This last week-end I had the privilege of attending Drupalcamp Atlanta. The conference was held at Kennesaw State University. It was a one day event comprised of an opening keynote speech, a set of various sessions and an informal social get together at a local restaurant. I attended everything but the social get together after the sessions ended. It was probably fun, but I had to catch my flight home and couldn’t stay. This was the first Drupalcamp Atlanta, put on by the Atlanta Drupal User Group. They did a great job, especially in light of it being their first. I especially appreciate that they made the conference available at no cost, with the bill being picked up by sponsors of the conference.
The keynote address was by Addison Berry. Her address, “The Drupal Movement – Where Do You Fit In?” was not technical at all. It was basically an introduction to the project, the community around it and an exhortation to get involved in that community. She threw in advice on just how one might go about that, how things were organized (or disorganized maybe) and what one could expect. It was humorous and not too long. Other than some audio issues, that were not her fault, it was a great way to kick off the morning. Attendance was capped at 250 and they filled up pretty quickly after the conference was announced. I don’t know what actual attendance was but I think most everybody made it.
The schedule for the break out sessions is available on the Drupalcamp site linked above. They also tried to video as many sessions as they could and supposedly those videos and other materials from the sessions will be made available on the site. I don’t see them yet – but it’s only Monday morning. Those guys worked pretty hard and I expect we’ll see all that stuff go up later. I’m going to give a summary of my experience in the 5 sessions that I attended.
My first session was “Implementing a Multisite Website and Sharing Tables” presented by Andy Thornton. Andy already had his slides available via his personal site so you can check them out now if you are interested. The session was about the various ways one can set up sites to take advantage of the Domain Access project. This project is a suite of modules that make it possible to run multiple Drupal sites from a single installation and single database. The session really wasn’t looking at the modules side of things but what needed to be set up outside Drupal to make it all work. It was very good as this is something I didn’t even know could be done with Drupal. It means patching and updates can be done against a single code base in a large environment.
What’s cool about it too is that basically you just get everything to run to the same site and then Drupal will take a look at the URL and figure out what to serve up. So it really isn’t all that complicated. Some of the different ways to share or not share certain tables (he had an example where the user stuff was shared across a group of sites) are handled with settings.php. Andy mentioned a number of other cool things that can be done in that file. I need to spend more time there and look over all that is available. He was asked about how it scales and said he supports an environment running 30 sites using 21 different languages and some of the sites are getting thousands of posts a day from users. That’s impressive to me. Andy did a great job moving through the material and handling questions. A number of people there were already pretty familiar with this set up and had questions that he handled very well. (I don’t remember specifics as I’m new to this and didn’t have a context to help me hold it all in place.)
My second session was “The Power of Blocks” presented by Scottie Claiborne. This was a great session. Scottie covered what blocks were, how to create them, how to get them where one wants them, etc. It was a very basic handling of the topic and just what I needed to start getting a much better handle on how Drupal works. One thing Scottie did, that happened in many of the sessions I attended, was mentioning useful modules that can really help build great sites. Those that I noted from this session were Pathauto, Block Theme, Panels, and Views Bulk Operations.
Scottie was solid, handling a ton of questions that ranged pretty wildly all over the Drupal landscape. This was in no small part because there were so many beginner type folks there. She handled them all very smoothly and did a great job of bringing things back around. She had great examples for her talk and walked through things in Drupal rather than purely using presentation slides. This kind of hands-on demonstration was great and I saw it used a few times throughout the day.
My third session was “CCK Demystified” by Doug Vann. I have to say this was my favorite of the day. In part because of the information provided, but also because Doug is just a cool guy. He’s got mad presentation skills as the kids would say. His sense of humor and ability to just throw comedic gems out there with little effort were greatly appreciated in my first session after lunch. Doug also gave out some books and dvds- with the best system I’ve ever seen of doing so. But back to CCK. CCK and Views are two modules that really take Drupal to the next level. Oddly the sessions on them were scheduled in the same hour – so I couldn’t go to both. Hopefully the video for views will be up soon. CCK allows for adding custom fields to nodes. Slick stuff that.
Doug uses Aquia Drupal which is Drupal with a bunch of useful stuff already rolled in, so that one need not go get it all right after install. I am probably going to move to using that as my base install. One module Doug used was Admin. I saw a few people using it later and it makes the Drupal admin menus much, much easier to navigate. I’m all over that one. He also recommended the book Using Drupal from O’Reilly. I’ve got that and need to go through it again.
My fourth session “Creating and Extending Features” was presented by the folks from Sprocket. It was all about using the Features module. Basically it takes a bunch of setting, bundles them into a module and then allows the admin to install that module into another Drupal environment without repeating all the work that went into setting it up. I really need to look into this for some stuff we do.
Another module that was brought up during the session was Demo which allows the creation of site snapshots. The demo name comes from the ability to use it to run a demo and then jump back to a current state, but the uses for development and other things are many. It looked sweet and I’m going to be messing with it. He also hopped over to Drush. This is another module I need to install and start using. It’s a scriptable command line interface for Drupal. I will be all over that.
This was a good session but I was in a bit over my head. I took away a general idea of what Features was about, but too much of what was going on involved understanding things I don’t have a real solid handle on. There were people who taught the beginner oriented sessions I went to, that showed up at this session. It was packed. What it can do is impressive but I need to learn quite a bit more about Drupal before I’m ready to get the most out of it.
My final session was “Getting Started with Version Control Using Subversion” by Chris Hales from Mediacurrent, one of the primary sponsors of the event. Unfortunately Chris was pretty snowed under, operating with a lack of sleep and told us he hadn’t had time to really prepare anything in advance. He just answered questions and kind of winged it. I felt for the guy, it’s too bad they couldn’t shift to someone who was more able to be prepared. He did bring a wealth of real world experience in building Drupal sites and answered questions honestly, talking about what does happen as opposed to what ‘should’ happen. There was value to that. He mentioned issues with Subversion that centered around connectivity and the difficulty in branching. This really served to reaffirm my inclination towards distributed version control.
All in all, I was impressed with the level of experience and knowledge that the speakers brought. And there were 22 sessions I didn’t see. So there was a lot there for anyone. They could have easily charged for this conference and it would have been worth a decent sum. That it was free, included lunch and had such top notch speakers was very impressive. The cheap ticket to fly up and back was well worth it. I got what I would say was thousands of dollars worth of training for under $200 total. Anyone who might have thought about going to this conference but hesitated and missed out, I would suggest watching for the next one and jumping on it immediately.
I think the Orlando Drupal Group is planning one for next year. If they do, I’ll definitely be there in hopes that it is just as good as this was.