I do have a love-hate-relationship with Joomla. I hate it because of its glacial pace of development, because I think it falls short as a framework and because of the quite simplistic ways it organizes content. I love it because slow development means you have a stable platform and because the easy-to-use admin interface allows even not too technical minded people to set up and maintain their own website without getting a computer science degree first. And I will always have a soft spot for Joomla! because this is the CMS that got my little business started.
To make the best use of the book you should have some prior knowledge – namely, you should be aware that on the internet there are server- and client side processes, that there are such a things as “databases” to store your content in and languages like HTML and CSS to structure and display your text. You will not actually need to know all this stuff to make your website work (the book sees to that) but it will sure help you appreciate what the CMS does for you.
A Content Management System, Tiggeler writes, is like a coffee machine – you press a button and “the machine invisibly fetches all the ingredients […] to serve a cup of fresh coffee, latte, frapuccino or decaf”. Unfortunately, the analogy doesn’t end here. Every coffee machine is made of different parts and control elements which, while they more or less do the same thing, are labeled differently with every brand of machine. In fact I found that learning brand specific idiosyncrasies is the biggest hurdle you have to clear when learning a new CMS.
This is where the Joomla! Beginner’s guide comes in handy: It introduces new terminology step by step and in the order in which you will need it – no back and forth between different chapters necessary. And while each section introduces new terms and concepts on a need-to-know basis for the task at hand, by the end of the book you will have a pretty complete picture of what you can do with Joomla.
Each of the twelve chapters (covering topics from installation via content editing, template customization etc to search engine optimization) is divided into small, tutorial-like sections. Every section defines a discrete task (e.g. “add an article”, “edit the css file” ), provides (under the headline “Time for action”) a set of instructions on how to accomplish the task and explains afterwards “what just happened”, i.e., why things work the way they do. To round everything off, there is a summary at the end of each chapter and a quiz to test your newly acquired knowledge.
The book also exemplifies the proper perspective towards web site building: This is not about the technology, fancy as it may be. This is also not about you, the developer. This is about the people who visit your site, so you have to make the site usable (Chapters 5 to 8, content and menu organization), engaging (Chapter 9, “Enabling User to contribute and interact”) , attractive (Chapter 11, “Working with templates”) and, of course, easy to find (Chapter 12, “Attracting search engine traffic”).
The Joomla! Beginners Guide succeeds, not only because it is well-structured and comprehensive, but also because of its clear and simple language – Eric Tiggeler largely avoids metaphors and analogies which might be helpful to the English and Americans, but tend to confuse matters for non-native speakers (in fact, my own style is much more convoluted than Eric Tiggeler’s, so if you’ve made it this far in the review you will have no problems understanding the book). There is also some humor – the example site you are working on throughout the book is for the fictitious SRUP, the “Society for the Re-appreciation of Ugly Pictures” and I couldn’t help but smile when a screenshot announced an upcoming Bob Ross exhibition.
Of course, I have to do some nitpicking: I don’t know if it makes sense to introduce Content Management Systems as the next big thing when powerful Open Source CMS have been around for the better part of the last decade; I certainly do not agree that Joomla has “powerful multi-level site organization capabilities” (two does not qualify as “multi” , or powerful) and as a somewhat seasoned developer I’m silently gnashing my teeth when somebody suggest that CSS is actually quite easy. But then the book is a little like the IPCC Climate Report in that you really don’t want to dismiss lots of valuable information just because there’s something wrong with one or two inconsequential paragraphs.
You will not need the book if have already done a few sites with Joomla! and felt comfortable with the CMS. It does not contain any super-secret stuff , you will find all of the information on the Joomla! documentation pages or by asking in the Joomla! community forum.
But the Joomla! Beginners Guide is an excellent book if you have never worked with Joomla, or tried to build a site and got frustrated with the intricacies of the backend, or else, if you looking for a resource to train your in-house staff. And while most of your questions will be answered in the forum, this is the book that will give you an idea what to ask for.
I can’t directly compare it to similar books (having outgrown the need for Joomla Beginners books for some time) but I can still say that, specific software aside, the Joomla! Beginners Guide could very well serve as a benchmark for other writers; this is how introductory material should be written.