26
Dec

One year of Drupal

Last week marked my first Drupalversary: I have been a member of drupal.org for one year! Since starting out as yet another webmaster looking for a site management solution, I have since become an active member of the Drupal community, a professional Drupal consultant, a module developer, and a core system contributor. Now it's time to look back at the past year, to see where Drupal has come, to see what it's done for me (and vice versa), and to predict what I'll be up to Drupal-wise over the course of the next year.

In November last year, I was still desperately endeavouring to put together my own home-grown CMS, which I planned to use for managing the original GreenAsh website. I was learning first-hand what a mind-bogglingly massive task it is to write a CMS, whilst I was also still getting my fingers around the finer points of PHP. Despair was setting in, and I was beginning to look around for a panacea, in the form of an existing open source application.

But the open source CMS offerings that I found didn't give me much hope. PHP-Nuke didn't just make me sick - it gave me radiation poisoning. e107 promised amazing ease-of-use - and about as much flexibility as a 25-year home loan. Plone offered everything I could ever ask for - and way more than I ever would ask for, including its own specialised web server (yeah - just what I need for my shared hosting environment!). Typo3 is open source and mature - but it wants to be commercial, and its code architecture just doesn't cut it. Mambo (whose developers have now all run away and formed Joomla) came really close to being the one for me, but it just wasn't flexible, hackable, or lovable enough to woo me over. And besides, look what a mess its community is in now.

And then, one day, I stumbled upon SpreadFirefox, which at the time sported a little 'Powered by CivicSpace' notice at the bottom of its front page; and which in turn led me to CivicSpace Labs; which finally led me to Drupal, where I fell in love, and have stayed ever since. And that's how I came to meet Drupal, how I came to use it for this site and for many others, and how I came to be involved with it in ever more and more ways.

Over the past year, I've seen many things happen over in DrupalLand - to name a few: the 4.6.0 official release; three real-world conferences (all of which were far, far away from Sydney, and which I unhappily could not attend); an infrastructure collapse and a major hardware migration; involvement in the Google Summer of Code; major code overhauls (such as the Forms API); a massive increase in the user community; and most recently, the publishing of the first ever Drupal book. It's been an awesome experience, watching and being a part of the rapid and exciting evolution of this piece of software; and learning how it is that thousands of people dispersed all over the world are able to co-operate together, using online tools (many of which the community has itself developed), to build the software platform that is powering more and more of the next generation of web sites.

So what have I done for Drupal during my time with it so far? Well, my number one obsession from day one has been easy and powerful site structuring, and I have contributed to this worthwhile cause (and infamous Drupal weak spot) in many ways. I started out last January by hacking away at the taxonomy and taxonomy_context modules (my first foray into the Drupal code base), and working out how to get beautiful breadcrumbs, flexible taxonomy hierarchies, and meaningful URL aliasing working on this site. I published my adventures in a three-part tutorial, making taxonomy work my way. These tutorials are my biggest contribution to Drupal documentation to date, and have been read and praised by a great many Drupal users. The work that I did for these tutorials paved the way for the later release of the distant parent and taxonomy_assoc modules (taxonomy_assoc being my first Drupal module), which make site structuring just that little bit more powerful, for those wishing to get more out of the taxonomy system.

The category module has been my dream project for most of this year, and I've been trying to find time to work on it ever since I published my proposal about it back in May. It's now finally released - even if it's not quite finished and still has plenty of bugs - and I'm already blown away by how much easier it's made my life than the old ways of "taxonomy_hack". I plan to launch an official support and documentation site for the category module soon, and to make the module's documentation as good as can be. I've also been responding to taxonomy-related support requests in the drupal.org forums for a long time now, and I sincerely hope that the category module is able to help all the users that I've encountered (and many more yet to come) who find that the taxonomy system is unable to meet their needs.

For much of the past year, I've also been involved in professional work as a Drupal consultant. Most notable has been my extended work on the Mighty Me web site, which is still undergoing its final stage of development, and which will hopefully be launched soon. I also developed a Drupal pilot site for WWF-Australia (World Wide Fund for Nature), which unfortunately did not proceed past the pilot stage, but which I nevertheless continued to be involved in developing (as a non-Drupal site). As well as some smaller development jobs, I also provided professional Drupal teaching to fellow web designers on several occasions, thereby spreading the 'Drupal word', and hopefully bringing more people into the fold.

So what have I got planned in the Drupal pipeline for the next year? Drupal itself certainly has plenty of exciting developments lined up for the coming year, and I can hardly hope to rival those, although I will do my best to make my contributions shine. Getting the category module finished and stable for the Drupal 4.7 platform is obviously my primary goal. I'd also like to upgrade this site and some others to Drupal 4.7, and do some serious theme (re-)designing. I've only just started getting involved in contributing code to the Drupal core, in the form of patches, and I'd like to do more of this rather than less. Another idea that's been in my head for some time has been to sort out the hacks that I've got, for filtering out duplicate statistics and non-human site visitors from my access logs and hit counters, and turning them into a proper module called the 'botstopper' module. I don't know how much more than that I can do, as I will be having a lot of work and study commitments this year, and they will probably be eating into much of my time. But I'll always find time for posting messages in the Drupal forums, for adding my voice to the mailing lists, and even for hanging out on the Drupal IRC channels.

My first year of Drupal has been an experience that I am deeply grateful for. I have worked with an amazing piece of software, and I have been given incredibly worthwhile professional and personal opportunities; but above all, I have joined a vibrant and electric community, and have come to know some great people, and to learn a whole world of little gems from them. Drupal's second greatest strength is its power as a community-building platform. Its greatest strength is the power and the warmth of the Drupal community itself.

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