Drupal Convention Keynote

I love working with Drupal. But it has lots of drawbacks. Mainly, that it’s not easy. Even for developers. We often run up against things that just don’t work as expected. So, time is spent figuring out why and how to make it work. We can usually find a way. But it sometimes costs more to find the solution than is reasonable for a specific project. I have found the same thing with WordPress which, of course, runs this blog. They both have limitations. They both have good core platforms and active communities striving to develop, improve, and extend their platforms. To me, there is no going back.I hope I never have to build a site without either one of them supporting me and giving clients extra value in engaging with the world via the Internet.

I wish I were at Drupalcon this week. I’ve attended a couple and they are full of energy, excitement, friendship and learning is fabulous. But I can enjoy some of the event from afar. Here, if you’re interested is the keynote delivered by Drupal’s founder Dries Buytaert. It’s a little a bit about where the project has been. And a lot of about where it is going.

Building a Toys for Tots Application with Drupal

Toys for Tots is a national program of the Marine Corps Reserve that distributes toys to needy children each Christmas. The local chapter works through every school (public and private) throughout Humboldt and Trinity Counties. It’s quite a logistical feat to identify and contact each family, provide a count of the number of eligible children in each community and note their gender, age and location where their toys will be distributed.

Previously,  this was all done on paper and the numbers had to be gathered from each school and entered on to spreadsheets by Toys for Tots volunteers.  But this October Gregg Gardiner, owner and publisher of 101 Things to Do and the local coordinator of Toys for Tots asked me if there was any way to create an application that would help them manage this tracking and logistical nightmare. Oh, and it had to be ready by November 1.

i thought for a minute after getting some more details about their process and figured this was a job that Drupal could easily handle. In a few days, using just Content Construction Kit and Views modules we created a basic system that would allow Toys for Tots Marine Reserve Programrepresentatives from each school, social services and Toys for Tots volunteers to enter data quickly.  And we created reports for the Toys for Tots administrators that tabulated the number of children by age and gender that someone would be picking up toys for at one of the several distribution centers.

Of course, it wasn’t all that simple. Once we had something up to look at and test, we went through many tweaks and additional views to help Gregg track what was going on. Then we installed a third module, Mass Contact to allow Gregg to send out an email to all the participants.

As a first iteration of a web app it seems to be working well and Drupal is able to handle changes and new features very quickly. This is necessary since we’re in to Christmas season and there is a narrow window of activity to get things done.

And when this comes around next year we’ll have time to refine this even further. I’d like to put some design time in to the site and flesh it out for a more public face (that’s why there’s no link to the web app for now). It was fun to lend our skills in support of a great program. I hope the kids have a happy Christmas and the volunteers have an easier time making that happen.

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.

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.

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.