Mapping with Drupal Review by Thomas Turnbull and Alan Palazzolo from O’Reilly Media

Posted by in Learning, Personal Development

Thomas Turnbull and Alan Palazzolo have put together a great book on Drupal’s mapping features, appropriately called Mapping with Drupal.

I found this book at the perfect time. For my outdoor site, PureOutside, I’ve recently installed Drupal and am building 2 new sections to the site that both include mapping. I knew that Drupal had some capacity to do maps but wasn’t sure what exactly that was. I knew there was going to be a lot of research and scouring the internet for the information I needed, first on what was possible and then how to implement what I wanted. I wasn’t looking forward to it so I put it off as long as I could, and then I found Mapping with Drupal.

Meet the authors

Both Thomas and Alan have years worth of experience with Drupal, building and maintaining website as well as module development. I was happy to see both authors were involved in module development because they’ll have the inside track on information. They’ll be informed of upcoming developments on the modules as well as the recent history of them. Many people these days can tell you what’s happening right now but to make good decisions with your Drupal websites module roadmap information can be very important.

What is Mapping with Drupal about?

Drupal is a great Content Management System that runs websites. It’s incredibly flexible and can do almost anything with the help of contributed modules from the large and growing Drupal community. Members of that community develop and maintain modules that give you the ability to build and display maps and geographic data. There are many different modules and they all do different things. Mapping with Drupal is a very clear step by step roadmap through the jungle of information about Drupal mapping. I’ve referred back to the book while building the soon-to-be-released mapping features on PureOutside.com.

What’s good?

Casual Tone

The tone of the book is great. It’s like you’re sitting down with the authors having a chat about how to build a map on Drupal. That’s exactly how I want it to feel. I don’t want to be talked down to like I’m a little kid or have no idea what I’m doing on a computer. I felt they explained everything at a very good level for my skills.

Well laid out

The flow of the book was easy to follow. The text moved back and forth from explanations to tutorials and back. This may not be the best layout for you if you don’t want to do the tutorials throughout the book but that’s really the only way to retain any information from the complicated process of setting up maps on Drupal so it worked well. The book refers back to previous sections where you set up other parts of the tutorials so may have to refer back to them if you don’t read it in order. I needed to find out everything I could about Drupal and the mapping options so I read it from cover to cover and then went back and referred to the tutorials when I implemented anything on PureOutside.

Very up to date

The problem with a lot of Drupal information these days is that it’s out of date. With the recent release of Drupal 7, it can be hard to find current information about the newest release. A lot of the tutorials or questions and answers out there refer to Drupal 6, even though it may not specify. I was getting frustrated trying to find Drupal 7 specific information. Mapping with Drupal is specifically for Drupal 7 which is impressive because it’s so new. For me it would have been almost useless if it had been for Drupal 6 because so much has changed for 7. When there are big changes between 6 and 7, Alan and Thomas point them out and provide tips for moving between the 2.

Clear tutorials

One of the best parts of the book aside from the clear explanations of the main layout of the Drupal mapping modules is the step by step tutorials throughout the book. Without those tutorials I wouldn’t have been able to implement my own maps so fast. I would have been stuck in OpenLayers configuration hell (OpenLayers is one of the not-so-simple map modules I’m using now). With the explanations and tutorials I was up and running in a day. The tutorials go through how to use the GeoField, OpenLayers, GMap and Location modules to get maps on your websites.

Pitfalls

Throughout the book the authors have included small boxes of additional information to help you avoid the pitfalls that can helping when implementing new maps on your Drupal site. These are handy to know and will help you steer clear of bad decisions before you even have to make any.

As a little aside there was a bit on how to manage maps as Features. I didn’t know even about Features before reading this book. Features are one of the ways to bundle settings to use on a different site, in a different environment or share with other developers. I use my own “Ahhh” rating after I’ve read a book. I rate them by how many times I go “ahhhh, yes, that’s exactly what I wanted to know.” The more the better.

Bad things?

One example throughout

I was hoping for more examples throughout the book. Every section builds on the original example of mapping Drupal user groups. This is great and it was the reason I was able to implement my maps so fast but I think it could have used a little more. Perhaps they could have included more examples right in the book or have a companion website to include more examples. The benefit of this would be that if you’re map configuration was different than the basic one they did the book, there would be an example for it. I learn really well through learning a concept and then seeing many different examples of it in action so I can spot the differences. Only one example makes this tough.

Very technical for a new Drupal user

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing about the book but possibly a disadvantage for new Drupal users. I doubt a first-time Drupal user would be diving straight into maps but they might try. I would highly recommend against that. This book (and setting up maps in Drupal) isn’t exactly for new Drupal users. They could definitely do it but knowing more about Drupal Modules and Views are requirements for reading this book. I’ve been a Drupal user for the last year and there were some things that were over my head. Luckily the incredible Drupal community has made it very easy to find out anything you need on the internet. If you are like me, you will probably need to read this book near internet access so you can look up anything that comes up.

Final Verdict

If you are looking information on the current state of Drupal mapping and exactly how to implement maps in Drupal 7, this is your book. They tell you the details and get you up and running fast. If you’re looking for a light and fluffy read about the ideas in Drupal, or how to get started with Drupal from scratch, this probably isn’t your book.

With the tutorials, clear explanations and inside view of the drupal mapping module world, Alan and Thomas have put together an excellent book to get you show you the way to mapping with Drupal.