New Lynda.com video series: “Presenting Information Online with Drupal”

Edit: The title is now “Drupal 6: Online Presentation of Data”, and will not include a section on Panels. Funny things happen in the studio. 🙂


I’m pleased to announce a new video course that will cover Views, Panels, and ways to present data in Drupal, and should be out this summer.

Publisher Lynda.com tells me the Drupal Essential Training course has done unusually well. That’s yet another encouraging sign of Drupal’s growing popularity, for which every active member of the community can take credit. I’ve personally gotten some great encouragement since its release last September and (even beter) have heard from lots of Drupal newbies who are now up and running. It’s exciting.

But as that six-hour course became a seven-hour course, we had to leave out some material — notably, Views. Now there’s good news! Instead of merely touching on this important subject in that course, we’re working on a new series that not only covers Views in depth, but also discusses Panels, CSS, data management, and creative forms of data presentation (such as maps and timelines).

We haven’t finalized the title, but “Presenting Information Online with Drupal” describes its thrust. It’s intended to help make the information in Drupal sites more accessible, both in terms of structure and visual appeal. We’re planning to record at the end of March, with a likely release over the summer. I’m thrilled to be working with Lynda.com again, in particular with producer Kirk Werner and Lynda Weinman herself, who’s taken an interest in the project.

But now, a question for you. What topics do you think should be in this course? We’ve already written out the table of contents, but it’s still early enough to include your good ideas! So please don’t hesitate to shout ’em out in the comments, and thanks (as always) for your interest.

Can Drupal handle high-traffic sites?

In Lynda.com’s Drupal Essential Training video series, I said:

“…you shouldn’t use Drupal if it’s going to be an extremely high-traffic or mission-critical site. If it’s necessary to have this site online to save lives, you should probably use something else or at least have something else as a backup. If you’re going to run something that’s going to have millions and millions and millions of page views, probably Drupal is not the right solution — although I should mention, Drupal does run very popular sites.” –“Choosing Drupal” video, timecode approx. 5:00

This assertion was questioned by Stephanie Pakrul (stephthegeek) of TopNotchThemes in her review this past September. Now it’s being discussed again in this thread on Drupal.org — although I have to say that that particular thread is throwing off more heat than light. :-/

I originally made that statement based on past criticisms of PHP and MySQL… but now am coming to think that my understanding of these bottlenecks might be obsolete. Alexa says that theonion.com — probably the highest-traffic Drupal site at the moment — hovers around the 3,000 mark in terms of most trafficked sites. Pretty impressive! Sears.com, which is solidly in the top 1,000, has only about three times as much traffic. That’s not much of a difference.

So let’s open the discussion here: How scalable is Drupal?

(Error in penultimate paragraph corrected — see comments.)

Beginners’ DrupalCon sessions, TopNotchThemes, and a new hosting service

It’s been a busy few months for me, so I didn’t get around to submitting my DrupalCon session proposals until today. I’ll be repeating my two beginners’ sessions from BADCamp ’08: “First Drupal Steps: From Download to Launch” and “Second Drupal Steps: Improving Your New Site“. If you want to grow the Drupal community by supporting beginner’s sessions at DrupalCon, please vote for them!

Secondly, I’ve been doing a lot of writing for TopNotchThemes. Working so closely with Steph, Chris, Jay and Jeremy has been a real joy, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount under their leadership. I’ve also come to understand just how great the differences are between well-crafted and run-of-the-mill themes. I hope my work with TNT helps everyone take full advantage of them!

Finally, Roshan Shah of Gloscon says that the company’s just launched its Drupal-based Web site creation and hosting service, “Galaminds”. Since there was a vigorous discussion about such solutions on this blog a few months ago, I’d love to hear what you think about their newly available services — particularly if you’re a customer or potential customer.

Finallyfinally, I’m looking forward to DC’09 already! Aren’t you?

Notes for BADCamp presentations: “1st Drupal Steps” and “2nd Drupal Steps”

It’s finally here! BADCamp 2008 will happen this weekend in Berkeley, California, with 27 informative sessions, BOFs, a job fair, networking and good times. I’m really looking forward to it.

As mentioned earlier, I’m presenting two sessions, and have posted the slides in PDF documents. They are:

See you there!

The business of Acquia Drupal

A few hours ago, Acquia announced public release of its first two products: Acquia Drupal (the software) and Acquia Network (the services). I plan to migrate tomgeller.com to Acquia Drupal, and will (probably) post my impressions of the products themselves then.

But for now, let’s consider the business side of Acquia. A few numbers:

  • $7,000,000: Initial private investment the company received in December, 2007. (Merry Christmas!)
  • 27: Its current number of employees.
  • $260,000: The amount of initial investment per current employee — a useful figure (together with burn rate) to understand how soon Acquia needs to either become profitable or receive further funding.
  • $3,750: The median price quoted for Acquia services per site/year. Note that this doesn’t include Acquia’s top-level “Elite” services, which are priced by individual quote and are likely to go into six figures. (Guessing the true average and median sales ticket would be a fun exercise, but one whose answer we outside the company would have no way of checking.)

So: Can Acquia make it?

Well, the numbers ain’t bad. Assuming the company delivers on its promises, I have to say I’m optimistic for it. The site clearly defines its products, proposes realistic prices, and offers packages that encourage engagement — including a free “Community” level for a single-server site with “forum-based” support. At first glance, it all comprises a strong value proposition.

Just as importantly, Acquia offers a migration path to rope in people like me who want to “upgrade” an existing “Drupal.org Drupal” site to Acquia Drupal. Smart! (Put simply, the migration is done by merging your existing sites directory, .htaccess file, and robots.txt file to a special Acquia Drupal package that leaves out these pieces.)

At the moment, Acquia stands alone. If Drupal continues to grow — and particularly if it experiences breakthrough success — it will attract other commercial suitors in areas where Acquia is now treading. But from what I can see, Acquia has gained first-mover advantage with its confident and solid entry into the market.

No, Acquia’s greatest challenges won’t come from competitors, but rather from two other places. First, the company could have misjudged market need — an easy thing to do when you’re defining a new market. Second, it’s in that tender stage when relatively small mistakes can affect them in big ways. To act boldly under such circumstances takes courage, making the strength of its first steps all the more impressive.

So congratulations to the Acquia team! I can’t wait to see what’s next.

My solution to the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac crisis… from 2004

At the risk of saying “I told you so”, I predicted FNMA/FHMLC problems in 2004 and suggested solutions. Here’s the relevant text: The second part is the most valid.

Here are two possibilities:

  • The government re-absorbs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I rather like this idea, believing they should never have been privatized in the first place. A secondary mortgage market is a “public good” that requires extensive regulation — exactly the sort of thing governments do well, and private companies do poorly. The down side is that re-absorption would probably go with a huge financial “prop” to finance the transition. That money would come from the general fund, forcing the poor (renters) to pay once more for follies of the rich.
  • New secondary mortgage markets emerge. Other financial markets (such as stocks) have become commoditized through electronic markets and small players. Why not mortgage-backed securities? The two big players really serve two roles: First, they set packaging rules to make loans more consistent and saleable. That needs a single, big player to set the standards — a role suited for government. Second, they act as matchmakers between buyers and sellers. This latter role is better suited to the electronic marketplace’s light touch than to a sasquatch like Fannie Mae.

Having said that, it’s essential that this market remain heavily regulated. The credit-card field — wildly underregulated — is a cesspool of scams and fraud, as is the phone-card field. The last thing we need is people losing their homes to oily salespeople with offshore mailing addresses and no accountability. I believe that anyone facilitating a secondary mortgage market should be licensed and bonded, with background checks, audits, unannounced site visits, and compulsory education. The cost for failure is too great.

Why support Drupal Association?

Note: The store closed in October 2009, so this program is no longer active. I’m leaving the blog post up for historical reasons.


I recently posted about my new store for Drupal-related items, which gives 10% of the price of all purchases to Drupal Assocation. Here’s why I think it’s important to support DA:

  • To continue — and improve — Drupal’s infrastructure. The Drupal.org site gets millions of hits per year, and that number is growing. Drupalcon likewise gets bigger every year, as do demands on volunteers like you and me. By supporting Drupal Association, you help the project grow to accommodate these pressures.
  • To enable new initiatives. Would you like to help talented Drupal developers attend Drupalcon? Accelerate funding of a much-needed (but commercially uninteresting) module? Have Drupal representatives acting as media and industry liaisons full-time? While Drupal Association doesn’t currently do these things, it could — with your support.
  • To fulfill functions best served by a non-profit authority. While I find commercial interest in Drupal exciting and encouraging, some functions — such as certification and trademark protection — are best served by a neutral party with interests beyond the purely financial. Drupal Association is that authority.
  • To provide continuity to the Drupal project. Drupal’s growing popularity means that long-time contributors will be an ever-shrinking percentage of the community. Drupal Association serves as an institutional memory to help us stay true to Drupal’s design and avoid repeating past mistakes.
  • Because it’s time to give back. Many of us — me included — have Drupal to thank not only for the software, but also for the opportunity to learn career-enriching skills in CSS, HTML, PHP, design, social media, and many other areas. As with other free and open-source software, Drupal democratizes such education. All you need is time, interest, and a way to download the code.

Regardless of whether you visit the store, I encourage you to learn more about Drupal Association and become a member today to help further these goals.

— Tom Geller, Drupal Association member #898

New store for Drupal-related products gives 10% to Drupal Association

I’m pleased to announce the opening of store.tomgeller.com, which donates 10% of the purchase price on all Drupal-related products to Drupal Association.

It opens with three Lynda.com videos:

  • Drupal Essential Training: 7 hours on 1 DVD-ROM for $49.95
  • PHP with MySQL Essential Training: 11 hours on 2 CD-ROMs for $149.95
  • CSS Web Site Design: 6 hours on 2 CD-ROMs for $149.95

All three for $299.85 — a $50 savings, available only from store.tomgeller.com.

This is a test run: If it goes well, I intend to offer other Drupal-related products through the store, also with 10% going straight to Drupal Association.

Thanks in advance for your support!

Is the market ready for Drupal certification?

Yesterday, Indian firm Gloscon announced its intent to offer Drupal certification. It joins Acquia, which first discussed its forthcoming “Yellow Jersey” program last March. To the best of my knowledge, only U.K.-based NobleProg currently “certifies” Drupal developers, although other training companies (Lullabot large among them) provide course-completion certificates; as far as I can tell, these other course certificates hold at least as much weight as NobleProg’s documents.

Which brings us to the point: Certification has only the value the market gives it. “Market” here refers not to the certified, but to their prospective employers and clients. That the market recognizes one certification over another isn’t necessarily a reflection of quality: an MBA from Harvard will open more doors than one from Florida Tech, even if the latter has better teachers. So it goes.

Recognition comes from two sources: word of mouth and active promotion. I’d say that Lullabot is the leader in the former, but believe that Acquia, with its US$7,000,000 in initial funding, has tremendous potential to blow away all competition in the latter.

I don’t know much about Gloscon or NobleProg, except that I hadn’t heard of them until yesterday. That’s my own ignorance… but it’s also a data point. Both are outside the U.S., which gives them an extra barrier for gaining recognition. (My country has many faults, it does host the world’s leading advertising and promotion machinery.)

One oft-raised issue with all these certifications is that they’re led by commercial firms — which some stakeholders fear will cause conflicts of interest. The obvious solution would be for a neutral, third-party nonprofit company to manage certification. Advantages:

  • Undivided focus. Such an organization could concentrate solely on certification and associated tasks (such as market promotion).
  • Ability to form “clean” partnerships (with, for example, Drupal Association)
  • Flexible structure. For example, it could certify the courses of Lullabot, NobleProg, etc. as being part of a bigger certification.
  • Market perception of neutrality.
  • Additional venues for distributed fundraising through corporate sponsorships, grants, etc.

The big disadvantage? It’s still not evident that the market need for Drupal certification is big enough to support such an organization. Plus it has no obvious source of seed money, which I believe should be at least $200,000 for the first year to make a serious impact. (Remember, advertising and public relations are a major part of what would give such a program value. Those things cost money.)

On the other hand, it could quickly become self-supporting — if the market is big enough. And just as a side effect, the boost it would give to Drupal’s visibility in the business community would be incomparable.

Now, I founded and ran a high-tech nonprofit organization for about a year and a half — here’s its old Web site at its peak on archive.org, if you’re curious. It was founded without money, gained (comparatively) huge public recognition, got its 501(c)(3) recognition from the U.S. government, and fell apart immediately after I handed off the reins. It was, frankly, a deeply traumatic experience.

But among the many things it taught me, one lesson stands out: Don’t go it alone. Delegate; work with partners; follow the market. The emerging leader in Drupal certification will need to know this, regardless of whether it’s a nonprofit or commercial organization.

There’s a saying that goes something like: “Smart leaders don’t try to get a crowd to follow them. They find a crowd and run to its front.” The question: Is the need for Drupal certification a big enough “crowd” to coalesce a leader?

Reaching for the middle: Hosted Drupal or Google Sites?

A comment in response to Jim Butz’ blog post (“Drupal and Startups: Is there a Connection?”) mentions Google Sites, an online system that allows people to easily build Web sites with such “Web 2.0” features as discussion boards and event calendars. Then a comment in Acquia VP Jeff Whatcott’s blog said that “Google Labs [is] cooking up their own CMS support division”.

Such online “build-your-own-site” systems have always been severely limited when compared to Drupal; on the other hand, Drupal’s installation procedure is still WAY beyond the abilities of 98% of the market. So we have simplicity and complexity, both reaching for the middle of the market.

Which will get there “firstest with the mostest“? Google’s a good bet — they’re smart folks, and the company has an amazing inventory of existing products they can leverage well. (Calendar, Groups, Maps, and Documents for site building; AdSense for revenue; Adwords for marketing.) The addition of e-commerce features (via PayPal/Google Checkout?) would make such a solution appeal to a lot of small business owners.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about whether a consumer-level Drupal hosting service could be successful. Some ISPs offer one-click Drupal setup, but a lot more could be done to make hosted Drupal more user-friendly, such as one-click themes and modules, automated backups, integrated marketing services, etc.. The diversity of available Drupal modules could make such a solution more powerful than anything Google could offer… but simplifying and bulletproofing it for a consumer audience is not a trivial matter.

So here are two questions to consider:

  • How is the market segmented? That is, which users would benefit more from a Google Site, and which should go with hosted Drupal?
  • To the appropriate audience, what advantages would a hosted Drupal site have over a Google Site?

These are questions all Drupal consultants will have to answer soon. I hope the discussion we start here helps us all in our business. 🙂

New to Drupal? Come to my beginners’ sessions at BADCamp (SF Bay Area)

Today I proposed two sessions for BADCamp, a FREE two-day Drupal event that will happen 11-12 October in Berkeley. Except for the Installfest, they’re among only a very few sessions aimed at people with no Drupal experience at all. If that’s you, please register for the site and vote for them! They are:

  • First Drupal Steps: From Download to Launch. This session is perfect for first-time Drupal administrators, those comparing CMSes, and anyone who wants to get a structured Web site online fast. We’ll go through the steps necessary to: set up Drupal on a local development computer; personalize the site by selecting a theme and adding site-wide information; turn on and configure functions that are included in the basic Drupal download; and ensure that everything’s working correctly for stability, security, and ease of administration.
  • Second Drupal Steps: Improving Your New Site. So you’ve successfully launched your first Drupal site. Now what? This class looks at some of the options Drupal provides to gain greater control over your site and improve how it appears to visitors. Topics covered include: Managing users; modifying themes to give your site a unique look; finding and evaluating modules and themes; and eeping the site running well with updates, backups, and added security.

In any case I hope to see you at the event. (And register soon! There’s a good chance it’ll be oversubscribed.)

Try the complete Drupal Essential Training video course — for free!

I’m excited to finally be able to give out access to the complete Drupal Essential Training course for free for 24 consecutive hours. Just go to:

http://www.lynda.com/go/tomgeller

…and sign up. There’s no obligation, and you won’t be asked for payment information. If you like what you see — or want to take any of Lynda.com’s 450 other courses — it’s only $25/month.

Please do let me know what you think, and enjoy the course(s)!

Tips: Running Drupal on Windows using WAMP

I haven’t actively administered Drupal on Windows, and in fact had never installed WAMP before creating Drupal Essential Training. The course includes a nine-minute “Installing WAMP and Drupal on Windows” video, but here are some additional tips I’ve discovered since the course was released.

  • Increase PHP’s memory settings or you might have problems backing up and restoring your Drupal site. You’ll see the issue if you go to the MySQL-controlling phpMyAdmin screen (probably at http://localhost/phpMyAdmin) and click “Import”: The maximum file size allowed is 2,048K. That’s only 2MB, and the databases for most Drupal sites are much larger than that. (The example site for Drupal Essential Training gets as big as 5MB.) To change this limit:
    1. Click the WAMP icon in your system tray.
    2. Select “PHP”. In the side menu, select “php.ini” to open a file containing PHP’s configuration options.
    3. Search for the line, “upload_max_filesize = 2M”.
    4. Change it to “upload_max_filesize = 32M” (or whatever you like).
    5. Save the file and restart WAMP. (Better yet, restart your computer entirely to be sure. I’m frankly not sure whether it makes a difference.)
    6. Now go back to that “Import” screen in phpMyAdmin: You should notice that the limit has changed. (Thanks to L.H. for pointing this out.)
  • L.H. writes: “In Windows Vista, the WAMP icon disappears from the system tray after x time (not sure about the duration protocols). To make the WAMP icon re-appear (so that you can access localhost, phpmyadmin, php.ini, etc.), you have to activate the “start WAMP server” icon (from start menu, desktop or wherever); then the system tray icon reappears. Pain in the chicken, but that’s Vista.”

I’ve added these tips to my new Drupal Support database.

Please comment here if you have other tips for using Drupal on Windows. Share the wealth!



[Update, 16 August 2009: See also this thread for tips, particularly this comment.]

Language love: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

I love old paper. When I hold an old newspaper, I feel the vibrations of its life over the past century. The texture of its surface reflects truly the moisture of the air that surrounded it, the dust that settled on it, the fingers that gripped its edges. When you can read these things in an object, you’re plunged into a world of senses.

Just as importantly, paper from before the advent of radio and T.V. provides an insight into popular entertainment. Magazines carried poetry, serials, recipes, illustrations, sermons, travelogues; many cities had a half-dozen daily newspapers. People with few other entertainment options — particularly those in rural areas — devoured the densely printed periodicals they received by mail and bound them into treasured volumes at the end of the year. (Remember that most people in the U.S. lived in rural areas before the 20th century. Whereas in 1990 only about 25% of the U.S. population lived in a rural area, 60% did in 1900.)

The cover you see here is from one such volume. “Chatterbox” appears to be intended for studious girls, and focuses largely on morality tales and trivia about faraway lands. (“There are only two known species of camels: the Arabian variety, with one hump, and the Bactrian camel with two of those curious appendages.”)

But to the point. The one thing I’ve learned from writing is how many ways a sentence can be phrased. The best writers play through several variations in their heads without even realizing it; the rest of us have to revise, revise, revise. Each variation is subtly different from the others in emphasis, inflection, and tone.

The following tidbit from this Chatterbox volume, in which the same seven-word sentence is rearranged in 25 ways, illustrates the point nicely. (Plain text versions are available from several sources.)

What fun language is!

Update on Lynda.com course, Panels 2, and tomgeller.com

The last few days have been busy, and I’m sorry if I’ve been slow in correspondence. Here’s what’s up with reviewer access to the Drupal Essential Training videos.

  • I believe I’ve sent email to everyone who contacted me. If not, please let me know.
  • According to Lynda.com, reviewers will receive their two-month passes soon. Hooray! They give you access to the whole site, in case you want to learn Photoshop, Illistrator, and Joomla as well. 😉
  • I’m very sorry that I wasn’t able to get review copies for everyone who asked. I understand Lynda.com’s decision to limit how many go out, even though it’s unfortunate for those who can’t get them.
  • But please do continue to spread the word! I’d particularly love to see reviews outside of the Drupal community, for example in Web design magazines. I’d appreciate any ideas or contacts you could suggest.

In other news:

  • The course was the subject of Lynda.com’s weekly video podcast. (And let me tell you, it’s a really odd experience to hear someone else say your name repeatedly.)
  • The DVD is now available! It’s $49.95, available directly from Lynda.com — look in the bottom of the right-hand column. It should be available from Amazon.com soon as well, and I’m looking into selling them directly.

Now I’m working on rebuilding the tomgeller.com site in Drupal, to be a Drupal resource. (I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t make the conversion before the videos came out.) Like the gellerguides.com site, it’ll be built on Drupal 6 — and will be my first time using the new version of Panels 2. [/fingers crossed]

(By the way, may I just give a shout out to Earl “merlinofchaos” Miles, creator of Panels 2? He just released an alpha version for D6, and I’m lovin’ it.)

Thanks again for your interest in the course: It’s really encouraging. The Drupalsphere has a feeling of emerging greatness that I haven’t sensed since the late ’90s, when I was involved in Linux communities. That experience, together with being on the wrong side of several losing ideas during the dotcom bust, taught me to recognize qualities of a winner. I’ll talk about what those qualities are — and how I think Drupal does (and doesn’t) exhibit them — in a future blog post.

The story behind the “Drupal Essential Training” video series

With the release of the Lynda.com series, some of you in the Drupal community might (rightly) wonder about my relationship to the subject. I’m a relative newbie — this Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of my drupal.org account — and haven’t worked full-time in technology for years.

So I neurotically imagine crowds of honest, talented, long-time CMS engineers sneering: Where do you get off pretending to be an expert?

Well, I don’t think I’m an expert — not about Drupal, anyway. What I *am* good at is translating between developers and users, decision makers, and the market. I’ve worked in communications for about 15 years (depending on how you count it), freelancing as a writer for the past two. Doing the Drupal series for Lynda.com was where several paths of experience crossed for me: training, writing, performing, and technology. (Here’s my resume, if you’re curious.)

As for Drupal: I first started playing with it around August 2007, but got distracted by a commission to write a real-estate book, “Save My Home: 10 Steps to Avoiding Foreclosure”. While waiting for it to be published, I decided to use its release as a way to hone my Drupal skills on its promo site: savemyhomebook.com was the result.

Meanwhile, I attended Macworld Expo in January 2008. I love Macworld: While I’m not as involved in the community as I was in the ’90s (when I wrote and edited for MacWEEK et al.), I always see old friends at the show. I ran into Tom Negrino and Dori Smith, who’ve written a few dozen books between them, and had each created courses for Lynda.com (which had a large booth at the show).

“How are they to work for?”, I asked. Dori and Tom just couldn’t say enough nice things about them, encouraged me to make a pitch, and invited me to the company’s party that evening. There I met Acquisitions Editor Jeff Foster, who pointed me to their “Call for Trainers” page. That turned into a request for a longer proposal, which led to a contract, which led to about 150 pages of speaker’s notes, which led to a week at their studios in Ventura, California to make the videos. And here we are!

The experience has been wonderful, especially because of the positive response I’ve gotten from the Drupal community. I’m spending most of my days now interacting with Drupalistas, improving my PHP/MySQL skills, figuring out where I fit in, and learning all I can about How Things Are Done — both technically and socially. I’m also striving to stay in touch with the perspective of those who don’t use (or even know about) Drupal. That’s a vast frontier, and one I’m eager to explore.

Craig’s List founder credits Drupal-based site for pioneering online campaigns

CNN just published commentary by fellow San Franciscan, Craig’s List founder and proud Obama supporter Craig Newmark, titled “Internet can strengthen democracy“. He writes:

Nationally, the [2004] Howard Dean presidential campaign pioneered the use of the Net for grassroots campaigning, involving ordinary people in the election process. The Net proved to be an effective tool for organization and fundraising. However, this campaign didn’t quite reach critical mass, perhaps because there weren’t enough Americans with high-speed Internet connections at the time.

It’s worth mentioning that the much of Dean’s online presence was powered by Drupal. Two reports from July 2003 that describe Drupal’s use are in this Wired article and this volunteer’s report.

(I think I met some Drupal folks who were involved in the Dean effort back then, but can’t remember who they were. If it’s you, please comment here and tell us about the experience.)