Mapping with Drupal – How to build artful, engaging & useful online maps – #bookreview

Mapping with Drupal
By Alan Palazzolo and Thomas Turnbull
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $19.99; Kindle edition, list price $9.99)

Drupal is an open source content management platform with a long track record, a good reputation, and many users around the world. Drupal now powers more than 1 percent of the Internet and is used on more than a million websites, the authors note.

And: “Over a quarter of adult Americans use mobile or social location-based services such as Google Maps, Weather lookups, and restaurant searches….As location becomes a core part of what users expect from websites and mobile devices, Drupal gives you the tools to create a website that meets these demands.”

Palazzolo’s and Turnbull’s Mapping with Drupal assumes that “you know how to install Drupal, install contributed modules, and enable themes; maybe you have already built a site that is used publicly.”

If you are not yet at that level, this well-written book still contains plenty of useful information and references that can help you get up to speed on mapping as you learn Drupal.

“The great strength of Drupal is its relative simplicity, and its power to interact with content on your site and outside data sources,” the writers state.

“In Drupal 7 there is an abstract data concept called an entity that is a container for a specific sort of data, such as a user account, a blog post, or a restaurant. All entities can have fields, which are structured input mechanisms. Three possible fields for a restaurant entity could be could be names, addresses, and phone numbers. You can make almost any content in Drupal location-aware without any code, just by adding Drupal modules that provide geographic fields. With the right combination of modules, you can create maps that allow your users to find geographically relevant information.”

Drupal and mapping now have a relatively long track record, the authors add. “Drupal was one of the earliest content management systems to integrate with external mapping services. The first of these services to be integrated was the Google Maps API in 2005, through the Location and GMap modules. These modules have gained a lot of traction over the years and are still being developed in Drupal 7.”

Mapping with Drupal is structured with eight chapters and three appendices.

  • Chapter 1. Why Map with Drupal
  • Chapter 2. Web Mapping Basics
  • Chapter 3. Spatial Data
  • Chapter 4. Displaying Maps
  • Chapter 5. Extending Map Interactions
  • Chapter 6. Making Beautiful Maps
  • Chapter 7. Managing Maps as Features
  • Chapter 8. Conclusion

The concluding chapter discusses next steps in map making, as well as the future of mapping with Drupal.

The Drupal website is rich with documentation, and the authors, in Appendix A, recommend a number of books on mapping and Drupal, as well. Appendix B briefly describes some common and uncommon map projections, such as south-oriented maps. Appendix C, meanwhile, is a short glossary of mapping and Drupal terms.

The book is not a dry how-to discourse, although it contains a number of code examples, tips and screen shots. The authors have long connections both to Drupal and mapping. To them, “Maps are art” and “Maps tell a story.” And this love of the beauty, power and influence of maps and mapping shines through in their text.

They contend: “This idea that maps have the power to literally define the world around us, and not just represent it, still holds true today and is in your hands as a map maker.”


Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available soon in paperback. He also is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

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