Did it with Drupal

If there’s one thing that travel in winter teaches, it’s appreciation for warmer climates. I’ve just arrived back from the Do It With Drupal conference in New Orleans, and I’m smack dab in the middle of a Chicago cold snap.

DiWD (or ‘dewd’ as we pronounced it during planning meetings) was by all indications a rousing success. I wasn’t deeply involved with the planning the way a number of the other Lullabots were, but I knew the conference itself was a calculated risk. Our training workshops usually focus on intense hands-on “Build a Drupal module in 3 days” style learning, and the well-attended Drupalcon conference focuses heavily on the developers and builders shaping the Drupal community. Would attendees find three days of material about the business of community building, general site management technique, and Drupal education worthwhile?

Turns out? Yes. It was a real encouragement, and an amazing list of presenters came together to make it a reality. Earl Miles, Karen Stevenson, Robert Douglass, Moshe Weitzman, Gábor Hojtsy, and numerous other luminaries shared from their areas of expertise for people trying to understand Drupal’s capabilities. Folks like Heather Champ (Flickr’s community manager), Lane Becker (co-founder of Get Satisfaction), and others helped those more familiar with the Drupal side understand the complexities that software alone can’t solve. I’m missing many of the speakers, and the full list can be found at http://www.doitwithdrupal.com/speakers – needless to say, though, it was a different feel than most of the Drupal events I’ve been a part of.

In addition to a fun session on deployment strategies, I participated in the “Fantasy Sites” portion of event, helping build a Drupal-based clone of an existing popular web site and explaining the process to attendees. I tackled Twitter, and it was definitely an interesting experience. The hardest part – bar none – was stripping out the functionality that Drupal really, desperately wants to give. Twitter, like many other successful ‘single-purpose’ sites, is all about a user experience that eliminates anything unnecessary.

Doing that in Drupal is possible, but it takes a lot of discipline. Cloning an existing site is cheating to a large extent: you can piggyback on their decisions rather than arguing, testing, polishing, and experimenting to determine what your audience want and need. I think that’s a challenge that a lot of us in the Drupal community tend to punt off onto designers, and it’s important to factor in.

(Of course, that doesn’t even touch on the scaling issues raised when you use a full-fledged CMS to implement what amounts to a networking protocol. More on that in the presentation itself.)

All the details fade away, though: I’m stoked about how the conference went and appreciate all the awesome work that folks put into it. Goodbye, New Orleans! Hello again, Chicago! Viva la Internet!

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