In my last post, I wrote about some of the factors that have helped transform WordPress from a fledgling blog application into a sophisticated content management system; factors that include code, community and financial sustainabilty. One of the companies that continues to play a significant role in this development is WooThemes, and their WordPress theme BookClub is a prime case in point. In this review, I’ll explain why.
One of the fields that WordPress has touched on in the past, but has never fully embraced is data classification. By that, I mean archives, repositories, special collections and other systems of data typology. It’s a burgeoning space with academic, cultural and political institutions the world over busy building digital archives. Some recent examples include the Proceedings of the Old Bailey; the Times Newspaper Archive; Oxford University’s John Johnson Ephemera Collection; and the Google Art Project.
The name ‘BookClub‘ may sound prosaic by comparison, but don’t be fooled, the framework that lies beneath has the ability to turn WordPress into a powerful digital archive. Let’s take a closer look at how it achieves this and more.
TAXONOMY, TAXONOMY, TAXONOMY
BookClub is a “child theme” for the WooThemes Listings framework. The difference between the two is straight forward. Listings contains the code base and handles the core WordPress functions and BookClub plugs into that functionality and arranges the layout and style of the content. Together, this duo makes use of Woo’s new content building features: custom fields, post types and taxonomies.
Custom fields arrange data that you want to include in a post; elements such as an author profile, a url, a google map, a date, a range of dates etc. Each field is associated with a data function type (text, video, map, selection box, content upload etc.) and once configured, the custom fields are easily inserted into posts via the WordPress post composition screen.
Custom post types are an inventive way of coordinating content related to a theme. Whereas in a standard WordPress installation the user has the option to compose content via the “add post” or “add page” options, BookClub post types create new composition menus devoted to your chosen theme. By default, BookClub displays a side menu related to “books”, but it could be any type of data grouping such as paintings, recipes, companies, animals, plants and so on.
Custom taxonomies tie into the custom post types. They are a combination of tags and categories related to the chosen theme. By default there are three custom taxonomies assigned to the books post type: authors, genres, publishers. These can be altered and more taxonomies can be assigned if necessary. We will see later on how these custom taxonomies are used to organise and filter content on the front end of the theme.
Used in combination, these innovative features allow for a more flexible and holistic relational structure of content than standard WordPress categories and tags. But there are two key areas in which this advanced taxonomy really comes into play: advanced search and content layout
Creating a digital archive or collection of material with open access and ease of use is no mean feat: the first step is to establish a logical taxonomy, and I have just given a brief overview of the BookClub theme’s capabilities in that domain. The second step is faciliatating good data retrieval. The problem that plagues so many digital archives is an imbalance between data and access. The one is potentially infinite, while the other is restrictively finite. So what does BookClub do to address this problem? Two things. Firstly, it offers an advanced search box that ties the theme’s taxonomical architecture together. Secondly it turns the search box into a prominent design feature; a module that embellishes, rather than embarasses the design. The result is that searching the BookClub theme becomes a desirable action instead of a laborious chore, and in the field of data retrieval, this is fundamental.
In the above screenshot, you will notice right away that the custom taxonomies described in the previous section have been brought into use as drop down filter boxes here. The arrangement of filters is customizable. Furthermore, at the bottom of the search module is an example of a custom field at work: in this case it is being used to search content by numeric reference. On the right hand side of the module is a tag cloud displaying the most popular tags on the site. The search module can be removed, or set as closed by default in the WooThemes admin panel. Let’s look at those options in more detail.
Among the options are: the ability to restrict search to custom post types; to restrict the number of results per search page; and when searching by custom field, to limit the search to an exact or minimum numeric value – this is particularly useful if you are working with content items that require numeric values such as price, size, weight, distance and so on. Notice that there is another search related options tab called “search fields”. On this tab you can select the fields to include in the advanced search box drop down filters.
The overall result of these advanced search features is at once to provide more accurate search results and a more inviting and user friendly entry into site content. There’s one more important factor in content classification that we need to consider and that’s the layout of the BookClub theme.
Let’s take a look at the core layout elements of the BookClub front page and see how the extended theme taxonomy is used to organize content.
Immediately below the advanced search box is a carousel that displays featured content related to a chosen tag. The tags can be assigned in the admin panel. Further down is a category-specific content area, here you can make use of the custom post types described earlier to highlight content related to particular themes. BookClub is set by default do display authors, but say you were using the theme to power a special collection of films, this section could display films by particular directors, by genre, even by year of release.
Even further down the theme’s front page, you’ll notice a section called “latest books”. Once again this section makes use of posts assigned to a specific post type. Any number of these sections can be generated in succession, offering ample room for expansion. Finally in the site footer is a series of widgetized areas to display more traditional WordPress blog content such as latest blog posts, a twitter feed or other links.
Before we reach the end of this review, let’s take a look at one more area where layout and taxonomy play a crucial role: single posts. There are three key elements to single posts in the BookClub theme: custom fields, sidebar snippets, and related content. You’ll notice that the area immediately above the post content displays three custom entries related to the post content: the book’s author, the publisher and the price. Each of these values was added to the post using the custom taxonomies described earlier. Any number of fields can be inserted in this section.
The second key element is the use of post ‘snippets’. These appear next to the post’s main body and resemble a traditional WordPress sidebar. However, the content for the snippets, which can include anything from a google map displaying a specific location related to your post, to a slideshow of photos, is entered via the post composition page and calls on the custom fields described earlier.
The final element is a built-in related content section. This section will call up other posts that share the same tag or category offering the visitor further content choices.
When I first saw the BookClub theme I had the sudden feeling that here was something I had been looking for, for a long time: a theme that could push WordPress taxonomy to the next level and still be operable and intuitive like the rest of WordPress functionality. Part of the reason behind wanting to review the theme was to see whether that hunch was true. After installing and testing the theme (my thanks to Adii and the Woo team for supplying a review copy), it is clear to me that BookClub opens the way for WordPress to be a prime contender in the archive and repository field. And while the BookClub theme was obviously designed with a book shop or book club userbase in mind, the theme could quite easily be customised, without coding knowledge, for use in connection with a library, museum or other institutional archive. And in case the Woo Team is searching for ideas for their next Listings child theme, then they might consider looking into archives – I for one would certainly be willing to lend a helping hand in that direction. All in all, I think a bug thumbs up is in order for a truly innovative WordPress theme!
As with all the theme reviews on this blog, my interest lies in that tiny group of themes that extend WordPress functionality through design innovation. In short, I’m looking for game changers. If you would like to recommend a theme for review, please get in touch via the contact form and I’ll be happy to consider your work.