Highlights, themes and insights from DrupalCon Prague 2022
Drupal is an open source content management system which underpins EdWeb, the new Web Publishing Platform and the Design System. I was lucky enough to have a talk proposal accepted at DrupalCon Prague 2022 and learned lots more about Drupal by attending the three-day event.
DrupalCon Prague 2022 included a range of talks, demonstrations and workshops from people who build, develop, maintain, use and promote Drupal. Most sessions were recorded and were later made available on a dedicate YouTube channel.
A product-focussed conference with a range of perspectives
I’ve previously attended discipline-based conferences (e.g. Service Design, Content Design, UX) so it was a new experience for me to attend a product-focussed conference, and while my primary goal was to learn about Drupal from a content and editorial perspective – to support work on the Web Publishing Platform and Design System projects – attending a range of talks left me with a more holistic understanding and appreciation for Drupal and its capabilities and potential.
The programme included over 150 sessions in strands like ‘Makers & Builders’, ‘Users & Editors’, ‘Clients & Industry Experiences’ , ‘Open Web & Community’ and ‘Agency & Business’ as well as talks from keynote speakers and ‘BoF’ (Birds of a Feather) sessions aimed at getting groups of people together to work on specific topics or Drupal initiatives.
Given this was my first time at DrupalCon I wanted to attend a range of sessions to dip into different aspects of Drupal. I had gained some exposure to Drupal in my work on the Web Publishing Platform (WPP) and Design System, and I was keen to learn more about concepts and functionality I had heard about, to help me understand the system better.
My stand-out sessions
DrupalCon Prague 2022 had something for everyone, regardless of their experience or knowledge of Drupal. I packed in as many sessions as possible – too many to detail. Several sessions stood out for me for various reasons – some inspired me, some clarified things for me, some helped me understand concepts and ideas better, and some encouraged me to think differently.
The auditorium was packed for Dries Buytaert, founder of Drupal, as he delivered his ‘Driesnote’ reflecting on Drupal’s past, present and future. A key focus was Drupal being ‘software for good’ – with empowerment for users to own their own data, and have freedom to choose – in opposition to the way some proprietary social media platforms are run.
Drupal has transitioned from a basic CMS to a powerful platform for ambitious site builders – Dries Buytaert, Founder of Drupal
Dries highlighted important attributes of Drupal which speak to current trends in web design. Picking up on the trend for composability he put forward Drupal’s modular architecture, no-code set-up, many customer touch-points and business solution options.
The fact that Drupal is open source, supported by a strong community of contributors, gives it huge innovation potential. Dries acknowledged some of the processes that may slow contribution down – such as writing tests, completing accessibility reviews, getting coding standards right, maintaining backward compatibility, etc. He spoke in favour of ‘keeping the bar high’ to maintain Drupal’s excellent reputation in areas like scalability, security, stability, performance, flexibility and reliability, but pledged to make the bar ‘easier to reach’. On this note he introduced the initiative to make the contribution process easier, with the option of using GitLab instead of the issues queue on Drupal.org. He called on the community to ‘bring more people to Drupal and the open web’ and encouraged everyone to share experiences of using Drupal to promote its capabilities and its benefits over competitors.
Looking ahead to Drupal 10 (which launched earlier this month), he outlined some plans for the future:
- Continuing to invest in headless Drupal (where the front-end is completely separate to the back-end storing the data)
- Modernising the content authoring experience
- Expanding and improving data modelling capabilities
- Continuing to embrace Symfony (PHP components and framework)
- Using the Drupal ‘recipes’ initiative as a way of providing starter templates.
Digital Societies and the future
Taavi Kotka gave a thought-provoking talk sharing his experience as former Chief Information Officer of Estonia. After leaving the Soviet Union, Estonia had adopted digital technologies as a cost-effective way of managing citizen data. With every citizen assigned a unique identifier it was possible to build strong digital identities and a solid infrastructure for secure data sharing between the private sector and the government. Giving citizens the power to access their data openly helped built trust, and made it possible to make public services like healthcare and education more efficient as well as reducing instances of tax fraud.
Taavi delivered compelling arguments for countries using unique identifier ids, pointing to the benefits of transparency and openness. Speaking from a software developer perspective, he repeatedly highlighted the inefficiency of countries not adopting this approach, asking ‘Imagine building a business database without customer ids?’
Drawing on Spotify and Figma as examples of proprietary software, he encouraged a ‘mix of capitalism with socialism’ where companies that had been built up using community input gave proportions of their profits back to the community to continue their growth.
Products and services that don’t make their users owners will simply not be able to compete. Game Over – Taavi Kotka
Decoupled Drupal set-ups
I had read about decoupled set-ups from the developer perspective, but this talk was useful to provide a view of what a decoupled environment can mean for editors, and reinforced the consequences of not building an editorial interface that speaks to editor needs. Jeremy Chinquist from Drunomics GmbH shared insights from content creators working in the front-end, highlighting their expectations of the admin panels (including: preview options, publishing status confirmation), and revealing some of the harmful hacks they used to achieve what they wanted to (for example, publishing pages in order to preview and then unpublishing them again).
Lessons from migrating a university website at scale
Stella Power and Erik Erskine from the agency Annertech talked through the migration of the University of Limerick website as it was rebuilt from Drupal 7 to 9. The site had over 60,000 nodes, 70 content types and 60 vocabularies and was a multisite installation. It moved to a single Drupal 9 platform where permissions could be centrally managed using Drupal Groups. Stella and Erik shared technical tips and tricks for the migration process including use of a spreadsheet to automate analysis of legacy data structures – which they made available as a sandbox project on Drupal.org.
Comparing set-ups for managing sites at scale
Multisite Drupal is a way to operate numerous independent websites from a single codebase, to enable managing sites at scale. In this round-table session, contributors shared case studies of managing multisite. Several referred to use of Pantheon Upstreams which we are using in the WPP project. Beatriz Martinez, Solutions Architect at Nestle shared their governance model with three types of site – a standalone site, a Site Builder site or a Master + Childs/Master program site underpinned by Pantheon Upstreams. Suzanne Dergacheva from Evolving Web described a project to migrate around 950 websites to a Drupal 9 platform using Pantheon Upstreams at the University of Waterloo in California. In this case study she touched on the need to define DevOps (software development and IT operations) and to align these with training for site owners so there was a shared understanding of when new sites were required (and when landing pages would suffice, for instances like events and conferences)
Tips for long-term management of Drupal sites
Aram Boyajyan shared some of his 14 years’ experience developing and managing Drupal sites to encourage making the right decisions from the start to futureproof for the longer term. Generic advice was to include flexibility to respond to change and to ensure processes to onboard new users required minimum prior knowledge. Drupal-specific considerations included having a strategy for use of fields and entities relating to how data is stored and to document decisions made. Aram also shared ideas around defining ‘who could do what’ within sites, using either a traditional role-based set up (administrator, editor, owner, etc) or a permission-centric approach (where instead of people needing to know ‘what role does what’ they can clearly see the capabilities they have– e.g. manage configuration, publish content etc).
Collaborate like a wizard
I didn’t attend this session in person as it coincided with my own talk, but it was the first one I watched when the DrupalCon playlist was released on YouTube. It was an entertaining talk by John Richards from Pantheon, with five lessons about collaboration in website operations from the perspectives of different wizards. Although it was fun, it had resounding take-aways about collaborating to build digital products and services effectively – such as aiming to go far not fast, not working in isolation, avoiding cliques and keeping a shared list of terms and definitions to help consistent communication.
Showcase of Drupal sites for wildlife conservation
This inspiring talk promoted the power and flexibility of Drupal as a site building system. Filip Hnizdo from Octophin Digital shared his experiences building and designing sites for various wildlife conservation initiatives. The sites built with Drupal affirmed the system’s ability for handling structured content through filters, vocabularies and taxonomies.
Some of the sites shared included:
https://wildlabs.net/ (makes use of content types, groups, and custom entities)
http://sourcingtransparencyplatform.org/ (with complex taxonomies)
http://www.springalive.net/ (complex webforms with CSV imports)
https://terradapt.org/ (enhanced editor control)
Final recollections – the power of open source
Attending DrupalCon for the first time and contributing as a speaker I wasn’t sure what to expect, and how my talk would be received. I wasn’t familiar with the audiences and was unsure if what I was covering was too niche. I need not have worried. DrupalCon brought together content editors, developers, designers, system engineers, service managers and many more from both the private and the public sector. I met and connected with people from universities around the world as well as from multinational organisations, people from agencies (including TPX Impact who we partnered with for the WPP project) and from in-house. I came away realising the collective power of Drupal to unite people from different sectors, job-roles and countries, all with the power to contribute in their own way to make it better for the community. Given the importance of Drupal to the University web estate, I felt encouraged and compelled to contribute to improving Drupal in any way I can, starting by offering my UX and content knowledge to the ‘Promote Drupal’ initiative.
Content design and editorial perspective from DrupalCon Prague 2022
I’ve written an accompanying blog with more detail on the talks with a content design and editorial themes (including my own talk ‘Design for design’).