DrupalCampNW 2012: A Review

When Mike Bell approached me several months ago and said we should do a Drupal camp in the north west I was completely on board with the idea. So for the past few months I have been working with Mike and a group of people from the North West Drupal User Group (NWDUG) to create such an event. The result was DrupalCampNW2012, which was held from Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th November. The venue was the new University of Salford campus buildings in MediaCityUK.

Our main stumbling block in getting this conference up and running was the venue. After talking to some of the computer science people in the University of Salford they offered the use of the building in exchange for some free student tickets.

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I was involved in all sorts of things during the organisation, including evaluating sessions, figuring out a schedule for the sessions, organising volunteers and even writing the odd blog post on the conference site. I should say though, that this conference wouldn't have happened without the efforts of Mike Bell, Stephanie Hosny and Paul Johnson.

The Friday consisted of a business related day in which we invited digital agencies who work with Drupal to talk with government agencies and businesses who want to know more about Drupal and what it can do for them. There were around 60 people there, which was a great turnout for a networking event dedicated to open source and Drupal in business.

The first session was a quick introduction from Professor Martin Hall, the Vice-Chancellor of the university. He talked about how open source (and specifically open data) was very important in the development of digital economies. This was followed by the keynote for the Friday from Martin Bryant who talked about the vibrant digital community in Manchester and that this conference was another extension of that.


The rest of Friday consisted of a collection of sessions with case studies, workshops and tutorials all about how businesses have used Drupal to build their websites and internal applications. We had aimed the day at business people who didn't know anything about open source or just didn't know what Drupal was and although it is difficult to attract people to a conference they know nothing about I think we did well. Judging from some of the comments on the day I think we should have a few converts. I particularly enjoyed the session from Code Enigma on how they manage their agile development process.


Saturday was the first day we had put on for developers and site builders to learn more about developing and using Drupal. We had 12 talks split across 2 tracks, but because of the venue we also had numerous breakout areas for people to get together and do Drupal stuff. I was organising the volunteers for most of the day so I missed out on some of the sessions, but I was able to attend a few (mainly due to my room management responsibilities).

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The first session was the keynote from MortenDK, who talked about the state of affairs in the Drupal theming world. Essentially, when he started using Drupal he found that it was a bit of a mess in terms of theming, and therefore tried to get things changed. Morten said that he complained for so long that webchick (the Drupal lead developer) turned around and said that "nobody told us what to do" to make Drupal a nice platform to use for themers. Jen Lampton (who I met at Drupalcon Munich) then stepped in and organised everything to improve the lot for Drupal themers, which lead to the introduction of Twig into Drupal core. This was an inspirational (and funny) talk that got people talking about the work being done in Drupal 8 to get Twig into core. This was just right for a keynote speaker.

The next talk I was in was from David Kitchen (from Commerce Guys) talking about writing rules in code. The rules module is a way of creating custom hooks and actions quite easily and is being used in Commerce. It will run certain actions depending on certain events being fired. It is akin to the hooks system in Drupal (and ties into it) but allows you to do things like sending emails when a certain tag is used or unpublish a node if a user is blocked.

David went into detail about how to create a simple rule and then export as a feature. He used a taxonomy term to decide whether to send an email to an author. The problem was that when the rule was exported it had the ID of the term and not the taxonomy name. This meant that when imported into a different site it wouldn't necessarily have the same tid and therefore wouldn't work. This meant creating the rule in code and finding the tid based on the name, thus creating a version of the rule that would work across different sites.

There is a lot going on in rules, with lots of functions being used to control rules and components. David had some good suggestions like abstracting your rule components and using one rule with many components. There are even lots of extra modules available to use. A good place to start is with the Tiny Book Of Rules, which is free to download from drupal.org.

Directly after this was a talk by Alex Pott about the new configuration management system that is coming in Drupal 8. He talked about why it is important, and how it was solved. After working with Features for the past year I can definitely see the need to have some form of configuration management, but the stuff that is going on in this initiative is truly amazing.

All config is now saved out as YAML files, which can then be deployed to another server as code to change the settings on that system. YAML files are a 'lean and mean' format that is mostly human readable and so is well suited to the Drupal way. The files can be deployed in a relaibale and repeatable way, which is great news.

Alex went into a few examples of how the config system can be used, and it looks like a really neat way of getting things to work. Essentially, the config management means that the variable_get(), variable_set() and variable_del() functions are being removed, as well as the variable table. In fact, with enough config files in place it should even be possible to run a Drupal 8 install without actually using a database at all. Alex and some of the people at Capgemini are partly responsible for the code going into this initiative, and I am very impressed. Great work!

Liang Shen's talk, Launch in 3 Days: Rapid prototyping with Drupal, was a case study on how he built a site called ubercheckout.com in just three days. The site is a search service for Twitter that takes geolocation into account. This essentially means that you can search for a Tweet within a given radius from a place on a map. It was built using modules from drupal.org as well as a custom module to provide the Twitter search data. The modules ip_geoloc with smart_ip as a backup were used to find the current location of the user.

Although this was a list of tasks that were done over a three day period one thing that really stood out for me was where Liang showed a phone application using the site as a template. He essentially used PhoneGap as a wrapper around a HTTP call that loads in the site. Because the site has a responsive design (thanks to the Omega theme) the phone application actually looked pretty good.

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Next up was Stephan van Hooft, who was also volunteering over the weekend. He was talking about Photos, Georeferencing and Drupal which started off with a link to an Etherpad page where people could chat and collaboratively add notes about the talk as it happened. This was an inspired idea and several people in the room logged on and started doing just that. This created a real sense of community for the delegates as the talk was progressing.

Stephan's talk was also great. He brought together several modules and created a pretty sophisticated georeferencing project that plotted photos he had taken on his iPhone using EXIF data. This was all done without writing a line of code.

The final keynote session was done by Josh Koneig who called in from the USA via Skype in order to tell us about his experiences with Drupal and what the future had in store. This was a little bit of insight into how Josh got started in the world of Drupal and what he thinks Drupal will do over the next couple of years. Essentially, WordPress is the dominator because it has a rich feature set but Drupal is the better platform because the end product is capable of virtually anything.

After finishing for the day we tidied up and made our way to the Missoula bar in Manchester city centre. We had used some of the sponsor money to pay for drinks behind the bar, and everybody seemed to have a pretty good time.


Sunday started a little slowly but we soon settled down and figured out how to run the unconference. We had a board out during the Saturday for people to submit sessions so we took these and wrote them down on bits of paper so that people could register their interest. The trouble was that we had a little too much space so it took a few minutes to figure out a system where talks would be held and people would actually know where they were. We eventually settled on a system using a combination of the paper suggestions and word of mouth, which worked quite well in the end.

Two unconference sessions that stood out for me was the Object Oriented Module Development talk by Ben Anderton and Minecraft by Blayne van Hooft (age 12).

Along side the unconference we also had a Twig sprint where MortenDK talked people through how to get started in contributing to the Twig initiative. I wasn't able to spend much time in the sprint due to organising other parts of the unconference and sitting in on sessions but I have heard that people got a lot from it.

What I expected when we first set out to organise this event was 50-60 people in a couple of rooms above a pub or something in town. What we achieved over the weekend actually blew me away and I am really proud of what we all accomplished. Although stressful at times, we really enjoyed the event itself and all of the positive feedback is helping us think about doing this all again next year.

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Finally, I just wanted to say a very big thank you to the following who helped make the weekend a success:

  • The University of Salford staff for accommodating us over the weekend, feeding us and helping us out with technical troubles.
  • The team of dedicated volunteers who helped out making sure everything ran smoothly by managing the reception desk, the rooms and the speakers.
  • Everyone who spoke or gave a session at the conference.
  • The team from 3DegreesWest for recording many of the sessions and doing an amazing job in getting the videos out so quickly.
  • Massoula Bar for accommodating us for the Saturday night.
  • LiveLink and Ixis for doing such a great job on the website.
  • Access for doing the design work on the t-shirts and hoodies.
  • All of the sponsors to the event, without whom it really wouldn't have been possible . A special thanks to Pulsant, our platinum sponsor as well as Access, Acquia, Code Enigma, CTI, Hydrant, Ixis, LiveLink and Tigerfish who all contributed to the conference.
  • To everyone who attended the conference; thank you all for coming along and helping to make DrupalCampNW such a great event.

Many of the sessions have are already been published on the DrupalCampNW Vimeo channel.

There are also a few pictures in the DrupalCampNW Flickr Group. I have used a couple of them for this post.

There are lots of slides and things available on the DrupalCampNW website.


Great summary of the weekend!

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