Social Networking with Drupal | WebReference

Social Networking with Drupal

By Ernest Lilley

When I started writing this column a few months ago, I'd hoped to manage a nicely balanced overview of what was going on in the various Open Source CMS platforms, focusing mainly on what I see as the top three: WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal. After all, I have client sites running all three, so I get to work with them each in turn. But what's happened, at least in the short run, is that I've been spending more and more time on my Drupal sites/clients and less on the others, with the expected result here.

Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that Drupal is the best of breed. There are two points of view on the best Open Source CMS. One is that since you can make any of them do what you want, though it may take more or less work, which one you choose is a matter of personal preference. The other point of view is that if you already know one, it's clearly the best and everybody else's is worthless. Both viewpoints have merit.

My experience is that the Wordpress and Joomla! sites are both easier to build and less painful to maintain, while Drupal is neither, but offers greater extensibility. At a recent Drupal Meetup, a developer trying to pick a CMS to hone his skills on asked me if I he should focus on Drupal or Joomla!. From the developer's perspective, I favor Drupal, because a) it affords a lot of opportunities for development, and b) its developer community is large and active, as you'll see if you're going to DrupalCon Paris next week (1-5 Sept.).

Like the DC DrupalCon last spring, the upcoming Paris DrupalCon booked up fast. The organizers took pity on procrastinating programmers and added a handful of tickets, but only a few. As I write this, there are thirty left on the site, but they won't last. If you're going, and want your souvenir T to fit, be sure to vote on the piechart TWTpoll. Both Medium (24%) and Large (36%) beat out XL (20%), making Euro-coders leaner and hungrier than their US counterparts.

Drupalcon Paris Home / Late Registration

The site that's been taking up my time for the last month or so is a Drupal based social networking site (of course) with localized groups for chapters with their own calendars, forums, chats, galleries and location maps for each chapter. The spec also called for a collection of topic blogs by official bloggers, and an MS Word friendly editor for the bloggers.

The localized content was all handled fairly easily by the Organic Groups module, The topical blogs turned out to be similarly manageable by using the CCK (content construction kit) module to create an "official" blog content type, with a drop down field for bloggers to pick their top from, and a little work with the "Views" module to select which blog to present. The editor I used for the bloggers is the FCK Editor, which does a credible job of dealing with cut and paste content from Word. By the way, it installs equally well under Wordpress or Joomla!,

FCKE is simple to set up and use, though it disables the spellcheck in Firefox, which is a drag. You can add in either of the two spellcheckers it supports, "ieSpell" or "Spell Pages," but the first only works with IE, and the second "requires some server side configuration" which you may or may not be able to do, depending on your host. You'll need to download and install the ieSPell plugin for IE to use it, but that's pretty straightforward. Since my experience is that the folks who want to blog in Word also use IE, this works out fairly well.

FCK Editor Official Site / ieSpell Official Site

Two books I found useful while doing this project are Drupal 6 Social Networking by Michael Peacock published earlier this year, and an eBook that came out recently: Drupal 6: Ultimate Community Site Guide

The two books approach the same issue, making Drupal sites with all the networking bells and whistles, but from opposite directions. Michael Peacock's "Social Networking" is the broader of the two, mixing an overview of available modules, discussion of why and how to create a social network site rather than just leverage an existing one, customizing themes, promoting your site and more. This book is very accessible, and if even if you're new to Drupal, you should be able to get a lot out of it. You may find yourself stopping at Chapter 7: "Improving Our Network With Custom Modules," but you can still create a credible site if you do.

Dorien Herremans' "Ultimate Community Guide," on the other hand, takes you "by the hand" through the creation of the reference site for the book:

"I started a new site...and documented each step in the process. This step by step guide became the ebook. It is a fairly fast paced book, and will serve anyone from the motivated beginner to the more experienced Drupal user. The site eventually became , which is a community mostly for people who have read the ebook and are helping each other out. There are also a few tutorials available on the site, on how to convert to the latest modules."

I liked the structured approach to site creation, and really appreciated the many screenshots included. Ms. Herreman explains what you're doing and why in a clear and engaging voice, the layout is clean and (since it's an ebook) you can copy the code snippets directly from the book.

Both books cover the full gamut of community site creation, including Organic Groups, and I think they play nicely against each other. If I could only pick up one, it would be the "Ultimate Community Site Guide."

Ok, so this month I got sucked into the vortex that is Drupal. Next month I promise more balance. For one thing, I'm looking forward to checking in with the Joomla! team to see where they are with the full release of Joomla! 1.6, and what they did over the "Google Summer of Code".

is a former columnist for and Sr. Editor of TechRevu. He's been trying to organize the world by developing database applications since he owned his first PC and is currently dividing his time between writing about technology and web development and putting together CMS driven sites for clients.

Original: August 31, 2009