Book Review: Digging Into WordPress

Digging Into WordPressThis year, the guys over at Digging Into WordPress agreed to donate a copy of their book to this year’s WordCamp Fayetteville as a giveaway. One lucky winner will receive a copy of this book along with a free copy of the PDF version, exclusive themes, lifetime updates and additional materials.

In exchange for this in-kind donation, I offered to review said title and give them a little PR for supporting our Camp.  Here’s what I thought about it.

Written in 2012 by Chris Coyier and Jeff Starr, Digging Into WordPress is an intermediate to advanced level book on customizing a WordPress site by literally digging into the files’ code. The content of the chapters is written in a lively voice; includes graphics throughout the book; and includes tiny, helpful hints, tips and suggestions in the margin of the pages. It is full of fun and immediately applicable advice, but it is advice for developers with a moderate to advanced level of experience, not for beginners.

Substantial attention is given to tweaking .php files and customizing the display and function of certain elements.  Topics include using Query; META elements; custom <title> elements; custom jQuery scripts; creating jQuery plugins; customizing The Loop with Query; calling functions; and error-logging techniques.

Although the book mentions some of the basic topics common to nearly all WordPress themes (videos and images; categories and tags; user accounts; comments; menus; SEO; security; and headers and footers), Digging Into WordPress focuses more on customization than on use of the Admin Menus in the Dashboard.

This is one area where this book will fall short for the less experienced WordPress user. Jeff and Chrisoffer valuable resources like a list of recommend plugins, a list of sites for downloading themes, criteria for selecting themes, and discussion on using feed readers. The book, however, pre-assumes knowledge in some areas. Even though there is a list of FTP resources available in the book, there isn’t any discussion about how to use an FTP program or direction to a resource where one can learn how to use a program.  Throughout the book, the authors use short URLs for ease of access to information online for the user and ease of updating for the authors.  Pretty clever. This would be a good place to insert some links to resources on using FTP with WordPress. A discussion of custom taxonomies can be exciting if you are comfortable adding code to your .php files; but it’s intimidating if you don’t know where .php files live or how to access them.

Also, there isn’t any discussion about the media library, how to use links, or how to use some of the features of the image editor. The anatomy of the Dashboard is skipped over entirely.  The book jumps right from installation to clicking around the Dashboard (without any guidance) to publishing your first post and then immediately to a discussion of permalinks.  Where is the instruction on configuring your settings and Akismet? Where is the…wait for it….index?  There isn’t one.

On the one hand, this is actually an advantage. Digging Into WordPress compensates for the absence of an index by offering a companion PDF version that comes with the purchase of the print book. Readers can go ahead and just use Adobe’s search function to find what they need.  The PDF version also gets updated on a regular basis keeping the content fresh and current.

On the other hand, having to search through an additional resource to find the location of content, or whether content is even included in the book, creates extra clicks increasing the amount of time it takes to perform access information and decreasing the usability of the resource. Imagine if you had a playlist of songs that you could browse by title, but the name of the artist was in a Word doc. Exactly.

Overall, I like the concept and the attention given to specific characteristics of the book. The binding is particularly wise. It’s spiral bound which allows the book to lay flat while you work. No more trying to weight it down with another book or late-night sandwich plate. Plus, Digging Into WordPress isn’t just one copy of one book. It’s an entire bundle. I like that. Even though the material is a bit over my head right now, I anticipate it will be very useful indeed as I add more and more skills to my repertoire.  Thank you, Chris and Jeff.  It’s a thoughtful and creative presentation of information and we’re all honored to have you as a supporter of our Camp.

Now if only I could get that darn FireFTP thing figured out.

Chris Coyier is a real-world web designer who has been reaching for WordPress to power client sites for many years. He subscribes to the theory that not only is WordPress capable of powering any website it is almost always the right choice.

Jeff Starr has been designing & developing WordPress-powered sites since 2005. He develops WordPress plugins, creates WordPress themes, and writes lots of articles about WordPress, web security, and designing with Web Standards.

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2 Responses to Book Review: Digging Into WordPress

  1. Jeff Starr says:

    Thanks for the in-depth and insightful review of our book! You make some great suggestions that we’ll try to implement in the next update, which is free of course for people who own the book. Either way, it’s awesome to be a part of WordCamp Fayetteville, thanks for having us!

    • Megan says:

      You are welcome. It was a fun read and I’ve already been toying with some of the recommended plugins you mention.

      Good stuff.