Back from Drupalcon!

I returned from Drupalcon in San Francisco on Thursday and have spent the last few days catching up with work and life. I’m just starting to sort through all my thoughts on this great conference. First, I wish I could have attended even more sessions. But fortunately, they were all recorded and are already available on archive.org.

Additionally all three keynotes were excellent and inspiring both in terms of Drupal and for the open source and open government movements: Dries Buytaert Keynote | Tom O’ Reilly Keynote | Open Government Keynote.

This was the largest Drupalcon yet, and much was made of Drupal’s growth and its growing influence on the web. Dries’ keynote has some interesting statistics on that. Overall, there was a sense that Drupal was quickly transforming from one of several content management systems to a major player in enterprise, government and non-profit sectors. It felt good to be a small part of this community.

I came away with plenty of ideas on business processes, module concepts, the transition to the next version of Drupal due out later this year. I plan to write more about these areas in the coming days and weeks.

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Drupal Gets a Big Wet Kiss

Drupal,the open source content management system that we use almost exclusively for building web sites, is now being used to run the official White House web site, whitehouse.gov. For the general public this will mean little as they won’t see any visible difference in the site. But it’s great news for us,whitehouse the Drupal community and the open source movement as a whole. But it’s also an interesting political statement by the current administration in embracing an opens source platform over a commercial system.

It’s good for us because it lends authority to our choice of systems. While we have no doubts that Drupal is a robust and flexible platform that can be used to build just about any imaginable site, current and potential clients will more easily accept Drupal as a quality solution (perhaps even if they don’t agree with the policies of the current government).  As quoted in the AP article:

“We now have a technology platform to get more and more voices on the site,” White House new media director Macon Phillips told The Associated Press hours before the new site went live on Saturday. “This is state-of-the-art technology and the government is a participant in it.”

That’s quite an endorsement. In case you’re interested, Dries Buytaert, the founder of the Drupal project keeps a pretty current list of other high visibility Drupal sites.

The current government’s use of Drupal  lends considerable credibility to the efforts of the Drupal community as a whole. Drupal has made tremendous advances in the last few years, and the next major release will again move the system out in front of the pack. These achievements have been largely accomplished by hours and hours of volunteer efforts by many developers around the world.

Finally, using Drupal for one of the most visible government web sites indicates a confidence that the open source model will make the site more secure, that the collaborative process of hundreds of developers will help the site remain on top of the tech wave rather than being drowned, and will encourage other government entities to move in that direction.

Tim O’Reilly has some more specific thoughts on the use of open source by the government.

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Humboldt State Switching to Drupal

I’d heard from some people that work at Humboldt State University that they are moving their web sites to Drupal. But a link from a friend on Facebook (thanks Grace!) confirmed it. Not only are they moving to Drupal, but they are installing the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) on the servers. So it looks like HSU is embracing open source big time. This is such a good move considering all the budget cuts the state university systems are facing.

It’s not easy converting such a big institution to new platforms. I hope the conversion goes smoothly. Would love to help them with Drupal if they ever wanted to reach out for some consulting.

Now, if only I could convince Humboldt County to switch to open source…think of the money they’d save.

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Price Fixing in Web Development

I subscribe to a number of web development mailing lists, RSS feeds, Twitter streams, and, of course, talk to web development clients all the time. What I have learned, if that’s the term, is that pricing web development projects is way more art than science. There are apples and kumquats. There are formulas and there are “realms”.There are jobs and there are sales pitches.

The bottom line, and that’s what we’re all concerned with, whether client or vendor, is extremely elusive. There are no standards. There are precious few comparables (that’s a real estate term, and even though that market has been around for many decades, the art of comparing one property to another is still very subjective). And those that exist are either secretive in terms of cost, or ridiculous in the eye of the client (either ridiculously high, or once in a while, ridiculously low).

But many organizations hire web developers based on price. And others hire web developers  based on the sales pitch, regardless  of price. In both cases, the client is often at a loss because one company will offer to do whatever they want at a great price. Another company will offer to do whatever they want at a very high price. But what is a low price and what is a high price? How do clients judge? How do you know that the developer is worth the price?

It’s A Crap Shoot

If you are a client looking for a web developer and you don’t have a referral from at least 2 trusted people, then you need to find a  consultant, fast. Otherwise, it’s a crap shoot. You are at the whims of your budget, or your emotional reaction to a sales pitch. Neither are realistic paths to a successful site.  I think there is a market for Internet strategists that help plan a web development project for an organization, but does not do the actual work. Since they are not invested in the project and have the client’s best interest at heart they could be more objective in evaluating proposals.

As it is, we seldom even respond to RFPs. They often take a great deal of work, are unrealistic in how the scope and budget are balanced, and often poorly defined. When we have competed for jobs we usually don’t get them. In following up, I learn that most often it’s because our price is too high. But to me, the price I often quote is scarily close to the edge of profitability. On the other hand, I have been learing what a few other developers have charged for failed projects (ones where the client has come to us because what was promised was far less than what was delivered) and I’m shocked to learn what the client was charged.

It’s a funny business.

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Eureka Chamber Launches at Last

It’s been a long road, but the new Eureka Chamber of Commerce web site finally launched this past week. This is a Drupal site with a nice design by our friends at Carson Park Design. We converted their Photoshop file to a Drupal template. We installed and configured numerous modules, ported content and imported (several times) their membership directory.  We trained staff on managing Eureka Chamber Web Sitethe site and they are off and running.

Most importantly, we moved them from a proprietary system that wasn’t really working to an open source platform that will server their needs for years to come. We were able to use the latest version of Drupal and did very little customization which means they could easily work with any other Drupal developer in the future, and upgrades will be relatively easy.

That’s 2 local chambers we’ve done with Drupal and we’ve got a long stack of sites in development. Things are good!

Impressions from Drupalcon

drupalcon

Drupalers, Drups?

I’ve been back from D.C. a couple weeks and I am still trying to distill everything I experienced at Drupalcon. With three days of intense sessions, Birds of a Feather gatherings, discussions and keynote speeches I have yet to find a way synthesize everything. In fact, I was so excited by some of the things I learned, I am frustrated by not bing able to implement them. OK, it’s only been 2 weeks, so I should be patient.

Most of the sites we’re working on only use a small fraction of the power that Drupal has to offer. I’ve realized I need to do a better job helping clients expand their vision of what their sites could be. And do so without appearing to try and sell them features. Tricky balance. But I also really want to find more clients that already  have that larger vision and want to leverage the Drupal platform to build a communications center, not just a web site delivering content. In the meantime I’m planning a couple of my own sites that will offer some of these features. It was one of my new year resolutions after all.

Three other general impressions I came away with that I hope to write more about later:

  • The Drupal community is truly something special
  • Drupal development continues to lead the way in opening its framework
  • Drupal 7 will have an ever increasing focus on usability and lovely themes

If you’re interested, all the main sessions and the keynotes were videotaped and can be accessed here. I’m watching sessions I couldn’t attend in person, and rewatching others.

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