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New toy: Drupal

kilded-it-now-wut.jpgSara Frug, one of LII’s editors, wrote a little bit about what she’s been up to recently:

“Every so often, when we’ve been very, very, good, we get to play with some new software. On the editorial side of the LII operation, the latest shiny things have been WordPress, the software that runs this blog, and Drupal, a web content management system which we’re adapting to run the rest of our editorially-generated content.

Drupal is an extremely flexible system: it comes very minimally configured, and it lets you customize user roles, content type definitions, categories; and when that’s not enough, it lets you install more pieces of software to extend the system. All of this flexibility, however, means that it takes a while to figure out how best to set things up.

Eager to commiserate trade notes with other Drupal folk, I met up with LII programmer Brian Hughes at Drupalcon Boston 2008. We took in some panel presentations, met a bunch of great folks, and in the process of learning a bunch of new tricks, re-discovered how unusual our little operation really is.

My favorite part of the conference was the “Birds of a Feather” track — basically a space for people doing similar things to meet each other and talk about the work they do, the problems they’ve run into, and the solutions they’ve found. Some of the highlights: a demo from Penn State for a complete course management system; a discussion about interfaces for search; and a meetup that I stumbled into on legal issues around open source projects. It was a great pleasure to meet so many others so kindred in so many different ways.

So why did I say that all of this reminded us of how unusual the LII is? It’s because we’re such an odd hybrid: a research group and an outreach operation; a site with heavy editorial workflow and an automation-based text-processing shop; a university project with the culture of a tech startup. We might sometimes wonder whether we are impossibly chimeric, but ultimately we have the same challenge as everyone else: remembering that all of these new toys are really just to help us do useful things with information.”