I attended Drupal Camp Twin Cities May 20 and 21, 2011: what a great experience!
Like many, I taught myself Drupal through books, online tutorials and the school of hard knocks. While I’ve been at this for three years or so, I haven’t met with all that many fellow Drupalers. I attended the Drupal 7 launch party in Minneapolis, so there were a few familiar faces at Drupal Camp, and now I’ve made a few more. I’m hoping to get more involved in the Drupal community, and Drupal Camp was a great way to get started.
Beyond making personal connections, which is key, what did I learn from Drupal Camp Twin Cities? I documented the sessions as I attended them. What follows is a link to the blog posts I wrote about each session and some thoughts on the key takeaways from each.
Angie, known in the Drupal community as Webchick, oversaw the massive effort to create Drupal 7. She primarily spoke to us about how to get involved in the Drupal community. She busted some common myths that prevent people from getting involved. Even if you are not a heavy coder, there are ways for you to help, from documentation to helping those new to Drupal deal with the same issues you experienced when you started. She also gave a lot of great tips for how developers and site builders can better interact with each other. She also made a good case that getting involved is a big benefit to you, because not only do you come to understand Drupal better, but you are more likely to get assistance when you have a problem if people know you have helped others as well.
Jen trains a lot of people on Drupal. She pumped us up with what she loves about Drupal, frankly discussed the challenges Drupal faces and shared her thoughts on potential solutions that can make Drupal better. While Jen’s talk was great, the best part of this closing keynote was the idea session, where people shared their ideas on how to improve the Drupal community. Not everybody agreed on those ideas, but even some of those ideas come to fruition, Drupal would be an even stronger community than it already is.
From my experience, the single biggest time commitment of any website redesign comes from content migration. Ken went over a module that can greatly help with that process. The power the Migration module has is immense: unfortunately there isn’t a user interface to help create that migration. Instead, you need to essentially create your own module to process the migration. Considering that every content migration is very different from the next, maybe this is inevitable. I know that for a big site redesign in my future, it will take a good amount of time to create the migration code, but it could literally save me weeks and weeks of work. One of most valuable sessions I attended.
In my opinion, a huge part of the power of Drupal comes through the Views module, which allows content to be repurposed in numerous different ways. Views also gives me more headaches than I would like. Thankfully, Views has been redesigned for Drupal 7, and from what David showed us, Views in 7 is far easier to use, both for new and experienced users. This alone is nearly reason enough to upgrade to Drupal 7.
I am afraid that this session was more than I bargained for: I had thought we would cover arguments and filters and some trickier parts of the Views interface, but this was about developing modules that worked with Views for such things as custom tables. In retrospect, I can see some uses for these techniques for some situations I may have to work with in the future. I also saw Drupal through very different eyes, watching how a hard-core developer interacts with Drupal.
"Mobile Web Development with Drupal", Maksim Pecherskiy
"Responsive Design and Drupal," Jeremiah Davis
There are two basic philosophies, in my opinion, to how to deal effectively with mobile devices. One is to design a specific experience for mobile devices that takes into consideration all of their challenges and even tailors the experience for various specific devices. The other is to adapt your website experience as best you can to mobile devices. Maksim’s session focused primarily on the former, while Jeremiah’s focused primarily on the latter, through the Responsive Web Design techniques pioneered by Ethan Marcotte. What I do not hear discussed often is the people power necessary for either. A tailored, mobile-specific experience, particularly if there is mobile-specific content may be better for many, but that may only be feasible when you have enough staff—or money—to commit to that path both at the start and as you continue to develop content for a site. A responsive design approach still involves an up-front time commitment, but it has the possibility of being more feasible to achieve with a one-person in-house design team.
Panels is a very important module for Drupal that allows you to divide the content area of your page into regions, just as you can with the overall design of a page. You can then use powerful techniques such as Views to deliver content to each pane in those content-area regions, just like you can with Blocks for the larger page design. I had found Panels confusing and overwhelming, and to be frank, I still find that to be true after this session. There are some things you can only learn by doing, and it’s clear I need an excuse to try out Panels if only to figure out how to master its power.
Performance issues for large sites can kill the usefulness of a site. Knowing to deal with that effectively is imperative. Thankfully, Jason gifted us with his experience running super-high-traffic sites such as Justin Bieber’s. He gave recommendations on a set of open-source tools that can be used to allow Drupal to run smoothly even under high traffic. I look forward to trying these techniques out, because on some projects, they are imperative.
One of the other highlights of Drupal Camp was the gala reception at MPR headquarters. American Public Media is converting all of their websites to Drupal, yet another testament to Drupal’s power and flexibility. In one of my favorite parts of Drupal Camp, the floor was opened for people to demonstrate sites they had developed with Drupal. The variety was amazing: from an interactive fragrance site for David Beckham and Posh Spice to my personal favorite, a social network for school lunch ladies. This event really showcased the wide variety of sites Drupal can deliver.
To all the people who worked so hard to put on Drupal Camp: thank you! As somebody who has worked to put on a big conference, I know how much planning and effort it takes to make something like this successful. The event went off very well, and the price—only $35!—simply cannot be beat for two full days of training. I can’t wait until next year’s event, and I hope to get involved in the local meetups between now and then. Again, thanks!