Developing Crowdsourcing Community with Drupal

In the recent months after I’ve moved to Hong Kong, I’ve been working with my former school mates from College to revamp their existing e-commerce pet apparel store and to launch a new business. For that purpose and in preparation for my new role in Tokyo, I’ve been devoting my time to 3 things, 1) learning to develop web sites with Drupal, 2) catching up with the latest SEO (Search Engine Optimization) topics and 3) brushing up on project management skills I learned and used at Yahoo. This post will be about part 1 – Drupal.

I had learned of Drupal a few years ago, I was looking for an open source CMS to be used at work internally as an information sharing portal, and Drupal caught my attention because it received support from Google! I didn’t pick it at that time because it didn’t fulfill our functional requirements. However, I did tested it out and honestly, I found it “not very user-friendly”. It was obviously aimed more toward web developers than the regular Joe. What I realized was this: if you just want an easy to use web site to put up contents for yourself and your friends and family, then Drupal is not for you! (Use wordpress instead.) If you’re a business however, and you’re looking for quickly building a highly customizable, highly scalable web site, then use Drupal!

It’s obvious to me that being skilled in Drupal is actually a valuable asset on a personal level, and choosing to use Drupal is a major advantage for probably 80% of the businesses out there! However, I don’t know if it’s because of its weird name or something… it’s quite hard to convince people to pay attention to Drupal! When I try to garner interests in my friends, most of them would ask “What does Drupal do? Why is it good?” Hopefully, this “Implementing Drupal” video from Google Tech Talk can save me from repeating myself again! orz

So, how am I going about learning Drupal? I’m not a web developer, although I am knowledgeable in PHP, Perl, Apache and Linux/Unix… I’m mainly a database guy. So, the whole web design AND development thing is quite a challenge for me. One of my bad habit is that I always like to do thing perfectly! I can see far into a “goal”, how a web site should look like and function… so, I want to do everything perfectly! The problem with this is of course, it’s not easy (if not close to impossible)! For example, with this wordpress blog, I learned to theme it with CSS until I feel that all the colors and layout is perfect! Luckily, that wasn’t too hard. With Drupal however, it’s a different story!

I started with reading the Pro Drupal Development book by John VanDyk & Matt Westgate. After the first few chapters of learning how Drupal works internally, writing a few simple modules (or add-ons) to it, I realized this book isn’t what I need at that point in time! The best way to learn any web technologies is to get it up and running! I need to set something ASAP, start migrating some content to it from one of my existing web sites, and just run with it. However, this first step was still a necessity, as I needed to know, on a high level, how Drupal works. I always like to get a grasp on the nuance or “bigger picture” of whatever needs to be done. This way, I can make meaning out of it and delegate work to my team accordingly.

So, next, I looked for theming tutorials. (I like my sites to look pretty!) I found excellent resources at Drupal’s theme guide, the Zen theme, and The Art Lab’s Drupal School podcasts. At this time, Drupal 6 was released, it has improved a little bit in terms of User Experience. I switched to it and looked up The Smashing Magazine for web design tips with Photoshop. I was able to create a pretty cool theme in a couple of days. And then… I realized… I can’t even post some contents in formats that I want!

After doing some research, I realized that there are a few modules that are almost CRITICAL to any Drupal installs, (in fact, the power of Drupal lies with its vast library of modules!) Sadly, these moduels are not available for Drupal 6 yet!! So, I went back to my Drupal 5.7 sandbox. Installed CCK, Views and Imagefield… etc, and that’s where I am at right now… learning to create custom content types and views within Drupal. (This is part of the reason why just a vanilla Drupal install looks so boring… its basic content types – blog post, page, forum… they are all too basic and look exactly the same! BORING!!)

It’s also at this time that I found this article about New York Observer (the newspaper) had migrated their web site to Drupal. The hired professionals to do this, and it is a prime example of how hard Drupal can ROCK if you know how!!!!

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Just another guy trying to beat the system and be released from the Matrix http://about.me/nicholaswang

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