Book Review: WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers

What started out as a private online diary in the mid-90s has evolved and, over the last ten years, finally reached almost every niche of the online and business world. Blogging has become a major part of many companies’ public relations and marketing channels, as it allows them to establish a direct connection to their customers. And, especially for small or non-profit companies, blogging offers great advantages for very little expenses. The question of whether to blog or not is nowadays discussed in almost every company environment, typically as part of a broader social media strategy.

WordPress is probably the most popular and advanced web software when it comes to blogs. In fact, the majority of all hosted blogs and websites have WordPress running under their hoods. And that’s for a good reason.

Recently, the publishers of Packt Publishing asked me to review their book “WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers” written by Paul Thewlis and published in December of last year. Let’s see if this book helps to answer the most important questions about publishing a successful business blog.

Teaching the Basics

Paul Thewlis has written a good introductory book when it comes to WordPress and blogging, especially for novices. Unfortunately, this is not apparent from either the book title or the description and so, my first impression of the book did not exactly meet my “business” expectations on the first reading.

Nevertheless, in covering the basics, Thewlis has done a good job. Most people with a blogging or WordPress background will already know the fundamentals, but Thewlis ensures that beginners are not left out with good coverage of blogging and WordPress basics. The first and second chapters, in particular, need to be mentioned here.

Choosing the Audience

I really liked that Thewlis went beyond the simple “why to blog” question and offered a wider perspective on what is possible by showing good recent examples that are helpful for businesses to identify the own strategic goals and finally end up with a reasonable blogging plan. He is not only asking the important questions, but also trying to help readers answer them for their own businesses in an appropriate manner.

That said, as the book focuses on the basics and attempts to create a (for the purposes of the book, absolutely legitimate) fictitious WordPress Business Guru, it may not  deliver what its title and description promises for already experienced WordPress users and bloggers, as well as for more mature companies.

In the end, this doesn’t hurt the book that much as the main target of the book is clearly beginners. For them, Thewlis describes in depth how to set up a local WordPress environment in order to get used to the software. He introduces all the basics that are necessary to start and extend a WordPress installation with the most common and useful plugins. He not only describes them, but also provides nice, handy usage examples.

The only thing that can be regarded as a bit inappropriate is, from my point of view, the third chapter, where he covers the design aspects of blogs and tries to give an introduction to CSS. I can imagine that for inexperienced users, this rough overview will be more confusing than helpful; it would have been better to instead help these users to understand the broader background of Web design. Novices will end up just copying the code while people who already know about CSS and Web design will simply skip this chapter part. In the end, neither of the two groups benefits.

Final Thoughts

So, what’s the final verdict? Thewlis covers a very broad range of topics in his book  and he provides valuable insights about WordPress, especially for beginners. This is very good for those who are looking for an overview of what is possible and necessary. Thewlis delivers everything that is necessary to put these users on the right track and equip them with the basics of starting a blog.

At the end, blogging is about gaining trust and credibility. That’s the one thing missing in Thewlis’ book: the most important factor in blogging is the individual. Companies don’t blog; people blog. And it is all about them when it comes to creating a successful and credible blog.

Saving CMS Consultants from Being Beaten Up

Wise man are rare, but they exist and one of them is happy to share his wisdom with all tense CMS consultants and project managers to help them relax.

Martin Bauer is his name and Packt just published his book entitled Managing eZ Publish Web Content Management Projects. In fact, this book is a tremendous work of reference for any kind of CMS project, be it eZ Publish or not, proprietary or Open Source. Only two of 13 chapters actually deal with eZ Publish specifics.

The book contains a hand full lines of code, the rest is valuable information covering the whole life cycle of a CMS project, for example:

  • Project cost estimates
  • How to write a specification
  • Project management approaches
  • Implementation and testing
  • Training
  • Maintenance and support
  • Risk management
  • etc.

What makes the book such a great source of information is its valuable combination of experience and facts. Just a few insightful quotes:

If a developer continually gives me best-case scenarios, I’ll protect myself by adding 40% to the estimate.

So, you can accomodate some delays, additions, or changes but once it gets beyond 10% [of estimated project duration], the project will be in trouble.

Risk management itself is a risky activity, but an important one. It’s a bit like insurance; you can get away without it until something goes wrong at which point you wished you had done something earlier.

If you make the mistake of thinking that the team doesn’t include the Client, then chances are you’ll fall into the “Us and Them” syndrome.

From my past experience as a Senior Consultant at eZ Systems, the creator of eZ Publish, I can wholeheartedly recommend Martin’s book – it will help you a lot to successfully cope with implementing CMS-based solutions.

If I were Packt, I’d cut out the eZ Publish-specific content from Martin’s book and make it a general reference for CMS project methodologies. Based on that book, Packt could publish vendor-specific references (e.g. eZ Publish, Drupal, Typo3, etc.). That way, Martin’s book could become a classic.

Two bloggers of the eZ Publish community also reviewed Martin’s book.

Disclaimer: The publisher approached me and asked me to write a review of the book. I agreed not without making clear that I will express my opinion independently.

German PHP 5 Books

My favourite German publisher is dpunkt.verlag. Recently, a book on PHP 5 was published that I have helped them with and there are two others in the pipeline written by notable authors. The three books complement each other, so depending on your skill- set, you could pick one, two or all of them. Of course, each of them is of high quality:

PHP 5 für Fortgeschrittene

In a nutshell: For experienced devs, curious to learn PHP 5.

The 380 pages are a condensed, translated, and updated version of Harry’s excellent PHP Anthology. PHP 5 für Fortgeschrittene is meant for experienced PHP 4 developers who want to learn about what’s new in PHP 5 on a very practical basis. Actually, the strength of the book is that it takes care of the nitty-gritty when migrating from PHP4 to PHP 5 with lots of real-world examples.

It was actually me who did the updates, especially dealing with the new OO features in PHP 5. While writing the updates, I realized how the evolution of the book matches with the intention of the book to guide through PHP4-to-PHP5 migration issues, because all of Harry’s source code was PHP 4. Making the book PHP 5-focused, required me to work just like someone who sould migrate his PHP 4 application.

BTW: Cornelia Boenigk did a wonderful job in translating Harry’s text to German, I regard her as one of the best technical translaters of programming books from English to German.

PHP 5 für Fortgeschrittene is available since November.

dpunkt.verlag book info

Professionelle Softwareentwicklung mit PHP 5

In a nutshell: Makes a PHP 4-pro become a PHP5-guru.

This one should be out shortly. Sebastian Bergman wrote it and it is mostly an in-depth introduction to the OO-features of PHP 5. Sebastian let me review the pre-published version and I admire his precise and clean explanation of the sometimes inevitably complex topic of objectoriented programming. Everything important is mentioned, easy to comprehend, the sample code is of high usefulness. If you’re a PHP 4-pro, get this one to become a PHP 5-guru.

dpunkt.verlag book info

The book’s Website

PHP 5

In a nutshell: Gets you started with PHP 5.

I just finished to review the final draft of this one and got the impression that it is just what is needed to get PHP novices started. The authors are well-known members of the German PHP community: Hakan Kücükyilmaz, Alexander Merz, Thomas Haas. Throughout the book, they explain the important aspects of PHP 5 with patience, accuracy, and the knowledge of how a novice should be guided. Saying that, it comes with no surprise that the book is the result of several PHP training courses.

This book is out in March.

dpunkt.verlag book info

Some might argue, that these books are late as PHP 5 is already out for some time, but the strategy of dpunkt.verlag is to publish high-quality books – and they simply take time. This is what I experienced myself when writing for dpunkt.verlag: unless your text is perfect, they are not satisfied with the results and they will push you to make it perfect. A sometimes painfull, but in the long-run successfull strategy: educative for the authors, beneficial for the readers.

Battle of the Books: We Won!

Contrary to other believes, Harry and me have certainly won the Battle of the Books. It was clear after some serious analyzation over a couple of swiss beer, that our book PHP für Fortgeschrittene is so much better compared to PHP de Luxe. Christian and Hannes had some good marketing strategy, but in the end, quality always wins 😉

The location and event was really cool – thanks to Christian, Hannes and etoy for making this possible!

An Introduction to Radical Constructivism

By chance, I found An Introduction to Radical Constructivism online. This article is part of the excellent book “Die erfundene Wirklichkeit” (edited by Paul Watzlawick) that influenced me a lot during my university studies.

Call constructivism my theoretical mantra 😉 It’s the only theory that does not attempt to explain reality and defines truths, but explains why we explain reality the way we explain it – and why we fight for a certain truth. It also serves as a perfect theoretical basis to understand “knowledge” as a social phenomena.

Books: "AI Application Programming", "Working Knowledge"

During my stay in NYC I bought two books which are next on my list of must-reads:

“AI Application Programming” by M. Tim Jones: Seems like a very worth read to dive deeper into artificial intelligence programming. The paperback says “Covers cutting edge AI concepts such as neural networks, genetic algorithms, intelligent agents, rules-based systems, ant algorithms, fuzzy logic, unsupervised learning algorithms, and more”. The code examples are easy to follow. Met by chance Bruce Lokeinsky (whom I have not known before) while waiting in the queue to pay. He looked at my book, we started chatting about the real benefit of AI technologies. We are both skeptical, but I am confident that the KISS paradigm (keep it small, simple) of the open source community might break down those mainly scientific concepts to what can be done and is useful in the Semantic Web.

“Working Knowledge. How Organizations Manage What They Know” by Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak: Florian Stahl from University of St. Gallen pointed me to this book – thanks Florian! Obviously a classic that I haven’t come across before. It’s a shame, there’s so much I should have read already. The problem is that I often forget what I have read. Oh not, it’s not gone, it’s there for intuitive thinking. I go with Einstein, who said that it’s not necessary to know everything, but to know where it is written… So, let’s read how organizations manage this problem 🙂