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Going to school—Drupal school

I’ve been studying Drupal these past months. Drupal is a highly-regarded open source content management system (CMS) that can run anything from a single-person website to a community portal. There’s even a Newspapers on Drupal group for people using the CMS for their news websites.

Drupal school NOW SHOWING. I’ve downloaded Elliott Rothman’s video tutorial series on Drupal. Rothman’s tutorials are really helpful for newbies who want to learn how to use Drupal as content management system. Click on photo to enlarge.

Drupal, unlike many other open source CMS, seems to be much more technically challenging to use, especially for non-geeks like me who can’t program.

It took me a couple of months of studying and experimenting with WordPress to be able to confidently make it work for a project the way I wanted it to work. WordPress can be used to run a news or magazine website and I’ve done this for several projects. I am also currently writing a new article on how to use WordPress to run a news website and will be releasing a new theme for it. It’s for a personal project that I was supposed to launch this weekend but got delayed by work deadlines.

While I love WordPress and have been using it for most of my personal projects, I want to learn how to use Drupal extensively because I see it as the better CMS for larger, more complex, and community-oriented web projects. Some of the sites running Drupal are The Onion, MTV UK, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Exposure, and The New York Observer.

The New York Observer’s use of Drupal is particularly noteworthy because its development team discussed how they did it in this article on the relaunch of the newspaper site using Drupal.

A project I’m involved with is also set to migrate to Drupal from a custom CMS. The group running the project had initially thought of using another custom CMS but I told them that we might be better off using Drupal and taking advantage of its myriad of features and modules that extend functionality as well as its development cycle. With a custom CMS, development stops after deployment since support and improvement are limited to several months after the launch, or as long as the contract stipulates it to be. With a closed source CMS, I warned the group, we’ll be stuck on the version installed for us on contract delivery date.

So here I am, trying to learn Drupal. I’ve been playing with the CMS for months already and this I can tell you, it’s learning curve is really steeper. I’ve already deployed a couple of Drupal sites, some of them installed only for experimenting with the CMS. Others are just out-of-the-box installations with a few modules and a customized theme.

Changing a CMS theme or template to fit your design is probably the first customization task for any website. My initial impression for Drupal is that customizing a theme would be very difficult. I was wrong. It is as easy as customizing a WordPress theme and anyone with average skills in CSS and HTML can do it.

In learning how to customize a theme, the video tutorials of Elliott Rothman of The Art Lab are really helpful. His video tutorials are hosted on the Drupal School over at Blip.TV. Rothman also hosted previous video tutorials, including one on how to port and HTML/CSS design into a Drupal theme, in his Dudertown website.

Here’s one of Rothman’s great tutorials on customizing a Drupal theme.

Rothman’s series of tutorials are really good and very easy to follow. I’ve downloaded all his tutorials and might burn it on a DVD so that I can watch on TV while I follow it on my PC. There’s another good Drupal tutorial, this time on using the content construction kit (CCK) here. I find CCK a bit hard to figure out and the tutorial really did a lot in making me understand it.

Another site that has been particularly helpful in my quest to be a Drupal ninja is this series on IBM: Using open source software to design, develop, and deploy a collaborative Web site. The developers used Drupal in running the site and the articles discussed how they did it.

Any other good Drupal tutorials out there? Drop me a line, I sure need all the help I can get.

By Max Limpag

Max is a journalist and blogger based in Cebu City, Philippines. He is co-founder of the journalism start-up InnoPub Media.