Wow, it’s been a long ride here in San Francisco. From our training for CiviCRM to Day 1 and Day 2, we have seen a bunch of Drupal. Wednesday was no different. Here was some of the interesting news from the final day.
Best Practices when running a Drupal shop
This panel was filled with leaders of Drupal companies from around the world like Phase 2 Technology, Development Seed, and Lullabot. From a 6 man shop to one with over 60 employees, the panelists answered some moderated questions along with those from the audience. The questioned covered the whole gamut of running a business: internal processes, sales, hiring, growth, and working with the community.
This group was especially great because, while the panelist all work with Drupal, there aren’t necessarily competing with one another. Each company has their own specialty and focus, and to see the coming together to benefit the community is wonderful. Many of their companies sponsor certain Drupal modules, which they see as a big benefit to their business. Of the advice they gave, my favorite was the notion of slow growth and giving back to the community.
Drush and Advanced Drush
Drush, which is a powerful tool in Drupal to use the command line to do some of the heavy lifting in configuration, was featured in back-to-back panels. The first was lead by Dmitri Gaskin, a 14-year-old who has been coding with Drupal for over 4 years. Though young, he lead a fantastic session. He covered the basics of installing Drush, and then showed many of the functions of things you could do with it. He demonstrated with ease the ability to create new sites almost instantly and how to enable/disable modules or do more advanced things like updating core and contributed modules. Dmitri handled questions like a pro with quick, concise answers. When some asked about something that Drush didn’t do, he simply answered “we are accepting patches”, which in the Drupal world means “build that yourself and share it”.
Following Dmitri was the Advanced Drush session. This was less of a live demo you could follow and more of a show-and-tell of future features for Drush. One of the new main features is a command-line interface special to Drush with custom commands that make navigating sites on the server much easier. The second feature, which is active in the Drush 3.0 beta, is the ability to have site aliases. This is a huge timesaver, since many Drush commands need to be repeated for those administering multiple Drupal sites. A site alias lets you specify the location, URL, and shortcut name to a site. Instead of having to type “/var/www/drupal-install/sites/sitename.com” you can just type “@sitename”. As someone who administers Drush, I can say from personal experience this is great to have.
Open Source in Government
David Cole, who is responsible for administering whitehouse.gov, spoke about decision to use Drupal and the implementation of the site. You can watch the entire Open Source in Government presentation online. To quickly recap, David explained how the government sees value in the open source community, and discussed how the Drupal framework is used for the site. He showed different features of the site and talked about the modules that were used. My favorite part was the announcement of new contributed modules, which are discussed at the White House Tech Blog.
David was followed by Andrew Hoppin from the NY State Senate, who discussed what was being done at the state senate. The NYSS team has also contributed modules back to the community, available at https://www.drupal.org/project/nyss. The big focus was on getting participation from people in the state who will now have an easier time participating in their local government.
Turn that UX frown upside down
Steve Fisher lead this session, which mostly discussed the importance and use of good user interface design in websites. While his talk was not necessarily Drupal-specific, it certainly was important to the community. Drupal has been known to not have the greatest UI, but Steve discussed how Drupal can have great UI by focusing on designing the front-end for users and not for the admins.
Steve showcased some of the basic things that make sites easier for users like highlighting the navigation when you are on that page, or keeping the search field in the top right. He also talked about thinking about the site as a new user, and not as a yourself. He recommended simple user testing by asking your mom (or just someone who hasn’t seen the site) to test things out. Finally, he discussed the importance of error screens (like 404s) and how users may not know what that means, so you should explain the error in common terms and give them helpful options for moving forward.
Chris Shattuck of buildamodule.com lead a session where he explained module development. He talked about the different type of modules that are built, as well as some of the different methods to building a module. This included ways of using another modules code to learn and change things to build a new module.
He then demonstrated building a simple module that modified a new page form. He showed the Devel module, which is hugely useful to module developers, and worked step-by-step so those of us in the audience could follow along. While I have spent some time in module development, this session brought some clarity to best practices and gave tips to speed up development.
After that was a closing session to give thanks to all those who planned and participated in DrupalCon SF 2010. The Drupal community is truly wonderful, and being able to put faces to screen names was fantastic. I’m very excited to keep up connections with the new people I met, as well as plan for DrupalCon 2011.
If you have questions about how Drupal can benefit your organization or improve your website for users and admins, contact us at Schipul to see if we can help you use Drupal to meet your needs.