02 Feb

Conference report from Drupal Down Under written from a non-technical perspective.

Dries Buytaert (founder of the Drupal project)

The State of Drupal Survey: 3,000 responses, 151 from Australia.  Mostly from developers and site builders who make a living from Drupal.  Therefore, Drupal is supporting lives within a commercial ecosystem.  HTML 5 and configuration management are the two most requested improvements for D8.

Drupal is best at mid-sized sites because its flexible dynamic and able to support diverse content, but Dries is aiming to improve its use for smaller and for larger sites in D8.  There is a lot of potential for Drupal’s future in enterprise projects which leads to bigger resources, bigger projects, bigger teams, and wider margins.

Enterprise sites need multi-server hosting, need content staging capability, need configuration management (scaling, locking down configuration, ability to trace configuration change), powerful editorial workflow.  Use of UUID = universally unique content identifiers for content sharing instead of using RSS.

In media organisations, Drupal is usually the mid layer beneath the major publication CMS, and shares the lower tier with WordPress.  Its easy to see a role for Drupal in replacing legacy platforms.

Multi-channel websites = mobile is a focus for D8.  There is a push to create native mobile platform apps, but this requires code rewrite and this has caused inertia.  HTML 5 default standard means that mobile websites will work.  Responsive design and image scaling are used for this.

Dries wants to improve the editorial experience in D8 and make the administration page much more useful.

D7 did not implement a lot of the improvements that Dries wanted, due to lack of resources and sometimes inertia caused by the community.  But usability improvements were made.

On the other hand performance is worse in D7.  Therefore Drupal core development will have more performance testing in its culture.

Dries wants to incorporate more object oriented programming to make joining the Drupal team easier for new programming graduates.

There is now a need for specialists within the Drupal community to focus on specific areas, so that improvements can be made in those areas.  The best way to do this is to start your own consulting company.

Software as a service is a good idea for Drupal because it overcomes the installation and upgrade pain points.

Maintaining legacy systems is entirely up to the availability of volunteer maintainers.  Corporations may contribute more in the future such as in the Linux model.

The ability to maintain Drupal configuration via a command line is an objective so that a file contains the configuration, and this file can be subject to version control.

Gian Wild

Disability is all around you, and is hidden from plain sight.  300,000 Australians have vision impairment.  2 million Australians have cognitive impairment.  Gian started work in 1999 and in 2008 joined as a WCAG contributor.  In WCAG there are 4 principles, under which are guidelines, followed by success criterion, which contain techniques for developers.  An easy document to access is Understanding WCAG2.   Specific technical documents apply for HTML and javascript.

Webistes must conform to the standards, whole pages must be compliant without exception, HTML fallback must always be employed.  Never implement a function which will disadvantage users with a disability.

Wanted List

  1. CAPTCHA – should never be used, instead use a human question such as pioneered by Troy Rasiah at Vicnet 15 years ago.
  2. PDF – they are not accessible, provide HTML version, tag the PDF.  Smart forms never work for users with adaptive technology.  Always use HTML in preference.
  3. Never use COLOUR, SHAPE or LOCATION to determine function or information.
  4. HTML 5 is not accessible – its not ready yet.  HTML 4 fallback versions must be provided when HTML 5 is used.

SKIP TO CONTENT – must always be the first link, must always be visible, should say “SKIP TO MAIN CONTENT” most skip to content links on websites are broken.

MULTIMEDIA (including image functions) – must have pause, stop, hide accessible via keyboard.  User must always be able to exit any activated function via the keyboard.

TIMER – if there is a timer on transactions, always allow the user to extend the time limit.

“information and relationships” article on

PAGE TITLES must be concise and unique

ERROR / FORM VALIDATION – the error must be within the field label.

EMPTY SEARCH – this must bring up an error “you have not entered a search term” for example.

MOUSE HOVER ACTION must be visible when tabbing to a link via keyboard.

STYLE SHEETS – site must continue to work after style sheets are switched off.

JAVASCRIPT must be tested with assistive technology.  Users with disabilities are more likely to use javascript than regular users, so it must work with their system.  HTML fallback is always required.

Gian said Adobe could address the accessibility problem by funding research into better assistive technology.

Assistive technology testing software is not effective.

MISTAKES IN WCAG 2 (what happens with decisions made by committee)

  1. JAVASCRIPT – this is actually accessible when well written, but WCAG 2 does not permit it.
  2. MICROSOFT WORD – this is not an accessible product, but WCAG 2 says it is.

Get an automated web based site tester.    None of them are much good though.

Use a page by page tester:

Use Firefox developer toolbar and firebug.

Use the HTML and CSS validators.

Stuart Clarke – Distributions

Drush Make is a site recipe, in combination with Features, sites can be transferred with configuration such as views and variables included.  A distribution is a custom package with core, install file, modules, themes and files, and therefore allows you to rollout a specific config.  Sample distributions can be downloaded from e.g. Open Atrium.  This method saves 3 installation days.

Claudine Chionh – Drupal developer at Unimelb

Working on a project covering the history of 73,000 convicts from Tasmania.  One of two part time developers on the project.  Using XML format TEI, BaseX XML engine for visualizing.  Perl scripts extract the data from Google Docs into the database.  Google Docs is used for data entry.  XSLT to present master database in BaseX.  Perl scripts to consolidate data.  XML file identifiers added to Google docs.  XML version URL and Drupal URL.  This was a really good talk, I spoke with Claudine, who is interested in making contact with our team.

Silvia Pfeiffer – HTML 5 video

Omega Theme Demo

Omega is a responsive theme on the 960 grid system, with 12, 16 and 24 column layouts.  It replaces the core base theme.  It can be used with xhtml and html5.  The theme settings have a GUI.  The theme uses a layer hierarchy: sections, zones and regions.  The settings for each layer have specific labels e.g. Region prefix sets the padding before the content, width sets the number of columns, suffix sets the padding after the content.  The responsive design enables the number of columns to be managed, and in mobile format, there are no columns, the fields are all just stacked on top of each other.  This gives the advantage of flexibility layout depending upon the user environment, but then within that you might get some undesirable side effects.  Omega was built with mobile in mind, so design can focus on mobile first rather than as an afterthought.  There are adaptable layouts for standard, narrow and wide (maximum screen use) which are managed via “media queries”.  These have level inheritance, so the levels below always inherit the settings from the levels above – this can be a problem.  The alpha theme is the basic framework with grid, css, templates and contains no presentation.  The omega theme has the branding, text, menu, styles, javascript / html 5 styles, tpl files.  Omega tools has a helper module so that you can create a new sub-theme, and you can export the variables to convey theme settings to new sites.  Its an adaptive theme.  Designers will be familiar with the 960 standard, can design three different page sizes, but will need to have markup knowledge and understand the behaviour of the expansion / contraction method.  The management of images is an issue – do you provide a “max size” image to the user which requires are larger download, and is then manipulated for display, or do you use javascript to manage image swap outs.  Don’t forget higher res images are needed for iphone 4 retina display.


The department has 130 sites.  They have 18 web staff, 9 content and 9 developers.  They are located in the communications area, not the IT area.  They decided to move away from Sharepoint in 2009.  They chose Drupal in 2011 and implemented 6 sites in 6 months.  They did not mention external assistance, but I know that they worked with Previous Next.  They aim to meet WCAG 2.0 AA.  They have dev, test and prod environments.  They use Selenium for automated testing. has 100 sections, 10,000 pages, 35,000 items.  Automated testing: tests are built into development.  There is a technical manager in IT responsible for accessibility, and this person is independent of the web team.  There is a single server with 1 db and multiple websites.  They have a load balancing proxy.

AJAX D7 FORMS – Simon Hobbs

Simon demonstrated the use of form dependency, multi-step forms and form validation using AJAX.  This uses a storage component and gives executable rights back to Drupal. Using ctools – this doesn’t give executable rights to Drupal.  The example used JSON array to give a return and print form details within the page as they are entered.  To learn more read include files.  Use the examples module to see how it can be used.  Another option is to use States instead of ajax call backs.

Heath Graham

Most projects found Drupal hard to learn but easy to use once you are familiar with it.  Drupal is quick to build and flexible enough to do what you want.  The administration of topics in Drupal makes it easy to manage changes to sections including structural changes.

Pascal Hakim – IDG media publishing

Started with Drupal in 2007 to replace their publishing system, but they didn’t want to migrate their database (which they had since 2002), so they integrated parts of Drupal into their old cms.  Now they are using a third CMS, they are still using the same database and have integrated components of all three systems together.  He explained this as a good case study on what not to do, as they have created a monster.  They are unable to progress now, because they are endlessly in maintenance mode.  IT should be able to drive efficiency, and then fund innovation based on the savings gained by efficiency improvement.  They are a long way from doing this.  They implemented Drupal multisite, but found that they can’t identify bugs after this, because it became too complex.  They run an error checking cron job.  They had a requirement to deliver random content, but were not able to deliver this due to caching.  They encountered a problem known as “thundering herds” when all their site caches expired at the same time.  They believe what’s missing in Drupal is an auto save function for the edit page, and more flexibility for editing of the same content item by multiple people.  They found Drupal views too hard and so they didn’t get into CCK.  Their editors wanted access to some formatting, so this was limited via structured options e.g. create a table of contents.

Dimitri Gaskin – the Drupal Community

Explained the benefits of contributing to the Drupal community.  He started programming at age 8 learning java for a lego robot, worked on his school website at age 10 using Drupal, started attending Drupal conference at age 12.  His first Drupal patch was accepted in 2007 age 11.  He likes Drupal Dojo learning materials.  Drupal is a “do-aucracy” – power to those people who contribute.  He contributed “Drush make”.  Open Atrium for intranet.  Tile Mill for maps.  His rules for participation: 1. always argue the point with the community in mind, not with your own priorities or me first, 2. always contribute, 3. build community, 4. experiment, learn and build to improve yourself.  The benefits of the Drupal community are that 1. its fun to code, 2. you get recognition, 3. you get satisfaction from helping others, 4. you build something great.  There are 15 lines of his code being used in the whitehouse website.  A diverse community is the strongest, because the individuals bring together their points of view collaboratively.  He is on the Drupal security team.

David Peterson – Previous Next – Australian War Memorial.

Semantic Web moves us towards a Web of Things rather than a Web of Pages.  Things are people, places, events and documents.  They can have persistent URLs.  They can be controlled via vocabularies using (built by Microsoft and Google to defeat Facebook). provides default fields for describing items.  Google Rich Snippets requires a Google+ account.  In Google+ you can identify your site name and add an authorship link which can then be displayed on your site.  Microformats.  Microdata for embedding meta data replaced RFDa but RFDa is now supported again.  Rel=”author” a href=”<google authorship>” this can be used to over-ride the Drupal authorship link.  The benefit of this is a boost to your google search rank score, this is the advantage.  Facebook identification of content should also be used in conjunction with Google +.  Facebook Open Graph – RFDa. FOAF.  DC names are ignored by  Geonames has names for places.  This info is in the PDF.

Lightning Talks

  1. Automated testing – the aim is to produce a report that your system administrator can understand at 3am in the morning. Use
  2. Use to locate sites built with Drupal.
  3. Join the Drupal Association –
  4. Get a virtual assistant to manage your online life –
  5. Open Source Industry Australia –
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized


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