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Book Review: Drupal 6 Content Administration

December 14, 2009

Drupal 6 Content AdministrationAdministering a Drupal 6 website can be a bit challenging for website owners that are new to Drupal. J. Ayen Green's book Drupal 6 Content Administration (ISBN 978-1-847198-56-3) offers newbies a quick-start guide for getting up to speed on Drupal. Green's book covers all aspects of Drupal that site administrators need to know, including creating and editing content, working with taxonomy, blocks, roles and permissions, search, content types, Views and blogging. The book is intended to help website administrators, whether they be writers, graphic designers, or proofreaders, learn how to productively manage their Drupal website's content by employing best-practice tips and techniques. 

Because of Drupal's complexity, a simple, well organized presentation style is absolutely essential for reinforcing Drupal concepts quickly and effectively. Many of Drupal's learning resources falter in this respect because of their lack of a defined structure. More often, not enough care is taken in communicating the "big picture" of Drupal while pinpointing the finer details involved in content management techniques. Drupal 6 Content Administration is appropriately organized with the novice in mind - a big plus for the uninitiated. Readers are immediately told the topics that will be discussed at the beginning of each chapter, helping to set goals for learning in from one chapter to the next. Each chapter closes with a succinct summary of topics covered, providing a brief recap and reinforcement concepts.

The book's first chapter, aptly named Grand Tour, logically explains what Drupal is from a 30,000 foot view. Green approaches an explanation of Drupal with the lowest common denominator in mind - very helpful for a Drupal novice. Content creation and editing is further explained in the following chapters. A tutorial-like approach is taken by having the reader create a Story and a Page and add/modify the contents of each. The author provides a helpful explanation of what website content is and how it relates to Drupal content types. The first tutorial, creating a Story, loosely instructs the reader to write their own content for the Story or use several paragraphs of dummy text the book provides. The instructions are somewhat misleading because, should the reader choose to use the book's dummy text, the follow-up steps for editing the Story's content apply only to the book's dummy text, thus creating a disconnect between reader and lesson. Nevertheless, helpful callouts are placed in appropriate sections throughout each lesson. These helpful significant tidbits of information are valuable for Drupal amateurs. Overall, the first few chapters give fairly good direction on how to create and modify content, but the reader may get lost at times if he or she does not pay careful attention to the order of lesson instructions.

The middle of the book deals with advanced content editing techniques and configuring content for search. Green's topics for advanced editing cover more development-related material like editing CSS files, working with PHP and server-side include files. In my experience, website content managers are likely to shy away from performing development-related tasks because the majority of content managers have very little web development training. It is imperative that a content manager who wants to add and edit PHP within Drupal fully understand what the code they are writing does so as to not adversely affect the site. Chapter 5 discusses how to make content "findable" through using Taxonomy and Path aliases. Green highlights the steps involved in creating a vocabulary, path aliases and a tag cloud in a concise manner and closes with a how-to on configuring the Search module.

Drupal 6 Content Administration closes with lessons on creating content types, blocks, Views, permissions and how Drupal would be used in a real-world editorial team. These areas are covered with enough detail to help a novice begin to understand some of Drupal's most powerful concepts. However, not enough emphasis is placed on the need for careful thought while modifying permissions. A novice content manager modifying permissions on a website may lead to mistaken permission assignment, resulting in broken features on the site. The final chapter puts a different spin on content creation by showcasing offline tools such as OpenOffice and Windows Live Writer. Furthermore, the Drupal Mailhandler module is described as a means of adding and editing content via e-mail. Mailhandler seems out of scope for a Drupal newbie but for those willing to learn, it is a quick means for posting website content.

To sum up, Drupal 6 Content Administration is good quick-start guide for website administrators that are new to Drupal. Readers need to be careful when reading through the early tutorials to make sure each step is being followed. In addition, readers should understand that this book covers more than what an average Drupal content contributor would need to know to effectively contribute and edit website content. The most pertinent topics include modifying node content, creating blocks and working with the FCKEditor.