Monthly Archives: August 2010

Book review : Head First WordPress

Recently, I seem to be receiving quite a few WordPress books for review.  For anyone investigating building your blog initiative,  Head First WordPress is the best I have read yet.  The Head First books always present the information numerous ways to catch your attention, highlight key areas and make you contemplate new topics before moving along.

Head First WordPress starts the reader with a basic understanding of the platform, quick install, dashboard and a quick walk through making your first posting.  While I run many blogs (including this one) on WordPress, I appreciated the way anyone could have read this first chapter and felt comfortable in posting via WordPress.

Chapter 2 moves into simple and advanced design changes with a ground floor introduction to the anatomy of WordPress, PHP usage, templates, themes, stylesheets, widgets and more.  With these 40 pages you should be able to make simple changes, add widgets, change a few PHP files and create a custom homepage.

Chapters 3 and 4 work together in organization and showing how WordPress can be a content management system using categories and the strength of using tags in conjunction.  Simplifying navigation and changing colors is a focus in the CSS section.  Roles of users and commenting ability rounds out the 70+ pages in these two chapters.

Podcasting and video embedding are a major focus in social media right now and Chapter 5 covers all aspects.  Even a sample breakdown of xml usage and possible plug-ins are listed so anyone could begin sharing media quickly.  I appreciated how they showed numerous examples of hosting your own, embedding and pulling content from remote sites in Chapter 5.  They carried this into Chapter 6 with the explanation of RSS and how this shares your content further than anyone just reading your blog on the web.

Now even I learned some tricks in Chapter 7 for locking down your WordPress servers.  From security in accounts, directory  security, backups and the power of plug-ins was covered in a middle level with plenty of diagrams, pictures and step-by-step tutorials.

Chapter 8 dove into external versus self hosting, WordPress speed improvements, tracking (such as Google Analytics) and caching of your files.  I knew of some of the plug-ins they explained and suggested, but the breakdown of how they functioned was incredibly helpful.

Just when you felt they were done they toss another 10 pages of 10 tips that didn’t quite fit anywhere else in the book.  The book is based on recent WordPress versions as they used the beta of 3.0 for examples and screenshots making it a must have for anyone upgrading and new to WordPress.

This will make it into TheSocialNetworker book selections in the Amazon Store you can find linked above or right here.  I place the top technical books I have reviewed in the store for you to easily find and purchase. (yes they are referral links to Amazon).

Gmail new Priority Inbox – I just ignored you

Courtesy: Mashable

Gmail has taken a new step forward with the new Priority Inbox in helping to automatically
prioritize your inbox and daily routine.  This is something sorely needed for the bulging inbox.  How it works is the key thing to know.

Priority Inbox sits below compose but above your regular Inbox you are used to now in Gmail.  Mashable explains the sorting it takes on:

At its core, it’s an algorithm; Priority Inbox uses information such as keywords, the people you e-mail the most and your e-mail habits to select the most pressing e-mails in your inbox. Those e-mails are brought to the top of your Gmail and marked as important so that you deal with them first.

Note the fact that Google is taking into account the way you currently work with Gmail for Priority Inbox to function to your advantage.  If you use it as a simple inbound silo, it will look at what you read most and from whom to begin the process.  If you hardly send email from the mailbox, then the ability to return prioritized content based on names is lost.

One way around this is to mark items (star or use Google Labs) to specify important emails to teach Google.  I imagine they are already scoring your content as it stands now, but you can assist and speed up the process.  I am not sure how many people use filters in Gmail, but it can assist in Priority Inbox in showing the system how you work with certain content.

The flip side begs the question, if I no longer pay attention to the rest of my email flow, will I ignore you? If I never flagged your content or you choose the wrong keywords, will I miss your email?  If you send from a new address will I not see it?  How come I am getting some much junk already?  Have I oversubscribed and now need Google to straighten my mess out?

Interestingly, some of the major enterprise email systems work email the same way with filters, flags and automatic folders.  Gmail was sorely missing this capability for the power users and it is a welcome addition.

You should see Priority Inbox in all your Google mailboxes as an option later this week and even in Google Apps if your administrator enables new features.

GroupMe – group SMS and conference calling free

When I first saw GroupMe I was curious what they offered that most every recent mobile phone does already.  GroupMe allows a user to create groups of contacts to send a SMS to plus another surprise I found below.  Looking at my existing phone, it says Add to group in each person record and then I can SMS the group.  Then I read more to see why this was a big deal…

GroupMe creates a hone number for you and then allows conference calling.  SMS commands are built in to see users in the list, add and remove users, even muting particular users in a group.

I was curious how long a group would be active and it seems forever.  Once you register your cell phone number and create groups, they are there waiting.  The About and FAQ pages do a good basic job so for while this is in alpha.

As a fun test, I said why not use Google Voice to sign up so if I ever change my phone or number, I am all set.  Well it promptly asked if that was even a real phone number.  I am not sure how they handle you changing numbers, since that was not included and I imagined this was a way around it and a way to hook to VOIP type services as well.

I hope to revisit the site again as they grow and see more about the service.  I am not sure how I will integrate it into a daily routine at this time, but more testing might reveal that.

Book review: Build Your Own Wicked WordPress Themes

I am now officially pleased I was able to read and review Build Your Own Wicked WordPress Themes by a grouping of authors: Allan Cole, Raena Jackson Armitage, Brandon R Jones and Jeffrey Way.

This book definitely took my thoughts on WordPress theme design to new levels Wicked WordPress Themeswhile simplifying the entire process.  The book is made to teach you how to design, build and sell your own themes.  But, it is just as informative for someone wanting to extend themes into your own creations for your WordPress blog.

A brief few pages are placed at the beginning to introduce WordPress and what a theme means inside the system.  Chapter 2 starts the process of planning your theme and stresses the importance research of existing themes before building your site.  Wireframe design is explained for the entire site and page layouts.

Theme design in Chapter 3 gives great example screenshots and explanations of color selection.  The remainder of the chapter is a core port of the book breaking down each individual component of a WordPress theme.  I learned incredible amounts in these 30 pages of content.

Theme frameworks are an excellent starting point where you use existing themes and build child themes that refer to them.  Chapter 4 gives examples to investigate and start the child theme build.  Once we entered Chapter 5 for advanced theme construction I took away a lot of tips as someone that runs multiple WordPress sites, but is not a developer.  The simple way they show code usage, inserts and placement made it easy to understand.  The authors then start bringing your child theme and customizations together.

Later chapters get into WordPress widget placement, design and even building your own.  They close the building process in Chapter 7 with theme options.  This runs through creating extra options and controls panels, variants in color and more for someone interested in selling their new creation.  it streamlines how a buyer would use and implement your new theme.

The last portion in Chapter 8 surprised me it was in the book as I would not have thought of including it, but it was definitely needed.  Chapter 8 covers the licensing, GPL, around your theme and what it means.  The authors make you think about support, proper documentation and even tutorials.  Some tips at the end help you sell the theme by including options and where to best list it to be sold.

Overall, I am very impressed.  Look for a bunch of changes coming to my WordPress based sites very soon.  With this book and some basic WordPress knowledge, you can easily create or customize any WordPress theme you can get your hands on.

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