Drupal’s installation process wasn’t as newbie-friendly as Mambo’s – you’d have to manually edit a configuration file, but once the install wizard got started, it was otherwise straightforward to complete. Immediately upon a successful install however, I was getting some strange messages about QUERY LOCK TABLES write. The Drupal Handbook suggests that I should ask my host provider to grant global loack tables privilege to my account; alas, my host simply said that was not possible. 🙁 Thankfully this post on the Drupal forum (I just love the Drupal community already!) gave me a workaround that works! When I first logged into my Drupal test site, I was amazed by just how quickly everything loaded and how "clean" the interface is. The administrator interface isn’t what I’d exactly term "newbie friendly" though, and it took me quite a while to figure out how to get things done. The number of options available is overwhelming and can be intimidating for a new user, and I think this is where a newbie-friendly user-guide (complete with screenshots etc) would come in handy. New words to grapple with, like "taxonomy" (categories) and "nodes" (articles, news, any posted content etc) didn’t help either. Still after spending several hours playing around with the administrator interface, the different options available and installing different modules, I came to appreciate Drupal’s power and flexiblity. And I really think all that time I needed to learn about using Drupal was time well-spent, because the experience has really opened me up to many possibilities. Anyhow, here’s a quick run-down of what I did to create my school’s English web portal (still under construction and not yet launched!)
- Enabled the aggregator moduleI was then able to create a block to display news headlines from BBC World News. Hopefully some students will get excited enough by certain news headlines to click on them and actually start reading news websites.
- Installed poormanscron Helps to automate checking of news feeds (above), among other things
- Installed image & imageassist modules To make it easier for students to upload and insert in-line images into posts
- Installed tinyMCE module (and the actual tinyMCE too!) I’m still not sure why a WYSIWYG editor isn’t installed by default? Students most definitely expect to see one in this day and age!
- Installed profile Added an "Additional information" section and appropriate fields for students to enter their class, personal website and full name (as most students would probably come up with funky-sounding usernames)
- Installed members module The members listing feature that’s built in is too rudimentary so this module was needed. It also allows me to list a student’s full name and class next to his username. Disabled anonymous read access so that should give students more motivation to actually register. 😀
- Installed menu_otf module I enabled this for pages, so that whatever pages I create can automatically be added into a menu item. Definitely beats having to add them one at a time after creating all the pages.
- Installed path module Mambo’s SEF-enabled URLs like website.net/content/view/18/42/ weren’t enough for me – I needed easy-to-remember URLs like website.net/articles. With path module installed, you can!
- Installed flexinode module By default, you can only post two types of content in Drupal i.e. Story or Page. But I also want my students to contribute bookreviews, articles and news. Solution? Installed flexinode and I was able to create Article and News content types. The upside to this ( as opposed to creating categories for them) is that when students log in to create content, they will be given the option of creating Article, News and Story – each with their own categories (i.e. in Drupal-speak, that would be "terms in the taxonomy vocabulary"), which in the long-term would make it far easier to index written content.
- Installed quotes module Nothing like a quote a day to inspire students to achieve greater literary heights. 🙂 Will be taking them off Quotable Online
- Installed bookreview module Nope, didn’t forget about this one. 🙂 The cool thing about this module is that it also comes with all sorts of fields that would be relevant to a book review e.g. ISBN, author etc.
- Installed spam module Heck, even this blog gets lots of spam, so a spam filter on a school portal is most definitely a necessity. Hopefully, after the filters have been trained sufficiently over a period of time, my student editors won’t have to spend so much battling spam.
- Installed a phptemplate theme I’m no designer, so I picked the available phptemplate that I liked best and did minor tweaks to the graphics. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find the time (or someone!) to come up with a different/more unique design over the holidays. Right now though, I think it looks quite nice. 🙂 There aren’t as many templates as there are for Mambo or even WordPress, but I’m sure that’ll change in time. Especially since a handy theming guide has been published. 🙂
There were also other tweaks I had to do though, and you can read about them here (many thanks to all who replied in those threads). There’s still one issue with the template that bugs me, but I’m sure that with the active user community, the solution will surface soon. Yes, I do admit that was a LOT of work to get the portal up and running. The modular approach of feature implementation in Drupal does bring some level of complexity with it, but if that’s what’s needed to get up and running the way I want it, then I’m all for it! Also this approach helps avoid unnecessary feature clutter (which, arguably, might end up causing even more confusion for the user). Still, I expect usability to be improved quite a bit in the near future, judging from recent efforts on this track.