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Book Review:
Building an ExpressionEngine 2 Site for Small Business

Oct 11, 2010

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I always figured I'd post book reviews here. I just haven't. In fact, thinking about it, I don't think I've ever actually written a book review.

No better time to start than now. And no better book to start with than Michael Boyink's Building an ExpressionEngine 2 Site for Small Business

But first, a disclaimer: I know Mike personally and professionally, I've taken one of his training classes, and I was one of the "early reviewers" of the book. I also happen to think he's a swell guy. I don't think any of that affects my review, but if you are inclined to care about such things, now you know.

On to the review …

A "Get Started Now" Guide

If you don't know the history, Building an ExpressionEngine 2 Site for Small Business is the result of an evolution. What started out as a series of online tutorials, eventually became a book focused on EE 1.6x, which is now in it's second iteration and geared toward EE 2.

I did not read the 1.6x "version" of this book, but I did reference Boyink's tutorials (often). And the reason I returned to the tutorials so often (especially when I was first learning EE), is the same reason I love Building an ExpressionEngine 2 Site for Small Business: it is practical.

You can have this book open alongside your EE 2 control panel and create a site from start to finish. While Mike sprinkles bits of humor into his writing, the focus is the details. And not verbose, confusing, tech-speak details … Mike writes like he is sitting next to you, teaching you each step.

And Mike's steps are efficient. I imagine it is because he's worked with EE for so long and has streamlined his processes. And you get the benefit of that experience.

After the first two chapters, you will have already setup templates, "chunked" reusable content and taken a look at EE's Global Variables, Snippets and Embedded Templates.

Chapter 4 is probably my favorite, because Mike shares his EE-specific knowledge, but also that experience he has in the planning process. And planning in advance what template groups and templates you'll need can make your implementation not only easier but faster (I've learned this the hard way).

By chapter 15, you will have a solidly-developed site done. And not just a simple site, one that takes advantage of EE's power with categories, conditionals, and image and file management. The last half of the book is where Mike shows you how to take EE further, implementing a blog, utilizing plug-ins, adding search and forms, performance and query caching, and configuring the system for clients.

The Audience

Who is Building an ExpressionEngine 2 Site for Small Business for? My initial impression is that it is hands-down the best resource for a newbie. Easy to read, practical and efficient approaches to getting a site set up, and good coverage of the more complex EE concepts and techniques.

If you are an EE expert, I can't say this book is going to change your EE life. However, if you know EE like the back of your hand, but struggle with getting a site built efficiently, or creating a system the client can easily maintain and update, or even with your decision-making process, Boyink's book could make you a better developer. Learning his strategic approaches make it worth the money and time.

Made Me a Digital Convert

As I mentioned, I was one of the early reviewers for the book. But, in that role, I read the book cover–to–(almost)–cover, looking for grammatical, spelling, "flow" and technical issues. I didn't read it as a user would.

So when the time came for me to build my new freelance site, I thought it would be fun to actually use the book so I could offer a review that tested the practicality I've heralded.

Now, it is important that I tell you I'm a fan of print books. I've been an avid reader my entire life, and the tangible experience of a book has always been my preference, even with tech books. Building an ExpressionEngine 2 Site for Small Business has convinced me that a well-formatted digital resource is invaluable when you are developing concurrently.

The PDF version of this book comes with a bookmarked Table of Contents that makes navigation easy. Add to that Acrobat's built-in search, and you can find anything. I can't even say that about my own book, which has an Index that leaves much to be desired.

The PDF also has active links to the exercise files and examples Mike uses, to help you as you follow along.

A Few Gems

I've been working with EE long enough that much of what Mike covered, I already knew (to varying degrees). So it is always nice when I come away with a few "I didn't know that!" or "what a good idea!" tidbits:

  • Even with templates that will likely never change (contact forms, 404 pages etc), don't be tempted to set really high refresh numbers because you can end up creating cache files and directories so large that they actually become a performance bottleneck.
  • If you've used {if:elseif} type advanced conditionals in your code, consider switching them to multiple serial standalone {if} statements. Why? Advanced conditionals are evaluated last, after other tags.
  • The show_empty="yes" parameter is currently letting the list show all of our categories. I typically use this while setting up a site, then once the templates are all coded and styled correctly, I will go back and change this parameter to "no" so that a live site won't show empty categories.

No Front-End Love

Of course, the sweet is never without the sour, and I must admit I was deeply saddened to see the markup and CSS that Mike used for his book. Frankly, it was painful for me to read.

To be fair, it isn't Mike's work, but a template he got from Free CSS Templates. And to continue in that fairness, this is a book about EE, not markup. But I wouldn't be the standardista I am without commenting that nicely formed markup would've been a huge bonus.

The Verdict: Five Stars

All things considered, I give Building an ExpressionEngine 2 Site for Small Business 5 out of 5 stars. And if you are new to EE, this is a must-have.

Here's where you can get your own copy:

Annotated review posted on Amazon.

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I'm a freelance web designer of the standardista variety, which means I get excited about things like valid POSH, microformats and accessibility. I ply my trade from my one-person design studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106 USA.

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