Review: Front End Drupal

Cover of Front End DrupalI finally had a chance to fully review Front End Drupal by Emma Jane Hogbin and Konstantin Kafer after a long period of waiting. I say "long period" because I first heard details of the book last August at Drupalcon is Szeged when talking with Emma Jane at a Birds of a Feather session. More recently I had to finish work on a project and another book review delaying my review by another two weeks.

I built my first 'web page' about 15 years ago. Since then I graduated to building 'web sites' and then custom 'web applications'. Over that time I worked with several content management systems, a handful of web languages, and worked with clients of all shapes and sizes. I've worked at all levels of the web stack from graphic design to information architecture; from web server configuration to database administration; from HTML to server side scripting. In short I've worked on everything from the back end to the front end.

While Front End Drupal is obviously about working with the 'font end' Drupal, I was immediately impressed by the first chapter of the book which provide valuable tips for any web designer or web project manager or developer. It was apparent right from the start that this book was written by web development veterans since recommendations they give early on could only come from those that wear battle scars. As you progress through the book it is also clear the authors are intimately familiar with Drupal from both theoretical and practical standpoints.

Score based on my own arbitrary rating system:
For Drupal Novices: 4.5/ 5
For Experienced Drupal Administrators: 4.5 / 5

June 10th 2009 5AM
By: andre


Review: Drupal 6 Social Networking

cover of Drupal 6 Social NetworkingI received my review copy of Michael Peacock's Drupal 6 Social Networking a couple of weeks ago and I've just had a chance to go through it and formulate some thoughts.

I was interested to see how Michael Peacock would approach the topic of social networking in the Drupal context. Having personally built a rather large Drupal powered social networking site in the past I was curious to read about the topic from someone else's perspective.

From the outset the book declares that it does not assume that the audience is familiar with Drupal. As a result the book plays a dual role of introducing the reader to Drupal and educating them on how to unlock the potential social interactivity that is possible with a Drupal powered website. The book does so by providing social interactivity use cases and possible solutions illustrated with step by step configuration instructions for Drupal core and selected contributed Drupal modules. However the book felt like it limited itself to simpler social interaction use cases and didn't dig deeply enough into their solutions (perhaps for fear of overwhelming the reader).

Score based on my own arbitrary rating system:
For Drupal Novices: 3.5 / 5
For Experienced Drupal Administrators: 2.5 / 5

June 3rd 2009 4PM
By: andre


Top 2 Things to Write About to Get Your Article Re-Tweeted

1. Write a Top X List

Totally write some article where you list the 'Top 10 evil design trends', or 'Top 6 ways to bathe your pet monkey', or 'Top 12 killer tools of the digital age'. It really doesn't matter what you write about as long as its the Top {some number greater than 1} {somethings}.
Magazines have know for years that readers love lists. And from the number of Top X lists I've seen retweeted, twitterers can't get enough of them either.

2. Write a Top X list

Really, there is only one Top thing to write about to 'Get Your Article Re-Tweeted': write a Top X List. But, if I am to believe what I've read (See #1), in order to do it right it must be in the format Top {number greater than 1} {somethings}.

June 1st 2009 3PM
By: andre
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Drupal Wins in CNET Webware 100 again (again)

Drupal wins in cnet webware 100 again
I think we can start to see a pattern emerging here. Drupal gets nominated for a Webware 100 award and goes on to win yet again in 2009.

I won't go on at length about this, but its worth mentioning that Drupal's peers in the award category included Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The majority of people out there still don't use Drupal and Facebook in the same sentence, but with more wins like this it won't be long until Drupal is universally recognized.

Congrats to all the hard work of core and contributed module maintainers and all the documentation writers and all the admins, bloggers and general supporters that make Drupal so great.

May 19th 2009 4PM
By: andre


Language Based Stylesheet Switching in Your Theme

multilingual DrupalTheming in Drupal is the one layer that seems to have shown the most steady improvement since the introduction of phpTemplate around version 4.5. With each new release it gets easier and easier to bend Drupal to your will and have it display a pixel perfect version of your design.

In Drupal 6 we saw the introduction of powerful .info files that you can use to tell the theme system more about your specific theme. Things like its name, whether its a subtheme, what core Drupal system variables it supports, which features are configurable and which style sheets to use and load for different media.

By defining which style sheets to load in the .info file you don't need to know any PHP (or where you'd use that PHP) to include several style sheets into your site's pages. This really is a great feature. But, what if there are situations when you don't want those style sheets to show up? Or you'd rather have different style sheets load? Well, in those situations you're still going to have to get familiar with some PHP, Drupal's preprocess functions and drupal_get_css().

May 6th 2009 12AM
By: andre


I'm Sorry Twitter Universe

I just wanted to post publicly that I am very sorry for a node import that went very wrong.

drupal_execute is a wonderful thing. Its very powerful, and can be used to quickly populate a site with content. However, (as the saying goes) with great power comes great responsibility.

Early this morning, I was using drupal_execute to create about 370 nodes. But, in doing so I managed to spam the twitter universe about 150 times (until twitter cut me off). The problem was that I happened to have twitter module installed and enabled. Twitter module comes with a nice feature that allows you to notify twitter when you create content. This feature was defaulted to 'on' during this bulk import of content. The result was that I feel great shame. I am very embarrassed.

@BeCircle holy hell that's a lotta tweets

@BeCircle your rss to twitter thing is going beserk

Are just a couple of tweets I received when things were 'going beserk'.

I'm sorry to all my followers. I will be very careful to make sure my value arrays turn off twitter notification the next time I use drupal_execute.

Please don't hate me.

May 4th 2009 6AM
By: andre


The Beauty of User Experience

Not too long ago I wrote about Drupal's usability history and its future

In that post I wrote:

Visual design and visual impact time and time again translate directly into a perception of usability from the user perspective. For some reason (and you will have to consult with psychologists for why) people gravitate towards the pretty and the attractive. Make something look good and people tend to rate their experience with that thing higher.

And just the other day A List Apart wrote an amazing piece on just this topic. The article is called "In Defense of Eye Candy". It is an absolute must read for anyone who ponders user experience and wants to know more about why its so important for an application to 'look good'.

By making your application look good, you may actually make it work better. That's not hyperbole. The article cites two studies (one found here) that come to this conclusion.

April 23rd 2009 3AM
By: andre


My Druplicon Cube

Druplicon Cube

Nissan Canada is giving away 50 new cars to creative Canadians. I just so happen to be one of 500 people who are auditioning to win one of those 50 cars.

What does this have to do with Drupal? Well, basically, I've decided that if I win one of these cars, I'm going to turn it into a moving Drupal billboard. I am not always the most active of coders in the Drupal community, but whenever there is an opportunity for me to contribute in some other way I am more than happy to do it. Whether its a blog post, or answering questions or helping out in the local Toronto community I'm happy to do what I can to promote Drupal whenever possible. And what better way to promote Drupal than to drive around with a car decorated with Druplicons?

(If you think this is a neat Idea and want to help me win skip to the end of this post If your just interested in Social Media and Advertising Strategy you can just keep reading)

April 16th 2009 7AM
By: andre


Translating Menus in Drupal 6

menu translation administration screenFor well over a year Drupal core has supported much more advanced multilingual capabilities compared to previous versions. When Drupal 6 landed all the hard work that Gábor Hojtsy and the internationalization team did was released to the world and people rejoiced (in 60+ languages).

This is a very broad simplification of what was done, but the focus of those efforts was to make it easier for administrators to translate content (nodes) on a site. If you have a news story published in English you can create a French version of that news story that is 'tied' to the English story and it will be easy for your site visitors to switch between the English and French (or Spanish or Dutch etc.) version of your story.

As I said, this is a very broad simplification. There was much more work being done, but not all of it managed to make it into core. Some translations features were left in the contributed i18n (internationalization) module. Others features were 'roughed in' to core to allow for future improvements.

One such feature that didn't quite get finished was menu translations.

Menus can be translated, but its not entirely obvious how to do it. And even after you've read the documentation, it may not necessarily work the way you expect it to. (See example: Menu items disappear when you change language in the Drupal handbook.)

April 14th 2009 11PM
By: andre


Drupal up for Another Award

Vote Drupal for Webware 100

It's that time of year again.

I'm not talking about April showers or patio season. I'm talking about the Webware 100 awards.

Once again Drupal has been nominated to win an award. With nominations now closed, Drupal has been selected to compete in the Social Networking and Publishing category. There is plenty of tough competition in this category where Drupal faces off against the likes of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Drupal is no stranger to the Webware 100 having chalked up wins in the past. If you want to help ensure a repeat performance you can do so by voting for Drupal in this year's awards.

Voting is open until the end of April.

April 4th 2009 10AM
By: andre
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