Review: Blog Design Solutions
Blog Design Solutions is a book by Andy Budd, Simon Collison, Chris J Davis, Michael Heilemann, John Oxton, David Powers, Richard Rutter, and Phil Sherry. Each one contributes a chunk of the book in covering Movable Type, WordPress, Expression Engine, TextPattern and a custom CMS.
The book starts off with a nice introduction to the concept of a blog and then dives into setting up Apache, MySQL, Perl and PHP that is the foundation for the applications used within the book. Setup coverage includes both OSX and Windows, which is nice.
Each chapter thereafter follows a similar structure:
- installing the application,
- creating a web standards-based design
- integrating the design into the application
First off was Movable Type (MT) with Andy Budd. Having decent knowledge of MT going into this chapter, it was stuff I was familiar with. I felt it presented the topic well and there were no surprises. The only key thing that I felt was left out was MT’s recent addition of dynamic publishing, especially since it’s an area that I would like to learn more about. Andy first covers a typical installation and from there, presents an example design, working his way into building the HTML and CSS for it and how to go about integrating it into Movable Type.
Simon Collison brings his EE knowledge to the table in the next chapter. I had little experience with Expression Engine (the least of all the ones in this book) before reading this and was happy with how the material was presented. Simon was smart in really covering how the template engine works as it is the trickiest thing to wrap your mind around. I still didn’t fully understand it until I tried building a site with it. (Once you discover how it does work, you’ll suddenly have that ah-ha moment and realize how flexible it really is.)
Two authors give their input on this one: Chris J. Davis and Michael Heilemann. This is probably the funniest chapter of the book with the sense of humour that these authors bring. The most disconcerting was the fact that with two authors, I wasn’t sure which one was “talking” at any given time. Otherwise, WordPress is covered in decent detail. They even touch on using plug-ins which is something that the other authors don’t really touch on. Also, in using an existing design (Kubrick) and simply customizing it, more of this chapter was spent on covering the WordPress code.
John Oxton certainly didn’t have it easy, by his own admission in the book, as TextPattern was under heavy development during his writing of this chapter. John’s coverage was straightforward and much like the previous chapters. He does spend a little too much time on proper semantics and web standards, as I felt the topic would have been more appropriate in a book solely discussing HTML and CSS development.
Write your own
At first, I wasn’t sure if this chapter belonged in this book. It seemed like it’d be too technical for what I imagine would be a novice audience but Richard Rutter does well in presenting it. Some of the material seemed dry, with pages of code just being displayed. It reminded me of my Nibble magazine days where I hand-typed assembler code out of the magazine to play some silly game. In the end, it’s a good topic to have been included as it gives even beginners an understanding of both the complexity and simplicity that goes on behind the scenes of a blog.
There are two keys things that would have been interesting to have in the book. The first is a closer comparison of the applications. This can certainly be difficult as it’s hard to do a point by point comparison when some of the tools, like Expression Engine, are available in a variety of versions or where features are always available through plug-ins. A page or two describing some of the pros and cons of each solution would have been nice.
The second thing that I would have liked to have seen is the use of the exact same design for each application. This way, I could see a more accurate comparison of how each application handles a similar situation. In doing so, the book could have focused more on the blogging tools themselves and not on the benefits of using CSS as it seemed each author needed to mention.
Is it worth it?
So, should you go out and buy this book? If you haven’t set up a blog before or have only set up one or two sites using a blogging tool such as these then I’d absolutely recommend it. It’s a great introduction to each approach.