At the end of April, about 1,300 Drupal enthusiasts descended upon the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon for the first in-person DrupalCon in nearly three years. Among the crowd were 25 members of the Mediacurrent team — many of whom were meeting one another in person for the first time or attending their first DrupalCon.
The Drupal Association, the nonprofit engine that powers the global Drupal community, hosts DrupalCon annually. DrupalCon is one of the largest community-sponsored technology events in the world and the energy of the community is undeniable. Drupal-celebrities — maintainers of modules, creators of themes — hang out alongside total Drupal newbies talking shop, pushing updates to code or learning about the future of Open Source platforms.
The conference has many of the standard things you’d expect: keynote speakers, panel presentations, workshops and training sessions. It also has days dedicated to group contribution to the Drupal Project — meaning conference attendees have the opportunity to submit code directly to Drupal’s core or contributed modules.
Mediacurrent’s Relationship to Drupal
Mediacurrent has been an active member of the Drupal community since we were founded in 2007. As an Open Source Product Agency, Drupal is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal, and we’re big advocates for contributing to the project on a regular basis. Members of our team actively maintain many popular modules, especially in the security space. We also encourage our clients to adopt our “contrib first” approach — taking advantage of the 40,000+ supported Drupal modules instead of creating custom code and then contributing to the project when we do create something new.
As a fully distributed agency, we’ve always taken advantage of DrupalCon as an opportunity to be together in person. When the Drupal Association announced that DrupalCon was back with appropriate COVID-19 protocols, we jumped at the chance to get as many members of our team to Portland as possible.
With our team in tow, this year we hosted a multi-day, hands-on training session on component-based development, presented our collaboration with Penn State on the creation of their robust news publishing platform and shared more about designing and building sites with scalable design systems. On the side, we entertained folks at our booth with a claw machine filled with fabulous prizes.
Exploring Component-Based Development
As leaders in component-based development, specifically for Drupal, it was great to share our expertise and guidance directly with developers through our training session. Four members of our development and project management teams organized an engaging and interactive session that went deep into “the why” behind component-based development. By the last session of the training, the group had built their own front-end components and integrated them with Drupal to receive live data.
We take a component-based approach to design and development in most of our projects because it allows websites to scale beyond their initial release. Rather than thinking of a website as a series of fixed pages strung together, we think of the products we design as a flexible kit of parts that can be reconfigured to create all different kinds of experiences.
This component-based approach is the cornerstone of our partnership with Penn State University. The Penn State News platform launched earlier this year and reaches millions of readers per day. The platform includes over 100,000 stories and 60,000 images syndicated throughout Penn State’s digital ecosystem by an editorial team of more than 250 people.
As part of our collaboration with Penn State, we created a living component library that allows editors to create new stories and experiences that are always on-brand. Whether talking about the incoming school president or sharing breakthroughs from campus research, the Penn State News platform showcases the breadth and depth of Penn State’s impact in Pennsylvania and beyond.
Improving Authoring Experiences
Our work with Penn State demonstrates more than our component-based approach to design and development. A big focus of that project was on an element of the website that Penn State University News readers never see — the authoring experience. Creating efficient and intuitive authoring experiences for content managers is a huge focus of our work. One of Drupal’s primary value propositions is the fact that the authoring experience can be customized to meet any editor’s needs and match any editorial workflow.
And although the flexibility of the authoring experience makes Drupal a valuable tool to content editors, its infinite flexibility can also be overwhelming to site builders. Creating a highly customized authoring interface is a big task, which is one reason why we created Rain, a starter kit that makes it easier to build, launch and maintain Drupal sites. At our DrupalCon session on building scalable sites, we focused on how Rain supercharges Drupal development projects, especially when combined with component-based design and design systems thinking.
Kick-Starting Site Building
Site builders can leverage Rain’s benefits by using any combination of its three parts. The first piece of Rain is what Drupal calls an “install profile,” which is a curated collection of modules that make building and maintaining a site easier. The second piece of Rain is a back-end theme that offers an improved authoring experience, making it easier for non-technical people to build and manage web pages. The third piece of Rain, its front-end theme, leverages a set of common components that can be styled to match any organization’s brand guidelines and used to build pages almost immediately.
While building Rain, we analyzed the most common pain points from Drupal site builders and maintainers and created an Open Source product that addresses them. We use Rain on a lot of the sites we build for clients, but it’s also freely available for others to use and expand upon — that’s the beauty of Open Source.
The Future of Drupal
If DrupalCon has a can’t-miss moment, it’s typically the keynote address from Drupal Project founder, Dries Buytaert. Called the “Driesnote,” it’s where the exciting updates on the future of Drupal are shared with the community. This year, Dries talked about the eagerly awaited version 10 of Drupal scheduled to be released at the end of the year.
While there are quite a few updates and improvements coming in Drupal 10 and future releases, one of the most interesting things Dries shared was a shift of the Drupal vision statement that changes the focus from the sites people build to the people who build them — a focus we’re proud champions of, and one we are excited to continue embracing as a piece of the official Drupal ethos.
Our team closed out DrupalCon Portland inspired to take on new challenges for our clients and push the boundaries of what Drupal can do. We’re excited to bring an even larger team to the conference next year in Pittsburgh and share more of the work we’ve done across the world of Open Source.