What the hell’s wrong with Drupal on WAMP?

Look at the top keyword searches that bring people to my site, according to Google Analytics:

  1. tom geller (O.K., that’s a gimme.)
  2. wamp drupal
  3. drupal wamp
  4. (content targeting)
  5. drupal on windows
  6. drupal windows

Further, about one in five requests for support sent through my site’s contact form is WAMP-related.

So — what’s the story? Is it that WAMP is hopelessly messed up? Is there a vacuum of relevant information out there? (My Running Drupal on Windows using WAMP article is Hit #4 on Google.) Have you had problems running Drupal on WAMP? Does the Acquia Drupal stack installer for Windows help?

“Drupal 6: Online Presentation of Data” video series is out!

At last I can announce the release of my new six-hour video series from Lynda.com, “Drupal 6: Online Presentation of Data“, which you can check out with a free one-day pass. (Of course it’s also available to anyone with a Lynda.com subscription, starting at $25/month for all-you-can-stand training in over 600 topics.)

I first talked about this course in January and was able to implement at least one suggestion from your comments (about creating calendars). There are also videos about mapping, charting, and preparing data for tabular export, all built on a foundation of CCK and Views.

Since Lynda.com’s audience is mostly graphic designers, the course starts out with an in-depth description of data structure: As you know, data planning is at least as important as implementation! And it’s an essential subject whose subtleties elude most beginners.

One wag in IRC questioned the need for such a course. “Presentation of Data?,” he said. “Isn’t that what Drupal does anyway?” He’s right — in the same way that a car is a tool for going shopping. But I believe that many people who would benefit from Drupal’s data-presentation features simply don’t know about them, because their knowledge of it stops at Stories, Pages, users, and blocks. They need a bit more information to make the leap, and could become fierce advocates for Drupal when they see all it can do in this area.

Extra bonus: For giggles, check out the Introduction video, which includes some live-action video of me looking goofy. πŸ™‚

Thanks, as always, to the Drupal community for both helping me to understand these topics myself, and for making Drupal the Web development powerhouse it is.

The problem with Drupal documentation

First things first: I’ve you’ve ever looked at Acquia’s documentation, read this post and take the survey. You’re welcome, jam. πŸ˜‰

Now, a confession: I went to the Drupal.org documentation sprint at DrupalCon. And I tried to be useful, really I did. But I found myself frustrated, unable to really engage in it, and left mid-day feeling horribly guilty. Why? I think there were two causes:

  1. The task is so immense. Drupal.org’s documentation has grown like topsy, and now useful information is dispersed throughout several unconnected areas. The search function is really all that brings them together.
  2. Quality varies wildly. The biggest sin is, as usual, too much writing. As I often say, writing is easy; editing is hard. Brevity is the soul of wit. Your mama wears combat boots. And so forth.

I wrestled with the task facing doc team lead Addison Berry: What would I do in her place? My answer surprised me: I’d burn it all down and start again.

I’m reminded of the real-estate markets of Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. In those cities there are blocks full of houses that are worth less than nothing: They’re too dilapidated to restore, and the cost to demolish them (about $8,000) is greater than the land’s value. And ashes are cheaper to truck away than lumber, even if the burning dumps toxins in the soil.

What “city blocks” on Drupal.org are like that?

Such arson is unlikely to happen on Drupal.org. For one thing, it’s discouraging to sweat out a long document, and then discover that it’s disappeared. How many people would stop contributing documentation as a result? How would the community’s soil be poisoned?

I’d still recommend cutting mercilessly. I believe at least 75% of the words on Drupal.org could and should be lost. But who would do the cutting? It’s tough work, and without glory. Converting Drupal.org’s documentation into a wiki(-like) format might help “crowdsource” the task. Or maybe not. Nobody likes to cut. Editing is hard.

Which leads us back to Acquia.

Acquia is a “third-party documentation provider”, like the Lullabots and GotDrupal and DrupalTherapy and many others… and me. It’s tempting to say that we thrive because of the weaknesses in Drupal.org — that is, that they create a vacuum that we fill — but it’s not really true. After all, Apple’s documentation is pretty good, but that supports outside writers rather than cannabilizing their work. In a healthy project, there’s always a new audience to reach.

But we outside doc providers have an advantage over Drupal.org: a clear field. Arson is unnecessary, and will put no toxins in the soil. Each building we create on these virgin plots can reflect a different architecture, each fitting a distinct family of users.

That’s why I think it’s great that the Lullabots’ CCK and Views videos will be available alongside my own: Theirs reach a certain audience, while mine will reach a different audience. And both of us can only do what we do because of the base provided by Drupal.org’s documentation. Together — we outside doc providers and Drupal.org — we all grow the Drupalsphere.

5 tests to stop your Drupal site’s silent death

I visited my site a couple of weeks ago and discovered a pile of comment spam. That’s not unusual, of course; what *was* strange was that Drupal’s Comment Notify module hadn’t told me about them. Some poking around revealed that, lo and behold, the site wasn’t sending any email. The problem’s nature meant I had gotten no notification: It was the silent site-killer.

So first off, I want to apologize to anyone who’s tried to contact me thorugh tomgeller.com or gellerguides.com and not gotten a response. Simply put, I never got your message: If you remember your query, please send it again. The fault was entirely mine, because I hadn’t instituted a simple procedure that would have prevented the problem. To wit: I should have tested the site periodically.

And so should you.

In fact, here are five areas every Web admin should test regularly:

  1. Anonymous user experience. Log out, then test your site’s appearance and function. One mis-set permission can stop visitors in their tracks.
  2. Sign-up experience. The sign-up email is your users’ first personalized encounter with your site. Are you sure it represents your current message? And do the sign-up screens lead logically from one to the next?
  3. Links and scripts. File paths sometimes change during system updates, but you’ll never know until you try to access a link or script… and have it fail. Discover the problems before your users do!
  4. Images. Ever had your images disappear after an upgrade? There are two common causes: putting image files in the wrong place (such as /files), and forgetting that you’d modified pieces of a theme when you upgrade it. Which leads us to our last test…
  5. Backup and restore. “You’re only as good as your latest backup”, they say. Further, “Your backup is only as good as your ability to restore from it”. Whether a backup is missing or unusable doesn’t matter: The result is the same.

I’m sure this isn’t a complete list, and fear the next time my site dies a silent death. So help me out: What other areas do you think site admins should test regularly?

Brother, can you spare a headshot?

I’ll soon be recording a video training course at Lynda.com similar to the one I created last year. To demonstrate various technical points, I’d like to show photographs of people’s faces on a fictitious Web site. So I need some headshots, and think it would be especially fun if they were of recognizable Drupal community people. Would you be willing to let me use one of yours?

If so, here’s what’s needed:

  1. Send the graphic itself by email to tom -at- tomgeller.com. It should be cropped fairly close to your face and no smaller than 400×600 pixels.
  2. Sign and return the two attached forms. You must have rights to the photograph!
  3. Prepare to become “Internet famous”! πŸ˜‰

A boon to beginners: the “Acquia Drupal stack installer” (DAMP)

Only five days after its latest release, Acquia today released another update to its namesake Drupal distribution — and it’s a doozy. The package itself includes modules that give you the first chance to try out the company’s new search product, while a separate release (“DAMP”) will help get Drupal beginners up and running MUCH faster than before. (It also includes another gorgeous new theme from TopNotchThemes, which I might use in one of my own projects.)

Acquia has talked quite a bit about their hosted search solution, so I won’t talk much about it here. It’s based on Apache Solr, and I believe that the Drupal.org site is already using it. (To see how it works, do a simple search on that site, then notice all the ways you can “filter” the results to drill down to the ones you want. I’ve found that especially helpful when searching for modules.)

But the only reference I’ve seen to the Drupal-Apache-MySQL-PHP stack before now was in a comment by former Acquia VP of Marketing Jeff Whatcott last November. In my opinion, it should get more press: It has the potential to be a REALLY BIG DEAL for Drupal.

Why? Simply: Installing Drupal is far beyond the ability of most people. When I was a newbie, I stumbled over installation for weeks before learning to use MAMP instead of Mac OS X’s built-in AMP stack. And installation questions are overrepresented in the support queue for my Drupal video course. As soon as you tell someone they have to change permissions, or type a Unix command, or download two separate packages, you’ve lost them.

So I eagerly downloaded and tried Acquia’s new Drupal Stack Installer (on the Mac), and found that it successfully avoids all these problems. Most importantly, it installs like a Mac application. Double click it, and it goes! For end users, that’s huge.

Acquia’s DAMP is not without its faults. While it mostly behaves like a Mac program, it suffers from several “look and feel” holes. For example, the “Control Panel” application (which appears to have been adapted from MAMP) lacks an “About” box and other touches Mac users expect; you can’t tab among fields in the installer; it launches Safari instead of your preferred browser; and the log files have an inconsistent interface. I’m not sure these errors would be as noticeable on the Windows side, which I didn’t try; I’d be interested in hearing someone else’s impressions there.

But enough about that: I have to go to bed for an early flight tomorrow to DC. See you there!

Helping Drupal beginners

TopNotchThemes just released my “How to make an online store look great with your new theme from TopNotchThemes, which I’m happy to say has gotten Übercart founder Ryan Szrama’s endorsement as “helpful and thorough”. If you haven’t grabbed your copy yet, grab PDFs of it and TNT’s basic guide to give out to your Drupal-newbie friends. And please do let me (and TNT) know what you think.

TNT’s customers span the range from shopkeeps with no Web experience to experienced Drupal developers who appreciate their themes’ special features. These guides aim primarily to help the first group: that is, folks who think of themselves as something other than “Drupal people”. Helping them be successful with Drupal is crucial to whether the platform will cross the chasm to move on to mainstream success. But they’ve not gotten much love from the Drupal community before now. In short, it’s hard to point mainstream people at a single, easy-to-digest document that helps them get up and running quickly.

Before you suggest Drupal’s official site, try this experiment: Send a couple of (non-techie) friends to the site and ask them what it’s about. It’s notoriously hard to navigate — especially for beginners. The problem isn’t a lack of information: It’s too much information. As the pros know, writing is easy, but editing is hard. And organizing others’ writing is even harder.

The average Drupal user has an absurdly high technical level, which leads to the second big problem: Nearly all of drupal.org is beyond the neophyte’s abilities. That’s as it must be at this stage of Drupal’s maturity. Drupal is still a developer’s tool; does it have the potential to become usable to the average person who wants a Web presence beyond WordPress and Yahoo! SiteBuilder? Maybe. But it’s not there yet.

These two factors — Drupal’s promise for ordinary people and the disorganization of its official documentation — add up to a market opportunity for those who are able to capture it. And yet, I would argue that nobody’s really captured this market. Taken medium by medium:

  • Training: Of those people and companies listed in Drupal.org’s training directory, the best known is probably Lullabot, whose past courses have generally focused on advanced topics. (The success of their “Do It With Drupal” course stands out as an exception. I have to wonder, though: How many attendees were “beginners”?)
  • Books: I think O’Reilly’s Using Drupal reaches out to beginner/intermediate Drupal users well, while sales copy for Wrox’s new book “Leveraging Drupal” promises that it’s for “users of all levels of expertise”. And yet… The O’Reilly brand has little currency outside of hard-core tech geeks, and many people (me included) don’t know what “leveraging” is supposed to mean as Wrox uses it. Further, both books are nearly 500 pages! It takes fearlessness to dive into a book of that size, no matter how good. (Full disclosure: I have a contract with Peachpit to produce a shorter, beginner’s-level Drupal book later this year. More on that later.)
  • Videos: Obviously, I’m biased. πŸ™‚ I’ve been impressed with the number of people who have made Drupal video screencasts — although again, most have been for highly technical topics. Frankly, production values have been very mixed: I find some of them unwatchable. One sparkling exception is Matt Petrowsky’s free GotDrupal.com lessons: They’re concise, well-made, and conveniently tagged so that beginners can easily find videos they’re likely to understand.

So there are gaps in the curriculum. Personally, I’ve bet that filling those gaps is good business — and so far that’s been an extremely winning bet. That first Lynda.com course has led to a second, the TopNotchThemes work has been both enjoyable and fruitful, the Peachpit book will come out with Drupal 7, and several other clients have asked for these sort of explanatory materials for Drupal. Professionally, it’s a good time to reach beyond Drupal’s existing circle of technologists; Drupal’s growth from such actions is a fortunate side effect.

[Graphic source: Craig Chelius on Wikimedia, based on work by Geoffrey Moore. License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.]

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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ™‚

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:


…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.]

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. πŸ˜‰
  • 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.)