Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Building a Website Using Drupal

About 14 years ago, my fledgling garage band entrusted me with the duty of building a website. I registered an account with one of the free hosting providers of the time (either Angelfire or Geocities) and began teaching myself how to code html. I got pretty good at it too. This was in the days before services provided a built-in WYSIWYG editor, so I literally entered every line of code by hand.

Unfortunately for me, html has pretty much gone the way of Latin – it's a dead language. To build a professional site these days you need expertise in php, java script, Ajax, css, and other languages that are far and above simple markup tags. I know just enough about all of these to know I am grossly unprepared to take on a web design task.

Don't ask me why, but I did just that. About 6 months ago a colleague asked me to build a site for her to help market a children's book she planned on publishing. Thinking back to my html glory days, I naively said yes. I opened up my word pad, and got coding.

It didn't take long for me to realize that I simply couldn't accommodate everything she needed – user logins, message boards, checkout carts. Summer vacation came along, and the project reached a quick stasis.

A few months ago I was reading through some posts on Dooce.com and noticed the “Powered by Drupal” note in the footer. This opened my eyes to the incredible power of open source content management systems.

CMSes create a highly customizable online environment that offers the power and flexibility of a professional service provider without the cost or a need for technical coding skills. Drupal seems to be one of the more popular available, but there’s quite a few CMS applications that are free to download and install on your own web server.

Granted, it takes a bit of work to configure your web server and mySQL, but once that is done users can log in to the backend of the system and add content using a WYSIWYG editor. Do you need some tech-savviness? Yeah. But not nearly as much as someone staring at a blank txt file looking to build from scratch. Plus, the drupal.org community is thriving, so troubleshooting is just a quick search away in most cases.

Now that I finished the site for my friend, I can move on to bigger and better things. Like figuring out what I can build with Drupal that will be amazing for my students. Really, the possibilities are endless.
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1 Responses:

shroder said...

I've just started playing with Drupal for a new site. Try reading the handbook. Much of it is unfortunately poorly-written and incomplete. It's a little disappointing and I think it owes to a lot of frustration people have with this piece of software.