My life. The book.

Virginia DeBolt writes at Blogher about the recent “open tutorial” session the Blogher conference had on Sunday. I’m not much on conferences, but I thought this was an excellent idea. What typically happens at tech conferences is that the experienced people connect up with the other experienced people and the newbies are forced either into a generic crowd around the well known folks, or into connecting with each other. This is no bad thing, but there’s no opportunity for dispersion, so to speak, other than in the formal conference sessions.

With the Blogher one-on-one tutorials, not only are experienced people helping inexperienced people, there’s a breakdown of barriers between the old guard and the new, and in such a way that it isn’t a “fangirl/fanboy” situation, either, which can only be healthy for all participants.

Returning to Blogher’s one-on-one, one person who Virginia helped was Frances Ellen who had an interesting challenge.

Frances is writing a book, Story of Nadia, two paragraphs at a time, published twice a week. She’s using WordPress, which means that the entries are displaying in reverse chronological order, and without any tie-in with each other. The solution Virginia and the others came up with was to create a TOC for the sidebar that pulls the entries together in proper order. An idea that came to my mind when reading the post was to create chapter “categories”, and have a category listing in the sidebar ordered alphabetically: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and so on. When publishing a new post, Frances would then pick which chapter “category” to place the posting. To ensure the publications display correctly, she can use chronological order for the postings in the chapter categories, when the chapter category pages are opened. This would effectively create a book without having to manually edit entries in a TOC.

As for the tag items Frances already has, these could be managed as “tags” rather than categories—though with a single purpose site, the meta information should be in the header as meta tags, rather than in individual post, since this information is repeated across all posts. However, these tags also tie Frances’ work into the tag cloud, so the repetition does serve a purpose.

Using chapter categories, with a sidebar entry, and chronological entries within the categories, not to mention, meta information in the header, should work at Frances’ site without having to move any page, or leave In fact, I’m not sure if Frances isn’t doing this already, and if so, my apologies for a redundant suggestion. The only other recommendation I would make is that within the “Chapter” pages, to remove the sub-titles on the individual listings, as these disrupt the reading flow. This modification should be a theme change, and not impact on the existing site structure.

What Frances has works for her, but I can’t resist using this challenge to plug Drupal, because it is just this circumstance that made me move to Drupal.

At my personal site, Just Shelley, I don’t have a taxonomy or categories. Instead, I’m writing a series of “books”, on specific subjects, with each new writing being a new “chapter” in the book. I’ve started two, and I’ll probably end up with five or six “books” when finished. I don’t plan on writing the books in order, either. I’ll add a page to one, and the next time, a page to another.

I’ve made the first page of the books “sticky”, which means they will always be on the front page, and always at the top of the page. Currently I have the site set to show three postings on the front page, but I’ll eventually make it five or six: enough for the first pages of the “books”, and perhaps a couple of additional entries for photos or whatnot.

However, I’ve set the feed to ten items, and when I publish a new book page, I publish it to the front page. Though it may not actually, physically show in the front page of the item, it will show up in the feed, so my patient, long-suffering friends following my long, meandering stories can be notified when I’ve published a new page to one of my “books”.

Only the first page of each book will show on the front page of the site, but clicking through will open up not only the first page of the book, but a table of contents, as well as book navigation at the bottom of the page (as shown in my Drupal Live book, here at RealTech). You can then either use the book navigation or the TOC to click through to pages. You can print the whole book at once by selecting the Printer Friendly option at the bottom of the first page. This is particularly handy if you want to export the entire book in order to read on your Kindle or computer while offline. Pick Printer Friendly, and then Save As (single web page) from your browser. For Kindle users, use the free Kindle conversion email address for your account, or just pay the dime.

The tech to make this work:

  • Use Drupal, of course
  • I use clean URLs and the pathauto module in order to ensure friendly URLs for the book pages
  • Download the development version of the token Drupal Module, because this one supports book titles, as part of the book page URLs. I believe this will end up being version 2.0 when released.
  • In the Automated alias settings tab, in URL Aliases, I use the following setting for Node path settings, Book page paths: [book-raw]/[title-raw]. The only time I override the automated setting is for the first page, which I set to the URL for the book. Another option could be to add my own alias consisting only of the book title URL, pointing to the first page.
  • Set the Post Settings to how ever many entries you want to show on the front page. Also set the Length of Trimmed Posts to unlimited—you’ll want to manage your own book page excerpts, not let the system do it for you.
  • In the RSS publishing settings, I set the number of entries to ten, but you’ll want to use a number higher than your post setting count. In addition, I use title and teasers as content, but that’s my own preference.
  • This is also a personal preference, but I use the Atom feed module, and add a printer friendly link to the Atom feed by appending the following to the post using the Ad Insertion setting: <a href=””>Printer friendly version</a>
  • Speaking of printer friendly, I use the printer friendly Drupal module to enable this functionality. By using this module, people will be able to download or print the entire book from the first page of the book. They can also read the book directly from their feed if my web site design proves too much of a challenge for whatever browser and device they’re using.
  • Finally, and only because I am not using categories, I created a Page entry that lists each “book” with an associated image, and connected it to my Primary links via the Writings menu item. It’s not necessary since all books will have their first page listed on the home page for the site. However, people are dependent on menus, so it’s better to be redundant than risk confusing the readers who reach your site other than through your feed, or who may not know that the front page also serves as navigation for the site. I also have exactly one image gallery, created using the image module, containing all images I upload. I won’t be uploading many, as they are mainly story illustrations or photos I think complement the site. In addition, I use the Lightbox2 module to provide slideshow and dynamic photo expansion capabilities.

I’m still relatively new to Drupal, so some of these steps may end up being unnecessary. However, the site works, the process works, and is relatively simple to maintain, so I’m happy with what I have.

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