Seattle Drupal User's Group

Note: This post originally appeared on my personal website but I brought it over here so all my Drupal writings could be in one place.

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On Wednesday my co-worker Gary Love and I gave a presentation to the Seattle Drupal User's Group. Drupal is an open source content management system, which I have been working with for the last year or so. It is a pretty amazing piece of software. Any one of you could, with maybe half an hour of help, have a very functional website running for your organization using Drupal. This would include blogging and news items, photo upload and galleries, forums, user profiles, custom content types, page creation, etc etc etc. I am currently in the process of setting up a Drupal site for a pinball/video game show that was fully functional in a couple hours with no custom code written. It didn't look pretty (that still takes some time and effort) but it worked. This is, in my mind, pretty fucking amazing. It is just one more step to democratizing the internet, lowering the barrier to entry for non-profits and community organizations so they can get as much done as any larger player.

Gary is the senior producer for NWsource.com and he's pretty sort of amazing. He really "gets" the internet and the online space, especially as it relates to media. When he got hired we immediately hit it off. At one of our first meetings, we sat down on the couches in front of this window and he asked me to tell him about how our site is built on a day to day basis. I won't go into the details here, but Gary recognized that we needed an over-arching system to build our site with. He always talks about "the weave" - the ways in which disparate pieces of data meet and intertwine. If you don't have a central system to manage that data with, then all you've got is a bunch of articles and information that don't relate to each other in any way. This is bad.

So we began evaluating many different content management systems, eventually settling on Drupal. Then it was up to me and our designer Sean Carberry to get the thing up and running. There were a wide variety of complications, frustrations, and heartbreak involved in this but our phased rollout began last September and things are finally cruising along pretty smoothly at this point. If anyone is really interested in the dirty details about this, I'll be writing a case study for the Drupal website soon and I'll link to it when it goes live. Suffice it to say, I learned A LOT in this experience. I really had to stretch myself and learn to think about things in different ways.

Gary Love does his thing

One of the things that attracted us to Drupal is the community behind it. These people are REALLY passionate about building it, and espcially passionate about building it properly. They see Drupal as potentially world-changing in all the best possible ways. They are also really really smart, and Drupal is an amazingly well-architected piece of software. As representatives of one of the larger organizations currently running Drupal (although not the largest by far, for instance Drupal also powers The Onion AV Club) we wanted to reach out to this community and contribute back to it. This is how open source software grows, you take and you give. It's very idealistic and frankly its amazing that it works at all but it does. Not always well or without drama, but it does work.

So I had gone to a couple meetings of the Seattle Drupal User's Group and at the last one I asked if they would be interested in hearing a presentation about our implementation. They were very enthusiastic about this idea, so we invited everyone into the big auditorium at work and talked about what we did. It went really well. The audience was engaged and interested, and I think I managed to not make a complete ass of myself. There is a video of the talk being edited for later posting, so I guess everyone will have their chance to judge that soon. Mostly though, it was just great to connect with people and share some of the knowledge I picked up while working on the project. I have always loved working on things the general public uses. When I was in college I booked shows and it was the BEST feeling watching 500 people having a blast because of the work you did. Pinball was the same thing, I still love watching people play the games I worked on, or even just seeing them sitting out on location.

I still like that aspect of working on websites, working on something people use. However there is a level of indirection there that kind of sucks. People use it, but much of the time you never really know anything about it, or what they think, or if they just ended up there by accident, or whatever. One of my main reasons for starting this blog in the first place was to build a place where I could discuss movies with other like-minded folk. It worked too, I met a small group of like-minded cinephiles and oddly enough now most of us live in Seattle (hi Scott, Chris and Kent.)

That is why this presentation was so enjoyable. The interaction was much more direct. Everyone got something out of it and it felt really good to do. As a matter of fact, it really boosted my self-confidence on the Drupal front and I'm now pondering submitting one or two presentation ideas to Drupalcon 2008, which is the North American Drupal convention being held in Boston in March. This is assuming I can actually go, which is somewhat in question. < no, I can't it turns out :( >

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I wrote two chapters of this book - Drupal 7 Module Development and I co-wrote it with Matt Butcher, Larry Garfield, Matt Farina, Ken Rickard, and John Wilkins. Go buy a copy!
I am the owner of the configuration management initiative for Drupal 8. You can follow this work at the dashboard on groups.drupal.org.
I work at Lullabot!. If you don't know who Lullabot is then you haven't been around in the Drupal world long have you? Come check us out!