DrupalCamp ATX Recap from the Schipulites

Appropriately enough for this month of thanks and lessons learned, Schipul generously sent nine employees to DrupalCamp in Austin last week. Speakers and attendees came from nearby and far away to get together and talk about all things Drupal for two days. We all returned to Houston exhausted but educated, and we’re excited to share some of the lessons we learned over the weekend.

From David:

‘Thanks to Ezra Gildesgame, I learned a lot about custom module development, including creating my first custom module right after his presentation. Using Drupal’s hooks system to tie my module into things like form redirection on submission.

Quite a blast, and exponentially better than the previous year. A lot of thanks to Four Kitchens for killing it this year.”

From JMO:

Jason Smith’s presentation on Integrating Third-party Data was a great look at tools to use when mixing Drupal with other web systems. Kieran Lal really motivated the group with his presentation on Drupal in Enterprise by showing the power and reach of Drupal. And in Reuse with Drupal Features, Chris Chistensen shared the power of using Features and version control to save time and energy in development and in deploying code for Drupal sites.

From Caitlin:

I was inspired by Tom McCracken (@levelten_tom)’s presentation on building online users. It’s important to be a leader in your niche by innovation and creating great content. My favorite quotes:

  • Being a leader is: 1. being the best you can in your niche, 2. maximizing your returns, 3. maximizing good will
  • “Great companies are great at innovating.” “The software’s not done until the last user’s dead”
  • “CMSes transform subject matter experts into publishers.”

The slideshare presentation is available here.

From Al:

‘There’s always a party when Coke is around.”

Your brand is what people think, how they feel and what they are saying about you and your products.

From Katrina:

I basically learned a   little bit about a lot of things. I was given a great starting point on how to begin to understand things like Jquery, PHP, etc.

I also learned about some processes that we can implement in order to streamline our Drupal process for both ourselves and our clients. I learned about some awesome modules that will knock my clients’ socks off. And I learned that figuring out Lone Star riddles while drunk is hard.

From Derek:

DrupalCamp was great and totally worth going for me. I became a lot more familiar with PHP from the 10 Themeing Techniques session (strings, arrays, objects, etc.). I still don’t think I can write them but definitely have a lot better understanding for editing and problem solving.

The other session I enjoyed, and was most helpful for me as a project manager, was How to Get Early Estimates Right. It really broke it down from estimating by feature, how to stay on track and why it is so important.

From Melissa:

Here are a few things I learned about:

  • Drupal has a Drag ‘n’ Drop Upload module that allows users to drag images and files from the desktop or a folder into the body area of the WYSIWYG while editing a content page.   This gives users another easy option for adding these to a page.   Here’s the Drupal Module info and download page: https://www.drupal.org/project/dragndrop_uploads.   Kinda neat.
  • Kate Broussard, web developer for the Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services at University of Texas and speaker for the session Developing for Usability, pointed out how she uses simplified themes and custom blocks based on roles to make administering sites easier for the foreign language professors.   The clean admin theme she uses is Rubik.   Kind of neat look at how to keep things simple for admins that are either not tech-savvy or do not have a lot of time to spend clicking around to find things.

As a first-time attendee, I was really impressed by the strength of the Drupal community. This is one of the major selling points for Drupal as compared to other content management systems, and it was exciting and inspiring to see it in action. My favorite session was Tom McCracken‘s Building Web Leaders with Drupal. He discussed how we can leverage Drupal to turn people who are already experts in their niche into publishers, and what else is the internet really for?

I’ve compiled as many relevant links as I could find, including lots of the presentations that were given, on Delicious under the drupalatx tag. You can also relive the weekend via the #drupalatx hashtag on Twitter. Geek out, guys.

DrupalCon Day 3: The Finale

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.

Drupalistas on Day 3 at DrupalCon

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.

Module-Building Demo

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.

Closing DrupalCon

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.

Photo by S.L.M.

DrupalCon Day 2 Recap

DrupalCon 2010
Morten announces Drupalcon Denmark 2010

Day 1 was pretty good, but Day 2 brought even more useful knowledge from the community and the presenters. Here is a bit about the different sessions that I was able to attend.

Drupal 7 here we come

Dries touched on some of the new features on Monday, but this session dove into greater detail (especially from a developer’s perspective). The large group from Palantir.net discussed many of the refinements in Drupal 7. Drupal 6 combined with many of the current modules gives you a huge amount of power, and Drupal 7 puts some polish on the usability of these features. As developers we are able to have much more control over the backend and are given some great tools to theme sites much easier.

The other great innovation is the GUI interface for uploading new modules. If you’ve ever had to FTP into sites/all/modules (or accidentally into /modules), then you know some of the difficulty in adding new features. The new interface will let you upload and configure your new modules straight from the browser. We at Schipul are very excited about this because it gives out clients an easier path to upgrade their own sites and add on great features from new modules.

Drupal in the Cloud

There was quite a bit of discussion about the cloud on Tuesday, but this session helped to set a realistic understanding of what the cloud means for businesses and end users. Josh Koenig discussed his product, Mercury, which has partnered with Rackspace to allow people to launch Drupal sites in the cloud that are already preconfigured to run a highly optimized stack capable of serving pages 200 times faster than a traditional server. The cloud hosting, which is similar to VPS, lets users launch, pause, backup, and shutdown new server instances very quickly. The server size also scales very easily so you can grow with a few clicks in a web interface.

One of my favorite parts about Mercury is that, just like Drupal, it is completely open source. If someone has the technological know-how (or the time) you can setup and host your own Mercury server. This is fantastic because it shows how open source can actually be used to run a business. Along with that, Rackspace is involved by helping to connect the code with their giant pool of servers and opens up some of their technology to help Mercury sites scale. To cap off the presentation, Josh did a live demo (a bit “cowboy-ish” according to him) that demostrated the ease of setting up a Mercury site. Great job Josh!

Views 3 for developers

This was another nerdy session like yesterday’s OOP in Drupal, and oddly enough it was given by the same guy, Larry Garfield. First he gave an overview of how Views works and what changes are coming in Views 3. The separation of tasks at the core were my favorite, because it really helps in training new people to use Views.  I especially enjoyed this presentation because he did a live demonstration of a couple of tiny plugins for Views that add custom functionality. This was great for much of the audience because it gave everyone the tools to fill their custom needs when it comes to making Views.

Keynote by Tim O’Reilly

Tim O’Reilly came in to talk about the Cloud and what it means for everyone (not just Drupalers). Tim described the internet and all of the data that makes it up as a huge knowledge base that can be shared through APIs. Part of the problem with understand the “Cloud” is that the word means things that are different to everyone. He cleared the air to really explain that the cloud is knowledge and that the Internet will soon need a better operating system to manage and share all of this data.

Drupal 7 is coming out with RDF support built in, which allows smart data tags to share data across the web. This is a great advancement in moving toward the eventual future of everything being in the cloud. After hearing the earlier talk about Mercury, I am now finding more and more cases where the cloud makes sense for both my own needs and for my work. Tim finished with discussing data.gov and other ways that big pieces of data are being shared. Data sharing is needed, data sharing is the future, and data sharing will be done in the cloud.

Apache Solr Search

While Drupal core comes with a Search module, it is tied to the database and can really slow things down on a large Drupal site. Solr is an application that runs on the server that stores search information in a different place and is highly optimized to serve great results quickly. The panel (James McKinney in particular) talked about how you can take a standard install of Solr and combine it with Drupal to make customized search results pages with great filtering and smarter sorting. If your Drupal site has a large amount of content and you think your users will want search, spending some time with Solr may be much better than complex taxonomies and customized Views.

Making Drupal Admin Simple

This was a much needed panel, because by default, the Drupal administration is not so easy. The group discussed some of the smart things that make content entry and site moderation much easier. Combining things like specialized node referencing along with a custom admin theme can go a long way to providing the end users with a better experience using a website.

During the session they had several live demos and examples of some of the backend tweaks that they recommend. All of these little distinctions combined together can make a Drupal site admin area look gorgeous. Some of those recommendations included the Rubik theme, the Admin module (2.0), and node relationships. If you aren’t using these on your site, give them a shot and see if the give you a better experience.

DrupalCon Day 2 continued the trend of being packed with information. We are very excited about some of the things coming in Day 3. Come back tomorrow for a recap of the final day of DrupalCon SF 2010.

Photo from ceardach.

DrupalCon Day 1: Do Good with EPA.net – Using Technology to Save Youth

Good afternoon from Day 2 of DrupalCon (with a recap of Day 1)!

On Day 0, we explored some of the insights into CiviCRM, Drupal’s membership management solution. On the first full day of sessions, there was a ton of knowledge to soak in, but what really stuck out was a session Albert attended on using open source technology to educate and prepare youth for working in the real world. It was called “Open Source Opens Doors for Youth”, and the panel featured a program called EPA.net Creative, a community enterprise made up of males and females between the ages of 14-24 who provide high quality digital video and web design services to clients around their region.

From Albert:

The majority of the kids involved with the program joined EPA.net Creative with no prior experience in web design, videography or business. With the help of Zerodivide and CivicActions, those same kids are now becoming experts in technologies  such as Drupal and Final Cut Pro while at the same time gaining exposure to the “practices, ethics, and expectations of contemporary high-tech businesses.”

Check him out below with interviews with the youth themselves.

DrupalCon Day 1 Recap

After an all-day training on Sunday, you’d think we might have had enough Drupal for a while. But we are just getting started.

Day 1 at DrupalCon was filled with progress updates, knowledge sharing, and a community joining together to celebrate something they love and work to make it better. A rising tide raises all boats, and DrupalCon has already started to raise the boats of every member of the community. While I wasn’t able to attend all 40+ sessions from Day 1, here is a recap of the ones I attended.

Architects Overview

The funny and entertaining Jeff Eaton gave a fantastic overview of the entire Drupal system and how everything works together. Drupal is a community project, and this is no more apparent than when looking at the complexity of the entire system as a whole. The power of Drupal also adds quite a bit of processing to something as simple as viewing an About page. Thankfully, Jeff gave a wonderful explanation at a high level of how everything fits together and highlighted the best ways to take advantage of the power. The hundreds of APIs built into Drupal as hooks give module developers and themers the ability to accomplish almost anything.

Drupal Web Applications and Platforms

While most people see Drupal as a website platform, some companies are taking advantage of Drupal and a few choice modules to create self-contained web applications. Development Seed has released two outstanding products, Open Atrium for group work management, and Managing News, which combines feeds in visual ways. Acquia has also just released their Drupal Gardens, which is a platform similar to wordpress.com, except it’s for Drupal 7 websites. Representatives from those two companies, along with the creators of Mercury and OpenPublish sat down and discussed how they were able to build their products in Drupal. They offered advice on selecting teams, goals for a Drupal platform project, and even discussed some of their pitfalls from their own experience.

Keynote by Dries Buytaert

The State of Drupal address was informative and passionate. While there were no earth-shattering announcements (this wasn’t a Jobs Keynote), Dries discussed

  1. The move to Git for Drupal 8
  2. The remaining critical bugs in Drupal 7
  3. The amount of Drupal sites on the internet (500,000)
  4. The percentage of Drupal in the top 1 million websites (1%)

They also announced DrupalCon Copenhagen, which takes place August 23-27 of this year.

Monetizing Drupal

The monetizing Drupal Panel had a panel full of people who had started their own businesses revolving around Drupal. They shared stories about making the move to starting their own businesses and some of the struggles they faced along the way.

The biggest advice everyone shared was to invest first in the community. By giving back you can establish credibility and help to make yourself know to other Drupalistas who may want to call on you when they need some help. Another great tip was to make sure you find something you can be passionate about, because passion is the driving force that will get you over the hump and on your way to running your own shop.

Object-Oriented Programming in Drupal

While I won’t get into the technical details, this panel really highlighted the community aspect of Drupal.Larry Garfield from Palantir.net said some challenging things about the future of core development in Drupal. Along with that, he reminded the audience that we are the ones that have the power to make these changes. Drupal 7 will be released soon, but Larry is already focused on the next release, Drupal 8. His passion for OOP and it’s simplicity came through as he shared about the changes that could be made to improve Drupal for everyone.

Launching a successful Drupal site

While the team at Schipul has launched several successful Drupal sites, we felt it was important to refresh with the community to learn and share best practices for the process of meeting with a new client to launching their site. Michael Morris and his team from Phase2 Technology shared their process for defining the team members, training their stakeholders, and many of the other bits and pieces that need to happen to launch a successful Drupal site.

Much of the conversation revolved around communication with the clients. Whether this is in the form of face-to-face meetings, shared documentation, or weekly status meetings, they showed how important it was to communicate with clients so that everyone can have the best site-building experience.

That’s about it for Day 1 here in San Francisco at DrupalCon. We are looking forward to Day 2!

DrupalCon Day 0: Bits about CiviCRM with Gregory Heller

Good morning—from California!

Myself (David Stagg) and co-horts John-Michael Oswalt (JMO) and Al Hughes (yes, this A.Hughes) are hanging out in San Francisco this week at DrupalCon, the premiere event for users, abusers, and purveyors of Drupal. At Schipul, we believe in using any technology available to fulfill the needs of our clients, and using Drupal is essential to realizing some of our clients’ visions.

We were lucky enough to have the founder and creator of Drupal Dries put our Drupal video up on his personal blog, so while we’re out here, we’re going to be bringing you more videos of what we’re learning about Drupal out here on the West Coast.

Day 0

Our first day (technically Day 0 since it was a pre-conference workshop), we learned all about CiviCRM, Drupal’s answer to membership management. (It keeps a membership database! It sends mass e-mails! It can give your car an oil change in less than 15 minutes!*) We got with Gregory Heller of CivicActions.com after our day to re-cap our day, as well as drop some tips about CiviCRM that we learned from the day.

* Not really. But maybe one day.

Drupal Rap – Thanks Dries & the Drupal community!

“Community is the difference between something that is boring… and something that is a phenomenon” – Dries Buytaert

The Schipul Drupal Rap Video, featuring AHughes and Qcait:

Around here, we are pretty passionate about Drupal – one of the platforms we use to build websites (including Web Entertainment Guide and Gulf Coast Balloons) – and what it can do for our clients. Last week I had the opportunity to see Dries Buytaert (creator of Drupal) at SXSW presenting on how Drupal is changing Content Management.

The biggest point I came away with was that when people talk about Drupal (and Open Source technology in general) they tend to focus on the fact that there are lots of people developing and improving the technology, but often leave out that these aren’t just any people. These are people who are extremely passionate – and that passion makes a difference. This passionate community is the X factor in open source that pushes innovation – and often gets overlooked.

“I never meant for it to be so big – it’s the people who made it” – Dries Buytaert

As part of the presentation, Dries showed off things the community has created for fun because they are passionate about Drupal: Drupal Easter eggs, Drupal stress balls, Drupal cupcakes, even a Drupal tattoo.

Our Drupal rap video is something we did for fun because we’re passionate about Drupal. So, I sent it to Dries.   And he posted it on his site buytaert.com! Then he tweeted about it. Then @Drupal tweeted about it. Now we’re closing in on 1,200 views. We’re thrilled that so many people thought our video was worth sharing!!

I wanted to post this to give a   huge THANKS to Dries and the Drupal community for sharing the video! We had a blast making it and we’re looking forward to many more!

Better than TV? WEG brings the magic to your monitor

Web Entertainment Guide

Congrats to Schipul client Web Entertainment Guide on their recent Drupal-powered site launch.

Our team are huge fans of WEG not just because we had a great time working on building their site and strategizing on Internet series world domination <bwahahaha>, but because we are nerds that love to be entertained via the Internet and the WEG exists to help us do just that.

Here are some of our favorite Web series that we think you too should know and love:

Leave us a comment and let us know what YOUR favorite Web series are!