Last weekend I attended DrupalCamp Montreal. It was a great experience. The videos of all the talks are already up so you don’t have to take my word for it. Still, I thought I’d summarize the key points that I took home from it.
use the modules that the developers love
Drupal developers use and love git and drush for their development needs and it sounds like many of them also use git + the Features module for their development work.
One developer admitted that upgrading Drupal sites up various versions is such a pain, that he usually just starts a current Drupal version and uses the Feeds and Features modules to bring in old content and settings. His talk, Feeding Drupal, really opened my eyes to how powerful Feeds can be. For example, you can use Firebug to copy the xpath of an element on a page and using it in Feeds and then create a regular import of that element. Translation: you can set up a feed of, for example, the list of references from a particular Wikipedia page even through there’s no RSS feed for such a collection of elements. Very very cool.
The other module session I really learned a lot from was the one on Webforms (webcast). For some reason, our IT department doesn’t want to install webform in their own instance of Drupal but I can’t see any reason not to use it. Perhaps it’s a security issue? On that note, I’m going to get a copy of Cracking Drupal as it was heavily recommended in the Drupal Security session (webcast), to make sure we’ve locked down.
responsive web design
Speaking of Firebug, now that I have been delving into CSS, I know understand why web developers love it so. And that gets to my next take-away from DrupalCamp: CSS3 is your new best friend and this new friend will introduce you to new best friends like Responsive Web Design. Responsive Web Design is a collection of design concepts that allow a single site to be served up to mobile phones, tablets and monster-sized desktop monitors and still look good. The Boston Globe is an example of responsive web design – try loading up the page and then shrinking your browser. I’ve already ordered the Responsive Web Design book for the library from A Book Apart, as well as their book on CSS3 and HTML5.
doing mobile in Drupal
There are some Drupal themes built around the mobile first concepts of responsive design and the designer of the most popular of such themes was present to showcase his work: the Omega Theme. (Omega looks wonderful but it’s probably too complex at the moment for our library’s relatively simple needs.)
An alternative approach is to build specifically for “touch” apps using jQuery mobile but, as I learned from a talk at DrupalCamp, that it’s best to hold on this approach until differences in php interpretations are worked out between jQuery mobile and Drupal. I still haven’t delved in jQuery properly, but I’m beginning to understand why it’s so popular with developers. Not only is it’s library very small in size but that it is vigorously tested on all the browsers, and in the case of jQuery mobile, on a ridiculous number of devices.
html5 will melt your brain
Jen Simmons keynote on the potential of HTML5 (webcast is here) makes a strong case that we are about to experience another quantum leap in web experience not unlike the change from the static html pages of 1997 to the dynamic world of Web 2.0. That is – when designers begin to understand what HTML5 able browsers are capable of: off-site storage, APIs and mysql-like tables. In other words it that websites can act more like apps that can be used offline if need be. Improved synching from the server to the browser can also be exploited in a multitude of ways: live multi-player gaming, dynamic updates that don’t require browser refreshing, and doing such things like holding a webcast in a browser. In other words, with HTML5 we should think about building library software for our users: not just library website. See what I mean? Brain-melting.
The present and future of Drupal
One of my favourite talks was from Angie “webchick” Byron. Like her, it has taken me ten years to go from “open source cheerleader” to “open source contributor” (well, supporter may be a better word as I have yet to make my first commit). The strength of Drupal is not the code but the community and she helped me better understand how it works.
One of the goals of Drupal8 is to have it be use-able right out of the box. Right now, Drupal more like a box of Lego’s that you have to put together yourself. Wouldn’t it be great if, when Drupal8 came round, there was a “library frame-work” that libraries could download and then modify for their community? Just musing out loud but I think that could be a really meaningful sabbatical project.
But that’s is far in the future. Right now, I need hustle and get our A to Z list ready for prime-time. It might be ready as soon as next week!