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The title of this book is deceptive, enough so that I handed it to a friend who was making the move from WordPress.com to self-hosted WordPress because I thought she might find it helpful. She didn’t, and when I actually sat down to read it myself, I understood why.
This is not a book for beginners, if by “beginners” you mean the people for whom WordPress for Dummies was written. It’s a book for web developers who haven’t used WordPress before.
To be fair to the author, the back cover copy says exactly that, but the publisher describes it as “User level: Beginner.” I’m not sure how Apress would describe books for people who don’t have any technical knowledge. “User level: Hopeless N00b”?
But the book itself is fantastic. It may be the best book I’ve ever read about WordPress. I don’t consider myself a developer, but I know enough not to get completely lost in the code examples. This is a great book for those who are experienced users of WordPress but not PHP wizards and who want to go deeper and understand more.
I had a number of revelatory moments while reading this book. You can turn off or limit post revisions with one line of code in your wp-config.php file? So why was I bothering to use a plugin for it? (I know, some people don’t have access to their wp-config.php file…or shouldn’t be allowed access to it. But other people need to reduce the number of plugins they have installed, and I’m one of them.) There are RSS feeds for pages? Wish I’d known that when someone was asking about it on LinkedIn a few weeks back. You can show custom taxonomies, custom post types, and tags in your menu management page by clicking on Screen Options? (I beat my head against this for ages because I’d forgotten I’d read it, and I even marked the page.) There’s a way to import content from Joomla? Bring it on. (Please. I’m desperately hoping to convince a client to change platforms.)
Then there’s the great discussion of things you can do with the Loop, like create a page that displays excerpts from all its child pages. Most magazine themes make you pick two or three featured categories, but you could actually feature all your categories if you wanted to. (That’s assuming you have a reasonable number of categories, unless you want a really long home page.)
I admit I got a bit lost in the chapters on creating widgets and plugins—I don’t think I’m anywhere near ready to start developing plugins, and I’m not sure I ever will be. But I understand a little better what’s involved in the process and how to look at the code.
There’s a solid chapter on performance and security that covers all the usual suspects except the
define('WP_MEMORY_LIMIT', '96M'); trick (another single line in wp-config.php that can make a big difference) and then a highly valuable chapter on custom post types and custom taxonomies. Stephanie Leary walks you through how to do this the hard way, which gave me a chance to see what the plugins that help with these two WordPress features actually do, and helped me follow the demonstrations at the September WordPress Meetup.
The final chapter is on WordPress Multi-site, with a brief mention of BuddyPress. While this is a fraction of the information found in BuddyPress for Dummies, it has the advantage of referring to WordPress 3.0 and not the old WordPress MU, so it was good to get an overview of what had stayed the same and what had changed.
The author refers to useful plugins throughout the book, and also has a plugin index (Appendix A) and a collection of “plugin recipes” (Appendix C). The recipes are combinations of plugins you can use to build things with WordPress, like a wiki (I thought there was already a wiki plugin for WP) or a document sharing site. Again, I had a couple of surprises. There are plugins to sort your posts alphabetically? And I spent time creating special category page templates to do that for a client. (The other surprise was that Stephanie Leary doesn’t seem to have heard of Blubrry’s PowerPress plugin for podcasting, or that PodPress had been revived.)
If you have no web background at all and you’re completely new to WordPress, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re somewhere in between the complete novice and the hard-core developer, you’re going to find this book unbelievably useful. The fact that it’s clearly written in a non-technical style, tidily laid out, and has abundant screenshots is just a bonus. And you can download all the code samples from the Apress website.