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A Thunder Day in Hamburg

The University Website team had the honour to be invited to the inaugural Thunder Day event, organised by the Hubert Burda publishing company in Hamburg, Germany. The main theme of the day was how open collaboration can help when delivering digital content through the web.

The insights of the day were quite revealing and very encouraging on the University’s approach in fostering a web open source community to support continuous development of the corporate Website, and its underlying CMS, EdWeb.


Thunder CMS is a Drupal distribution, aimed mainly at the professional publishing sector, initiated and maintained by Hubert Burda media. It is following the open source community contribution model, which powers Drupal as well. Essentially, it’s EdWeb’s equivalent for publishers.

My first contact with the platform took place during last summer, when visiting an open source breakfast event in London, organised by a UK Drupal agency.

The similarities with our endeavours at the University were obvious. That led to opening up a communication channel to explore areas where we could learn and, possibly, collaborate, which led to the invitation to present in the daylong event.

Thunder CMS website

Innovation via collaboration

I co-presented with Tim Gray, Senior Project and Programme Manager, sharing information on the HE environment, and our approach in service delivery and continuous development, powered by collaboration.

The basic message was the move to a more flexible and open environment, which is leading the organisation to adopt a true continuous development model.

Innovation via Collaboration presentation video and link to slides

Thunder Day presentation

Stratos Filalithis and Tim Gray present The University of Edinburgh’s Drupal journey at Thunder Day

My highlights of the day

It was really exciting to learn about big organisations, outside the HE sector, addressing their business challenges via collaborating in an open-source environment.

Open Y

I especially enjoyed the session by Nathan Maehren, regarding how the YMCA Twin Cities branch is pioneering the use of a Drupal distribution, branded Open Y. The aim is to develop Open Y to be used by YMCA branches worldwide as their main tool for digital communication.

It was striking as to how many similarities, both in challenges and approaches to resolve them, this presentation had to the University of Edinburgh’s environment: devolved content management and platform use, while trying to address a variety of audiences and business objectives.

The answer is open collaboration to identify top use cases, focus on the user experience and deliver in a flexible way.

Open Y website


Richard Jones’ session regarding personalisation was revealing on what could be the next big leap in delivering digital content via web.

Personalised content can move away from the current “suggested links” approach to a more dynamic delivery, informed not only by user habits but by further dimensions like time of day or year, geographical location and, potentially, by predicting user’s end goal.

It ended with a very philosophical note on how this could be used to provide unexpected content, thus “bursting” the user’s filter bubble. This question about democratising content delivery would have to wait for another day, though.

Conclusion: We’re not alone

I was really inspired by the discussions, networking around collaboration that definitely validated that our views and activities in the University are in the right direction.

As the plans to follow up with the wider worldwide open source community are in full motion, it is certain that will reinforce our efforts in promoting collaboration as a prime driver of EdWeb development.

Finally, I would like to thank the Thunder core team for the invite and a great day, hopefully one of many to come.

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