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Exploring Drupal — open source tool of the day

Posted by on Feb 12, 2010 in Blog, programming, web | No Comments

As part of an ongoing quest to learn as much about programming and technical tools as I strive to learn about the beats I cover, I jumped at the opportunity to attend a Drupal training this evening. I didn’t know this before today, but there is a robust Drupal user group here in Chicago, appropriately named the Chicago Drupal Meet Up Group.  In real life, they run trainings once a month where they also answer general questions.  Other meetings focus on advance topics, and sometimes it’s just an open time to get together and hack some stuff out — hey, why not? And the discussion continues online through webcasts, video tutorials and an IRC channel.

My total Drupal knowledge before today was that it had two of the same letters as “Ruby”.  Oh, and people use it for citizen journalism, according to one article.  And the White House uses it.  But other than that, a blank slate.

Turns out it’s a way you can structure the back-end of a site to develop a Web site quickly.  It could be a blog, directory, or a database host.  And that’s just the beginning!

From my first two hours with it, I see it as sort of a happy medium between using WordPress and diving into the Django deep end (which isn’t as difficult as I thought it would be anyway.)

There are more modules (module is to Drupal as plug-in is to WordPress) than what I’ve found in WordPress, and they seem more robust, for example, one can add a Google analytics code to thousands of pages at once.

There are also templates for different types of pages.  Some are built in, in the “core.”  This is distinct from themes (like applying CSS) and modules that you can get from drupal.org and add on, those are considered “contrib,” as in contributed.  One of the built-in features Drupal comes up with upon install is a full-featured blog, another feature adds a page with a complete contact form to your site allowing people to send you email, without exposing your address to robots/spammers.  It seems easier to style individual pages in terms of content and design, as opposed to WordPress.  But there’s still enough standardization that you can make many improvements via modules, and it went quicker for me than Django does.  Maybe that will change with time.  On the other hand, if you want to do something different from the module, you have to code it, and it seemed to me that doing the coding from scratch in Python would just be simpler.  But, in all fairness, it’s hard to get much simpler than Python in terms of coding.

It’s pretty simple to get something on a page quickly in Drupal.  Then you feel you accomplished something!  After that, you can adjust various permissions to make sure everyone can see the page, and you get to select and deselect what goes in the navigation — I’ve found that to be more difficult in WordPress.

I can definitely see that Drupal provides possibilities for journalism, getting development out of the way so you can focus on content.  This is especially true with a mix of using pre-made modules and themes, and using code to modify modules and create your own components from scratch.

Some of the links shared at the meeting can be found under the Drupal tag on my Delicious account: http://delicious.com/michelleminkoff/drupal I’ll add a few more in the coming days as I unpack my physical and mental notes.

I tried to add Drupal to a subsection of this site, but apparently the header Drupal wanted to add conflicted with the site-wide header WordPress had already implemented.  Perhaps that conflict should have been obvious.  I’m debating whether it is worth it to get another domain name to mess with new back end technologies.

Maybe someone can answer this, though.  If I can’t put Drupal and WordPress on the same domain, how do you put Django projects on a special section of a news site when the entire site hasn’t switched to running on Django? Any experiences with Drupal you’d care to share?  Always more to ponder.

More Data Delver posts coming up soon from computer-assisted reporters, news application developers, and others!

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Data Delver: Gregory Korte, Cincinnati Enquirer » »