When Phillies hats begin to dot the landscape and one of the most beautiful train stations in the country materializes around you, you know you're in Philadelphia, a city I can never seem to stop loving. After a brief hiatus, Drupaldelphia was in full swing this year, attracting developers, creatives, and businesspeople from all over Pennsylvania and surrounding states to a conference that is always full of pleasant surprises.
Hosted by Hussian College in the Spring Garden area of Philadelphia, Drupaldelphia had something for everyone, whether developers hungry for headless or novices just getting started with Drupal for the first time. And it was a unique privilege to share the stage with fellow open source exponents for a wide-ranging lightning keynote panel.
In this week's edition of Experience Express, I stopped by Drupaldelphia to gain some fascinating insights about Drupal 8 and the future of Drupal and to kick off Philly Tech Week in style. Organized by Chris Urban (Manager, Professional Services at Acquia) and Anson Han (Senior Developer at EPAM Systems), Drupaldelphia roared back to life with a bright future as a conference that brings the Philadelphia open-source community together like none other.
Improving the Drupal experience for everyone
"Drupal. It's accessible." —Peter Brooks
On stage I joined up with Peter Brooks (Director of Career Services and Admissions at Hussian College), Joel Chew (PMO Service Delivery Manager at Thomson Reuters), and Marcus Iannozzi (Founder and Principal of Message Agency) for a rather unprecedented — but fresh — approach to the morning keynote. Chris Urban facilitated a breathtakingly topical keynote panel about Drupal personas, how to improve Drupal moving forward, and how to involve the Philadelphia community in the action.
The first question was a relevant one as Drupal struggles with its perennial challenge of whom it is seeking to cater to the most. For Marcus and Peter, the nontechnical decision-maker is paramount when it comes to the most important persona for Drupal, because evaluating Drupal is still an experience fraught with traps and detours, an issue also analyzed by Matthew Grasmick and escalated by Dries Buytaert in advance of DrupalCon Nashville.
Marcus spotlighted the Promote Drupal initiative, which the Drupal Association has been promulgating to reinvent Drupal's marketing, starting with Drupal.org. According to Marcus, Drupal's marketing is seeing marked improvement, but evaluators still need a better experience. Peter suggested snappier, more memorable marketing that "starts a conversation" and encourages evaluators to create deep connections in their head. In making his point, Peter mentioned the work of Jonah Berger, author of Contagious and a viral marketing expert, arguing that Drupal needed to build its "social currency" to regain its previous virality.
Finally, Chris asked the panel about our thoughts on involving the Philadelphia open-source community in efforts to improve perceptions of Drupal. Marcus recommended that interested contributors get involved in the Promote Drupal initiative, emphasizing that there is far more room than ever before for marketers, developers, agency owners, and project managers to help move the bar forward. Meanwhile, Joel lauded attendees for the work they had done already and encouraged Philadelphians to "keep doing what you're doing; Drupal is great thanks to you." I couldn't agree more!
Shedding light on undiscovered Drupal 8 features
"You can think of hooks as the building blocks of Drupal development." —Pete Inge
Pete Inge (Senior Developer at Bluecadet) presented an intriguing session that aimed to cast light on some of the features in Drupal 8 that go unnoticed or unused, particularly by site builders and developers new to Drupal. Over the course of his session, Pete argued consistently that Drupal 8 is a thrillingly rich CMS with compelling features for everyone, emphasizing in particular features useful for both developers and their customers.
Starting out with concepts such as Twig libraries and preprocess functions in Drupal 8 themes, Pete presented a brisk overview of hooks as a critical tool for theme developers. Preprocess functions in Drupal are ubiquitous, allowing anyone to customize and cater data to their specific presentational needs. Pete advises that developers remove logic from template files so that they remain presentation-only.
Next, Pete moved into different ways of displaying data through display formatters and tokens. With display formatters, Pete demonstrated that it's possible to display data in multiple ways and include certain settings that adhere to "the Drupal way". The example Pete gave was the default Link field, which provides two display formatters out of the box — but developers can create an arbitrary number of display formatters and alter the fields as needed to create differentiated displays. As for tokens, meanwhile, Pete offered an example from a client project in which he uses them for path aliases — where certain data included in a content entity is used to create dynamic path aliases for metatags.
Most of what Pete spoke about wasn't new to me, but I was surprised to learn about the diverse use cases for custom batch processes, something I hadn't considered as a solution for my own development. Pete highlighted one fascinating use case for custom batch processes in decoupled Drupal implementations where developers can pre-build image styles or other assets for various front ends. Such a batch process would iterate through fields and create image styles destined not for the web but for kiosks or other third-party devices that require distinct image sizes and formats. Check out the video of Pete's session for more!
I'm a big fan of Drupaldelphia because of its focus on having something for everyone, a trait that makes all Drupal camps great. This year's edition was no different, with organizers Chris and Anson serving up a collection of useful knowledge for Drupal beginners, insights to improve the Drupal evaluator experience, and tidbits of battle-tested case studies that provided fodder for developers looking for best practices in advanced implementations.
For my next trip, I'll hop across the pond and begin a European Drupal tour, with a whirlwind of events in Alicante (DrupalCamp Spain), Utrecht (Frontend United), London (Acquia Engage London), and Bucharest (Drupal HackCamp). In the meantime, I'll be penning a few more blog posts about Drupal's web services ecosystem before jumping into front-end implementations. As always, if there's something you want to read about, reach out to me at [email protected] or on Twitter at @prestonso.