Drupal 6 Social Networking

Author(s): Michael Keith Peacock
Publisher: Packt Publishing
Pages: 312
ISBN: 978-1847196101
ASIN: 1847196101
Release Date: 11th March 2009


Drupal has been used as a starting point for numerous social networking sites, and by that fact it is hardly surprising that Packt Publishing identified this area for another of their niche Drupal 6 products. The social networking phenomenon has been gaining momentum in recent years, but it is difficult to imagine how further sites in an already crowded market can be sustained. Then there's the startling usage figures published by a Harvard study highlighting that 90% of content is generated by 10% of 'power' users on such sites. This is all grist to the mill to the social networking naysayers and the thought that this fashion bubble will soon burst cannot be dismissed out of hand.

So into this maelstrom comes Drupal 6 Social Networking, a book with a similar flavour to its stablemate Drupal Multimedia. The book follows the tried and tested formula of providing a subject matter overview followed by the building of a fully-functional site through tutorials split over each chapter in the book. In fact, the first 50 pages of this book are taken to the overview which includes the installation and configuration of the Drupal system - this seems a little excessive but regrettably also appears to be mandatory in all Drupal text books.

Administration of a Drupal site is covered in chapter 2, including fundamentals such as content types, block management, and installation, enabling and configuration of modules. Again, somewhat basic stuff and one has to question the wisdom of its placement in a book dedicated to the building of social networking sites.

Chapter 3 heralds the start of true social networking concepts with the introduction of contributions, forums and blogs. It's worth mentioning at this point that Drupal has all the building blocks of a social networking site readily available through its contributed modules. By that fact, the solutions proffered in this book utilise such tools and the reader following the tutorials will be required to do little more than download modules, install, enable and configure.

Chapter 4 discusses users and profiles, and extremely usefully, OpenID. OpenID avoids repetitious filling out of registration forms for multiple websites and its functionality is built into the Drupal core as of version 6. By chapter 5 the reader is suitably primed for user interaction which requires the installation of the Drupal User Relationship module along with the Activity module and the Notification module. At the completion of the exercises in this chapter the test site will be looking like a basic social networking site.

Subsequent chapters are gilding the lily. Chapter 6 introduces mailing lists, offline contacting of the user base and blocks of content, whilst chapter 7 covers the use of a custom module to display a Google Map. Modules in Drupal are developed using PHP, and the necessary code is reproduced ready for copy/paste (if you have an electronic version of the book). The feeling is however that this module has been provided as an adjunct - the reality is to produce any half-decent and original social networking site, a great deal of custom code will be needed through the development of custom modules and theming.

Chapter 8 concentrates on theming the site to give it an individual look and feel. This gives instruction on copying the default Drupal theme as a starting point and cloning it into something new by the editing of the sylesheets and the page.tpl.php file. The next chapter covers the deployment of the site and the installation of captcha software to minimise the risk of spammers, and the Mollom module will check for spam should the captcha fail. The final chapter discusses promoting the site - although such a vast subject can really only be touched upon.

Here is another Packt Publishing book looking for a market, and here is another Packt Publishing book that fails to find it. Who will buy this book? If I was commissioning the development of a social networking site I would not expect my developers to use this book as its basis. The whole social networking territory is too big to be covered by a book barely scraping past 300 pages, particularly as huge amounts of this book are used to explain secondary subjects such as marketing and Drupal installation. At best it could be used to quickly develop a functioning prototype to show clients what could be achieved, providing the same clients' expectations are managed appropriately and they are told that much more coding would be required before any site could be made live.