Is it worth it for WordPress.com bloggers to pay $25 for a book that has 50 pages for them when, at the same 50 cents-a-page rate, you’d pay $250 for John Grisham’s The Appeal?
WordPress for Dummies: First Edition. By Lisa Sabin-Wilson. Foreword by Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress. Wiley, 384 pp., $24.99, paperback.
By Janice Harayda
It’s no secret: The CIA uses WordPress. So do the New York Times, CNN and millions of other people and groups, who have made WordPress the world’s most popular blogging platform.
Spies and reporters can turn to in-house webmasters when they have trouble writing or publishing their posts. But the rest of us have to rely on the online support forums or erratic e-mail help provided by WordPress. If those don’t do the trick, there’s WordPress for Dummies, written by a blog designer who has used the software since its inception in 2003.
Lisa Sabin-Wilson notes upfront that WordPress comes in three versions or, as she calls them, “flavors”:
“Vanilla” — the free WordPress.com blogs, hosted by WordPress, that don’t require you to download software.
“Chocolate” — the free WordPress.org blogs, hosted by others, that do require you to download software.
“Neapolitan” — the WordPress MU blogs, designed for and paid for by corporations or organizations that want to have a network of blogs with same domain on one server.
These distinctions matter in part because WordPress for Dummies has about 50 pages for WordPress.com bloggers and more than 300 for WordPress.org or WordPress MU users. If you use WordPress.com and buy this book for $25, you’ll pay about 50 cents a page for the material written specifically for you, much of it unnecessary because you’ll know, say, how to log in. (At that rate, you’ pay about $250 for John Grisham’s 496-page The Appeal.) You’ll also get a book published in November 2007 and based on WordPress 2.3. Many of its facts went out of date with the launch of 2.7 and new features such as polling and a revised dashboard or changes in other functions.
You can’t blame Sabin-Wilson for the WordPress upgrades, many of which will appear in the second edition of the book due out in February 2009. But she calls herself a “Certified WordPress Evangelist,” and you’d better believe her: Sabin-Wilson earns part of her living “providing design solutions for WordPress clients.” And she’s so bullish that her book is less objective than some — maybe most — in the “For Dummies” series: At times, it reads like a public relations vehicle for WordPress. Sabin-Wilson offers only one timid criticism in her WordPress.com section: The software has redundant categories widgets, a point so trivial you could blog for years and never notice it.
Clearly a book called WordPress for Dummies is going to attract a lot of people who are just getting started with WordPress.com blogs. And what’s the first thing most beginners want to know about? All together now: Support, a subject that gets a barebones discussion made worse by a flawed index (usually compiled by someone other than the writer).
Look under “Support” in the index, and you’ll find listings only for support for WordPress.org and WordPress MU, leaving the misimpression that none exists for WordPress.com. Look under “WordPress.com,” and you’ll find a listing for “Support” that refers you to a page that mentions support for problems with widgets only. Look under “Help” and you’ll finally find the correct section. But you get no explanation for why WordPress calls support for WordPress.org “support” for and support for WordPress.com “help.” And the pages that deal with WordPress.com “help” have only a skimpy table that refers you first and inadequately to the WordPress.com Forums (which make you choose from a list topics that can seem impenetrable if you have no idea which technical terms apply to your problem).
If all of this seems confusing, that’s the point. Imagine going through this search process when you can’t publish a post or think you’ve lost a big chunk of vital text. At the very least, this book needs more advice how to search the WordPress forums. Better still, there should be a smaller-sized (and lower-priced) guide just for WordPress.com bloggers so you don’t have to pay for all the advice you can’t use.
Given all of this, why would you pick up WordPress for Dummies at all? First, it was more useful than the older and more profusely illustrated WordPress 2: Visual Quick Start Guide (Peachpit, 2006). As outdated and cheerleader-ish as much of it is, WordPress for Dummies has a lot of material that’s still current and helpful. Until now I’ve never filled in the title-and-description bar that appears when you upload images to a post: Why bother if it takes time and people can’t see it? This book gave me a reason to start: It helps with search engine optimization.
WordPress for Dummies also corrected a few misimpressions I’ve had almost since starting One-Minute Book Reviews. Early on, I learned that if you want to convert a URL to a hyperlink, you add the prefix http:// and a slash for a suffix. So if I wanted to link to my site for my novels, I would type http://www.janiceharayda.com into a post, select that address, and paste http://www.janiceharayda.com/ into the link box, which would create a highlighted hyperlink that looked like this www.janiceharayda.com. This technique got you to the right place but led to many long links.
From WordPress for Dummies I learned that you can just select a word or phrase and paste a link to it into the link box on the toolbar. This will put the HTML tag around the text that will create a highlighted hyperlink to a URL. So instead of writing out the address for my other site, I can select my name and paste the address into link box so you can click on Janice Harayda instead of www.janiceharayda.com. This tip will make my life easier — and my site cleaner — every day and might alone have justified time I spent with the book. It also suggests why, in a sense, World Press for Dummies is just like WordPress: When it’s not driving you up a cyberwall, it’s great.
Best line: “If you don’t want to share a picture of yourself in fear of shattering computer monitors worldwide, you can choose not to upload any picture at all or upload a picture of something that reflects the essence of you.”
Worst line: All of the lines that are outdated or that buy heavily in WordPress jargon, such as WordPress.com is a “hosted solution”; WordPress.org is “self-hosted solution” and WordPress MU is a “multiuser solution.” Whatever happened to the words “option” or “service”?
Published: November 2007. Second edition due out in February 2009.
Furthermore: Gung-ho as it is, this book oddly ignores some of great WordPress.com tools that apparently far surpass those of Blogger, Typepad and other platforms. Among them: stats are updated every three minutes.
About the author: Sabin-Wilson’s personal blog is Just a Girl in the World. Mullenweg’s is Ma.tt.
Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who has written the One-Minute Book Review blog on WordPress.com since October 2006. She was named one of Virtual Woman’s Day’s 25 Women Bloggers to Watch in 2008. One-Minute Book Reviews has ranked among the top 10 growing Blogs of the Day on Word Press and appears on Best of the Web’s list of best book-review sites. It has received praise from around the world, most recently in the print and online editions of the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper on Nov.17, 2008.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.