Truth be told I’m in a way surprised to see an entire chapter dedicated to feeds, but after reading it I think it was a smart decision to help those beginners looking to start a site for their podcast. All of the proper details are covered, including mention of a few popular podcasting plugins to check out.
Chapter 8 is full of material covering how to develop your own plugins and Widgets. This is arguably the most technical chapter of the book, and the author walks through the development of a plugin from the ground up to show how it’s done. The plugin isn’t too elaborate, which is great for beginners, but it does utilize some regular expressions which those new to PHP may find a bit confusing. It’s really no big deal, but something I felt worth mentioning none-the-less.
User management is discussed thoroughly in Chapter 9, focusing on the aspect of community blogging. While community blogging seems to have gone away in the majority, in favor of single-author blogs, WordPress really does user management well, so it’s great to have this covered too.
Much of the WordPress 3+ goodness is covered in Chapter 10, which details how to use WordPress for a ‘non-blog’ website. Custom Post Types make their appearance here, and even more plugins are introduced by name (e.g. Contact Form 7) for the purpose of building a more standard website powered by WordPress.
The final chapter is titled Administrator’s Reference and it covers things like backing up your WordPress site, upgrading, migrating, and other things WordPress site administrators should be aware of. It sounds like the author may have used personal experience here in covering questions that were likely repeatedly asked over time. Such details as file permissions are covered, as well as some common PHP errors that beginners are likely to bump into.
One of the things I liked most about this book was the fact that it covered just about every angle WordPress had to offer without going too far over the line and becoming overbearing. The target audience (beginners) was kept in mind throughout and the author did a great job of going just far enough in her explanations of features or procedures. More often than not someone will pick up this book with the intention of utilizing WordPress as a blog platform, and the book caters to that. I spend most of my time defending the fact that WordPress moved beyond being a simple little blogging platform years ago but that’s just a bias I’ve got personally. I’m glad WordPress 3 Complete took this approach because the fact remains that most people are introduced to WordPress as their blogging platform, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I would definitely recommend this book to newcomers to WordPress development, specifically those who have decent experience in front end development and some experience in PHP. I like that the book is structured well, easy to read, and can act as a nice reference from time to time. The instruction offered is solid and I think it makes a great addition to the WordPress educational resources available to date.
I do have a couple of eBooks of WordPress 3 Complete if you’re interested. Without getting too fancy, if you’d like to enter to win one of the eBooks, leave a comment below indicating what you hope to learn from WordPress 3 Complete. Entries will be accepted for 168 hours, ending June 6, 2011 at 11:00am ET. Best of luck if you enter!