• Notes from DrupalSouth conference

last modified June 21, 2017 by strypey

I've been clearing out some old files and found a copy of the notes I made at the DrupalSouth conference in Feb, 2014, which I thought might be useful to the ongoing work on permaculture.org.nz.

The only thing I'd sound a note of caution about, given what I've learned since then, is that Drupal 8 may not be the right choice for PiNZ. Another free code project called BackDropCMS has forked Drupal 7, such that all Drupal 7 modules will work in BackDrop without any porting work. Whereas Drupal 8 is aimed at the needs of big corporate Drupal users like Māori TV, who can afford teams of people working full time on their website,  BackDrop aims to cater to the needs of smaller businesses, and not-for-profits, who want something that just works, and gets incremental updates, rather than requiring complicated and expensive migrations between major versions (eg Drupal 7 > 8).

Well before Drupal 7 hits end-of-life, a plan will need to be put in place for what to use for permaculture.org.nz  going forward. I strongly recommend checking out BackDrop, and also the work of Drutopia group, who are attempting to build a distribution of Drupal 8 specifically for the needs of not-for-profit organisations (see notes on Drupal distributions further down).

As always, feel free to pick my brains on tech stuff or anything else.

He mihi aroha ki a koutou



David Seth’s talk focused on how to personalize for anonymous users, rather than logged in users about whom we tend to know more. He mentioned a number of technologies including:

  • Nosto - cloud-based learning
  • Solr MRT
  • Views and Taxonomy
  • WEM
  • Acquia personalization API - integrating with Prediction.io
  • NationBuilder - building a fanbase from social media


David Seth also mentioned a caching module called 'Varnish'. Caching is really important for reducing the load on the database when the site is getting a lot of use, but from our discussions on minimizing international bandwidth, it sounds like Richard has given a lot of thought to caching systems.

Reducing Pain for Users

I was interested to discover that the Māori TV website uses Drupal. Their primary design goal was to keep content authors happy. Because of the large number of staff using the site, and the wide range of computer literacy amongst them, the developers aimed to present as few UI elements as humanly possible to accomplish any task - “magically happening, not manually happening”, Sean Hamlin. They used a number of modules/ tools for this including:

  • VBO - node management
  • BrightCove - video management
  • View modes
  • Chosen - taxonomy tags
  • Rubik and Shiny - admin themes
  • CKeditor - “what buttons do users need?”
  • LinkIT - internal links

There was another talk also focused on ease of use. The presenter talked about verbose help text which explains outcomes clearly, and links to other parts of the site if that’s helpful, how-to guides etc. “Contextual links” can drive user behaviour. She also talked about the importance of graceful navigation, such as making sure users are returned to the same page after they login, rather than getting hijacked off someone else and having to navigate back. Also, that when they are returned, the page reflects that they are now logged in, rather than still showing the version of the page for anonymous users, and trying to make the user login again.

She also talked up VBO for admin views, LinkIT, and CKEditor, as well as a few other modules/ tools:

  • Bulk Operations
  • Administration Menu
  • WYSIWYG - select only the options your users need, eg spellcheck as you type in UK
  • English
  • Features - for config
  • Autosave - when users are entering text
  • Save and Edit buttons

I’ve also got “disable preview (it doesn’t work)”. I’m guessing, but I think she was saying that preview stages just slow users down and annoys them, and it’s better for them to be able to edit what they create after they post it, even if it's for a limited time. The web is not print!


Adam’s talk was about his use of a module called ‘Leaflet’ for adding map information to a Drupal site for the Min of Health. Leaflet could become very useful for representing bioregional information on permaculture.org.nz.

Adam started out using the older mapping module OpenLayers, but he found it hard to use, as it is intended for complex multi-layer mapping tasks. His experience convinced him that Leaflet is smaller, simpler to use, and easier for developers, because it hooks into other modules rather than trying to do everything itself.

  • Apache Solr - responds to map queries and feeds the data back to Leaflet
  • OpenStreetMap - used as a map source by default, but can be swapped out for another map source if needed
  • Adam also mentioned that Leaflet is ready for Drupal8
  • He’s happy to share his experience with Leaflet - adam@catalyst.net.nz

New Media

Emma Davidson gave a great talk about how make web publishing work for people more used to print media. She talked about giving web authors the power to determine ‘flow’ - does the author want the user to read the text first, or watch video, or listen to audio, or look at graphics? Her case study was a newsletter for medical professionals, and she talked about the importance of including data analysis early in the article for such an audience. She mentioned a couple of tools that may be of help:

  • Datawrapper.de - interactive charts
  • “Media module” - management of image galleries, and maybe audio and video too?

I have a quote, “cultural acceptance is more important than technology tools”, which may be
from Karen McGrane’s podcast “Insert Content Here”, which Emma recommends.


Some organisations are packaging Drupal core with various modules to make up a “distribution” (analogous to GNU/Linux “distributions” like Debian). Each distribution is intended to meet specific needs, out-of-the-box. If I’m reading my notes right there is a list of all the available distributions and their intended uses on Acquia.com.

I attended a talk which mentioned two distributions Panopoly and OpenAtrium. Panoply uses a number of modules to make Drupal admin tasks much more user-friendly, with drag’n’drop, WYSIWYG interfaces instead of the complicated back-end admin systems of Drupal Core. OpenAtrium has all the same modules as Panopoly, plus the OrganicGroups module. You can evaluate Panopoly at a site called simplytest.me, or for a longer play, there is a site called Pantheon.

I can’t see any point switching permaculture.org.nz to a Drupal7 distribution at this point, especially considering the couple of downsides of Panopoly that the presenter (donna@kattekrab.net) mentioned, including a muddying of code and configuration, and a tricky upgrade path. However, I suspect most of the benefits Panopoly offers will be rolled into Drupal8, so I figure using these test sites might be a way to quickly preview what a site could look and feel like if it is rebuilt in Drupal8.


Larry Garfield’s keynote address on Drupal8 was very exciting. Sadly I don’t seem to have any notes, but the key points from memory were that:

  • it’s release has been delayed a couple of times, but the final version will most likely be released in the coming year
  • test versions are already available for webmasters to start playing with, and reporting bugs, which will help with the tasks of readying it for final release
  • a lot of the ease-of-use modules which are used in the vast majority of Drupal 6 and 7 sites will be rolled into Drupal core, improving integration and reducing bugs and clashes between them and other modules
  • ‘themes’ - templates for how a site looks and feels - will support TWIG, a newer language popular with theme designers

Rather than an upgrade path, Drupal 8 will offer a migration path from 6 and 7 sites. Webmasters can build a new version of their site on Drupal 8, then migrate the content from the existing site when they’re ready to go live. I recommend PiNZ follow Fuzion’s lead, and switch to Drupal8 when they feel that CiviCRM integration with 8 is ready to go. I also have a note here, idly wondering if permaculture.org.nz test sites can have a one way connection to the production site, so any new content added there is also added to the test site, keeping it synchronized. This probably won’t be so necessary for rebuilding on Drupal8 though.