Thoughts from my first DrupalCon - DrupalCon DC 2009

The 2009 North American DrupalCon, a conference for Drupal enthusiasts like me, took place last week, March 4-7, in Washington, DC.  With 1,400 attendees, I am told that it was the biggest DrupalCon ever! It was my first DrupalCon, and I came away from it with a very full brain.  In this article, I'll cover some of the high points that I left with.


Missed DrupalCon?  No problem!  See the videos.

That's right, the vast majority of DrupalCon DC sessions were recorded, and the videos are available for free.  It's a good thing, because there were several parallel tracks, and many times I had to miss sessions I wanted to see because they conflicted with other sessions I also wanted to see.  I also erred toward the less-formal "birds of a feather" (BoF) sessions, knowing that most of those would not be recorded, whereas the major sessions would be, and I could watch the videos later.

"Drupal usability" may soon cease to be an oxymoron.

Anyone who has tried to build a site with Drupal knows how big the learning curve is. James Walker took plenty of potshots with his talk on Why I Hate Drupal, another session discussed the results of the recent Baltimore Usability Study, and a usability suggestion box was prominently placed in the main hall of the conference.  The good news is that the community is doing something about the usability issues, and Drupal 7, when it comes out (probably sometime in 2010), will address many of the usability concerns that have been raised.

The semantic web is all the rage.

Before DrupalCon, I knew next to nothing about the semantic web and what it really means. But at DrupalCon, I found out not only what the semantic web means academically, but what its implications are, thanks to Boris Mann's presentation.  The idea behind the semantic web is that extra tags help add extra meaning to your content, distinguishing (for example) Apple the fruit from Apple the company: something that is easy for a human to distinguish, but not for a computer. The W3C standard behind this is RDF, and there is talk that Drupal 7 may have RDF support out of the box.  Also, the semantic web is part of a larger movement known as Open Data.  In Dries Buytaert's keynote, Dries described how at first the Internet was about linking machines, and is currently about linking pages, but is now starting to become about linking data. With the semantic web, it will be possible for machines to understand the data kept on other machines, and can integrate that data in new mash-ups and applications.  I am only beginning to apprciate what this really means.

Multimedia on Drupal

Drupal has a diverse set of modules to handle multimedia, which is both a blessing and a curse.  I may be late to the game, but at DrupalCon I learned about a set of modules called Media Mover, which consolidates a lot of multimedia handling, making it easy to upload a video, audio, or image file, transcode it to a web-friendly format if necessary, attach it to a node, save it to Amazon S3, and more. 

E-Commerce using Ubercart

I had heard of Ubercart, a set of Drupal modules for e-commerce, but until DrupalCon, I never realized how much energy there was around that project.  The Ubercart sessions were packed, and of course, there was the Uberdinner, where 70 of us went to an Ethiopian restaurant to enjoy each other's company and talk about all things Ubercart.

It's the community, stupid!

DrupalCon was my first open source conference. Other, more commercial conferences from my past career, such as SuperComm (telecommunications industry) or Comdex (am I showing my age?), are nothing like the experience of DrupalCon.  Each and every person at DrupalCon is part of a community, which gave DrupalCon a very different feel from other conferences I've been to.  There was a genuine desire among the people at DrupalCon to meet each other and strengthen the community.  The parties and dinners were open to all attendees, and were a ton of fun (though I felt like an old fart, going to bed at midnight while others stayed out partying until the wee hours).  Many times I was not with anyone I knew from Atlanta, but not really by myself, because there were always people to meet and talk to.  I've made several new friends at DrupalCon.

So are you geeked up to go to the next DrupalCon?

I have barely scratched the surface of DrupalCon in this post, and I'll be spending the next several weeks watching the videos of sessions I missed, and re-watching the videos of sessions I enjoyed.  But I'm already excited about the next DrupalCon six months from now.

If everything I mentioned wasn't enough, the next DrupalCon will be in Paris, in September, 2009.  With that kind of destination, what more incentive do you need?