This was the biggest DrupalCon yet with over 3,300 people, and a substantial number of them were from Higher Ed. My presentation on how we do Drupal at OSU, was the first day of the conference, so I had people connecting with me the rest of the week to talk about how they are doing Drupal at their school. For the most part we are ahead of most of the other universities I talked with as far as our use of Drupal for our campus websites. Some schools have accomplished more on the technical side of what can be done with Drupal, but do not have the buy in from the majority of campus the way we do. Few schools have been as successful in providing centralized Drupal hosting and development as we have. I attribute this to our partnership with Web Communications. It is clear that the schools in which the IT and Marketing departments have formed good working relationships are the most successful when it comes to providing a high quality unified web experience across the institution.
Another big topic of discussion was in the way Drupal is used, not just in education but everywhere. We call Drupal a content management system, and indeed it is a very powerful content management system, however for the most part we, and others, don’t really take advantage of these capabilities. We tend to use Drupal more as a Web Publishing System, which really is very different. What people have wanted out of Drupal is for it to be like a word processor for the web. People like the wysiwyg tools and the familiar Word-like tool bar. The problem is that the web is not like a printed document. It was a fairly easy leap from print publishing to web publishing when web pages were viewed on desktop systems that provided roughly the same page size as a printed page. We have now irreversibly moved beyond that to where we need to be able to deliver our content to devices of every size and configuration. The old word processor model fails miserably in this new environment. Many of us in web development have strived for years to separate content from presentation. This has become more important now than ever and Drupal can really help with this, but not if we continue to embed HTML markup into our content through the use of a wysiwyg editor. Rather content needs to be managed with metadata that semantically describes what the content is, not how it should look. So we say that a piece of content is an address or a phone number, or a course description, or a an event title, etc. Then we can present the data in the best possible way for whatever device is displaying it. For the web this is still HTML markup, but for other devices it may not be HTML at all.
In working with departments on their websites recently we have been trying to put this more into practice. We still see so many sites where people have hard coded directory information like names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. This data then is carved in stone in that it is really difficult to keep up-to-date. What we want to do instead is to treat the content as data, and store it in fields, and then use views to present the data in a variety of formats. Drupal is really good at this, but we’re not fully taking advantage of it’s strengths. If we start now we’ll be in a much better position to deal with the next game changing device that comes along and needs to display our web content.
This was a great DrupalCon for OSU. On Wednesday night there were about 15 of us that went out to dinner. We rarely get a chance to socialize like this a work and we really enjoyed it. We vowed to continue building the OSU Drupal community and to include some social gatherings at least every couple of months. We don’t want to have to wait until the next DrupalCon to get together again. So if you work with Drupal, or the web in general. Please join our community group and attend the next meeting. More information is at http://drupal.oregonstate.edu.