Drupal 6 Ultimate Community Site Guide Review

Recently I received a review copy of Drupal 6 Ultimate Community Site Guide (2nd edition) and I jotted down some notes as I went through the book. I am currently constructing a more community focus site, and I was hopeful to learn a few pointers along the way. There both ebook and paperbook versions of the book.

My general impressions is that the book tries to tackle some important site building tasks using Views, Panels, CCK, and other important contributed modules, while also focusing on the using standard core modules (and more that will be in Drupal 7 core) which is important for future proofing the site. The author, Dorien does a good job to use tackle many modules that fill out a community site, but of course you can't tackle them all in 150 pages (no User Badges, cursory mention of blogs, and Organic Groups is not fleshed out much).

Keep reading for a chapter by chapter breakdown of the book.

I wanted to use this as a gut check against my 'make a custom module/view plugin/theme formatter' mentality. Dorien uses contributed module only approach which is great. A few code snippets are used to augment the modules, but only if needed.

Through out the text, differences between Panels 2 and Panels 3 are explained, with screenshots as needed.

CH2 Setting up a site. This type of chapter is generally present in any beginning Drupal site. It is necessary, but nothing to really write home about. Requirements for Drupal and how to install Drupal through the web install interface is covered.

Ch3 Continues on past initial installation to doing some standard configurations. Installing themes and extra modules is covered. The first set of essential contributed modules is listed, explained and given some configuration help. Includes: Captcha and Mollon, Pathauto, and Tagadelic tag clouds.

Ch4 User Profiles. We all know that a good community site has to have engaging user Profiles, and CH4 is dedicated to this task. The Content Profile modules it used to craft user profiles, which is great as profile data will be saved as entity fields in Drupal 7, and node for profiles helps create an easy upgrade path for Drupal 7. Doriens starts to really layer on the details for the Content module configuration, which is great. The screen shots do manage to give a feel of how to do each task.

Dorien uses this as an oppotune time to introduce the CCK fields module. Essential to any site building book. For avatar creation, the also essential imagefield and imagecache modules for image processing. All of these have moved into the Core of Drupal, so using them is a must for Drupal 6.

A bit too brief explanation of tags and vocabularies is mentioned as a way to add tags to a user's profile. Hopefully taxonomies are better explained later in the book.

Displaying the profiles is tackled next with an extensive look at Panels 3, Views and Page Manager that is needed to run the whole panels show (using a panel to take over the /user/# page). Quite a few screenshots and text helps guide the profile page creation process.

There are bunch of other mdoules that could also be mentioned here, including: Advanced Profile Kit, Author Pane, and Lightbox (instead of the mentioned Thickbox), but obviously space can't allow for everything in a book.

Ch5 expands your profile chapters by demonstrating creating a gallery for user photos. More view module examples are explained during the user gallery. Keeping tracking of nodes being displayed in the profile panels as well as by themselves is taken care. This is a good detail to remember when constructing a site. Nodes may not always be displayed in just views and panels, but by alone (review type nodes and image/file type nodes are most likely to be primarily displayed through a view or panel).

It is also great to see the Gmap and Location modules used. These modules are used widely and to have them include in this book is good. Dorien even dives a bit into Gmap macros and views integration to display profiles on a map, including search results of profiles on a map. Very nice.

Rounding out this chapter is a user search through views, new and featured members lists through views and profile tag cloud.

Ch6 is the if your site actually wants content chapter. This chapter tackles how to make a site showcase, jobs listings, article listings and question and answers type content. A great deal of CCK building and theming is the majority of the chapter.

Unfortunately, blogs are skipped over. There is a lot of good functionality in the blog module, and in many contributed modules for blogs, but this is not covered in this book.

Highlights: Quick Tabs module is mentioned for creating space saving tabbed blocks of content. The Fivestar voting module was briefly mentioned earlier, but a more thorough explanation is now given. A must have module for any decent community driven site that needs to solicit user feedback. Lastly a very brief attempt at laying out a good home page is given.

CH7 is the community features chapters takes on some of the last remained necessary modules used in most community sites; forums, messaging, user incentives, and groups among others. The drupal forum module (and other support modules like Advanced Forum) are generally skipped over for question and answer like forum created with CCk and Views. A great example of those features, but a bit short as true forum.

The messaging section right notes you can message using the core contact functionality, but also mentions the Private Message module. Facebook style messages and the Activity module are also mentioned. These help users post thoghts about anything, and the activity module helps surface all the stuff going on in a site.

I feel that groups were a bit short changed considering how much can be done with groups in Drupal. As were the user points and user status modules. Lastly, I think User Badges is a great addition in a community site and it was missed from this book.

Ch8 focuses on trying to make money on your new community. I generally avoid the monetization of site until the traffic has already picked up. Adsense, Adsense sharing, affiliations and few other topics are discussed in this chapter.

CH9 rounds out the book with some cursory discussions about performance, keeping the site up to date, using analytics to track your site, some other maintenance topics, and promoting the site.

Lastly, I wanted to mention the modules I would not have found if I hadn't read this book: QuickTabs, User Relationships, CCK Private Fields, Taxonomy Image, Taxonomy List.

I haven't read David Mercer's Drupal: Creating Blogs, Forums, Portals, and Community Websites, so I don't know how to compare them, but I would recommend Dorien's book, Drupal 6: Ultimate Community Site Guide for any new site builders creating a community site.