Drupal Camp Chicago 2009

Here's a quick overview of the sessions I attended.

  • The first one was an introduction to Ubercart, the ecommerce solution for Drupal that I've been using for maybe a year and a half now. This ended up being so introductory as to not be particularly useful to me, but I did get a couple clarifications on modules for it that will be helpful later.

  • Next up was a theming overview. I've been making Drupal themes for about four years now (that's kind of frightening — I thought it was three at most), and for most of the past couple of years have been working with the Zen theme. This theming overview was given by John Albin Wilkins, the maintainer of Zen and all-around swell guy from what I understand. I was pretty sure this would be another review of what I already know, but it never hurts to get a review from someone who knows the system inside and out. Indeed, it was good. Also, shook his hand and thanked him for getting Zen going.

  • The next presentation kind of melted my face off. It was on Domain Access, a module by Ken Rickard, and made me wish I had understood it better about six months ago. The obvious use case for Domain Access is when you want to run a variety of websites on different domains from a single Drupal installation without using Drupal's built-in multi-site functionality, basically if you want to share content across various sites.

    The killer discovery for me was this, and it's really pretty obvious if you don't think about domains too rigidly: you can use this on a single site to set up parts of the site that are under the control of a certain set of users, kind of like Organic Groups. Organic Groups is really meant for group activities, not so much for site administration, but Domain Access really seems to hit the mark. The only requirement is that the individual areas have their own domains, subdomains, and/or HTTP ports. That requirement prevented me from exploring Domain Access and its functionality more thoroughly when I was building a tiered website last summer. Had I understood it better, I absolutely would have chosen Domain Access for the project. I told Ken thatt, and posted it on Twitter for pete's sake. Live and learn. This talk alone was worth the small price of admission for me.

  • The most crowded talk of the day (maybe the whole camp?) was Earl Miles and Sam Boyers' talk called Panels Everywhere. I have a pretty good grasp of Panels module at this point, but I figured anything Earl has to say about Drupal is probably worth listening to. Apparently everyone else there thought the same thing, because the room was filled to overflowing. He is the principal instigator behind the venerable Views module, the most used contributed Drupal module, so he's the very definition of Drupal Bigwig, and it didn't surprise me that so many would want to check it out. There just weren't any rooms big enough.

    Anyway, the presentation was basically about refocusing the way we build sites in Drupal: to get away from the very templatey idea of "content goes here and changed on different pages, and it's surrounded by sidebars/blocks that may or may not change much" and to think about pages in the way designers tend to, where each one is different and may have a different layout, all kinds of different stuff going on. Drupal's usual methodology assumes that the layout of each page is more or less the same, and that blocks will appear in different places on pages at times, but that largely they'll be similar. Drupal sites can be built in a zillion different ways, but that way is encouraged a bit by the way Drupal itself is made. Using Panels with the Page Manager, you can basically ignore the blocks administration page entirely, turn them all of, and just use Panels to put things wherever you want in a quite visual way.

    The way of approaching Drupal site building has been coalesced in the very-new Panels Everywhere module.

  • Next up was an overview of Drupal 7 from Larry Garfield. He's the lead developer of Drupal 7+'s database layer, so again, this was must-see TV. An hour was way to short to cram in a discussion of everything new in Drupal 7, but it was still good to get some highlights. More importantly, I knew for sure what he looked like so I could track him down later for Sunday's Drupal 7 code sprint.

  • The last presentation of the day was on Features module. This was the most hands-on of the presentations I attended, and was interesting. Features module lets you package up pieces of Drupal configuration, give them a name (actually create a module), and move them around as a functional unit. DevSeed has a blog post explaining it. It's possible to do this already by writing a custom module, obviously, but Features module lets you do this leveraging existing modules instead of writing the code yourself. It's an interesting idea, and I'm glad to have seen a demo of it to get a better idea of how it works.

After the day's talks wrapped up, a bunch of people went to a pizza place in my neighborhood to eat and socialize, so I joined up for that before a gig that evening with one of my bands. I was fortunate to have some good conversation with Leo Klein, who wasn't able to attend Drupal Camp, but who is known around Chicago as "the Drupal for libraries guy". I've worked on a few library websites myself using Drupal, so we talked shop a bit, and were joined by another gentleman and librarian from Ohio for even more shop talk. It was good.

On Sunday the name of the game was Birds of a Feather sessions, where basically anyone who wanted to talk about something could sign up and say "I'll be talking about X at 11 AM", put up a sign on a table in the big hotel ballroom, and other interested folks would show up. I spent my morning and afternoon at the Drupal 7 table, where my goal was to work on some documentation for Drupal 7. I did get a little bit done on that, but spent more time talking with people who walked by asking questions about Drupal 7. I certainly haven't been exploring the new version as much as I'd like to if I were giving a presentation, but I think I wasn't entirely useless.

Drupal Camp Chicago was a really good experience for me, and I look forward to the next one!

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