The Drupal experience

Why Drupal?

It seemed like the right time to look for a new software tool to build a couple of websites [this site and] and possibly an intranet for use at home. Having used a software package [Serif] until now, which has done the job - it felt like there should be an easier way to update the sites compared with the existing process: build some pages/folders, the software creates the html and embeds the style. The ftp/upload the pages to the hosting site and you are finally away.

However, as it was early in the learning process I seemed to spend as much time reforming layouts and styles than adding content. So a new way of working was investigated and the two leading candidates were WordPress and Drupal. I looked at both and Drupal edged it by offering greater flexibility. Though this did come with dire warnings about a "steep learning curve" .. and .. "you will need several months to get the site working properly" etc. I knew it would be a steep learning curve as my knowledge of html and css was basic.

I have to say that Drupal had not really registered with me until I started working with the people in 2009-10 and even then it was a means to an end (and of course it still is). After changing my hosting package (to get access to a database) I started to look at Drupal more closely in late April 2013.

late April 2013: Lots of issues

Some initial questions at this stage were:

  • which theme to use?
  • which layout to use?
  • what is the difference between a "basic page" and an "article"?
  • should I create content types for each topic area of the website?
  • how do I make the most of user-defined content types?
  • it's a bit basic - which modules are useful eg menus?
  • how do I get an image into an article?
  • ah, I can used all sorts of html in the article!
  • how/where do I change styling?
  • how do get an image in the header?

and so on.....

late April 2013: Web "issue research"

Now many of these questions have been resolved or partly resolved via a lot of web searches which led to the Drupal pages, StackOverflow and others. Picking up on questions where others have raised similar issues can consume a lot of time and often end up in cul-de-sacs. The Drupal information pages/guidance were sometimes limited. Many of the wider community responses are best seen as "someone's view" which was not always very helpful (great potential to create bigger holes here). However most gave clues to a solution and some were extremely helpful .Of course you also learn much along such a journey.

Though some of my questions were very basic (like layouts) - there is not always a straight forward or easily located answer (eg on the pros and cons of layouts - though I did locate something on this after event!).

Firebug, not for the first time, has been a great help in making progress on several issues - especially for styling - eg locating which css is operating on a given page.

So by 09 May things had moved on to the point where it is a step closer towards the objective of a simple but easy to add to framework.

But more questions are inevitably on the horizon.

KM 09 May 2013

early May 2013: Openlayers Maps

It is not possible to live without maps - so a maps support is vital for the site. The aim being to add topic relevant user data onto a basemap and insert that into a page. I eventually got there - after 3-4 attempts using Geofield (for user data) > Views > OpenLayers > Views > Content. All the map is at the maps page.

This seemed like a fiendishly complex series of steps - where I made one or more mistakes each time .... and I was never really clear what I did differently the last time compared with the previous. Hopefully this work can now be further developed and extended.

Galleries are next up.

KM 16 May 2013

late May 2013: Galleries

I expected this to be straightforward but it turned out to be the toughest obstacle yet. An issue with the Image module, security tokens and image styling all combined to prevent another module eg the Juicebox gallery module from creating derivatives of the images - or even accessing the uploaded images. After a lot of research I eventually discovered that this is currently an open issue and a temporary fix is in place. Three galleries are now up and running.

So now to get the current pages up to the state of the existing site and then switch over.

KM 26 May 2013

June 2013: v2.00 now live!

Finally a sets of pages which much the same content as v1.00 but the layout is now more consistent and there several new articles.

The map pages still caused issues but these are settling down now and the approach is well suited to easy extension once the basic framework is established:

  • use taxonomy to support features/spatial objects
  • create some coordinates using WKT [well known text]
  • create a database view of the features you want to map
  • create or clone an OpenLayers map - by user defined layer
  • centre & set default zoom & displays eg visualisation of the layer
  • create a page or block view for a specific page(s)

Views and maps can be reused once established.
The coordinate input is much better than fiddling around with javascript and it will be interesting to see how easy it is to bolt in GeoJSON files as an alternative.

The number of content items (article/page, coordinates, photo, taxonomy items etc) does build up rapidly but these can then be bolted together in a number of different ways.

During the development process I also upgraded to Drupal 7.22 core (from 7.1x) - which was quite painless.

Final Conclusion:A magnitude better than the previous website solution and I am keen to now apply to the other websites - though perhaps I need to flesh out some of the Placeholder pages on this site first

KM 18 June 2013