Jun 26 2018
Jun 26
photo: Paul Johnson @ flickr

Drupal is our business.

Regardless of being a freelancer, a two person shop or a hundred plus agency, Drupal is vital to our success in growing and supporting our business.

The business ecosystem is changing rapidly, thereby making it a necessity for agency leaders, managers and advisors to focus on a multitude of challenges and opportunities.

Understanding how the marketplace is evolving, driving innovation, fostering the right company culture, and adopting efficient project management methodologies, are all challenges faced by businesses today.

We all want to transform our business by working with the smartest team, create and deliver amazing projects, and have ideal customers lining up to work with us.

Any Drupal conference cannot be complete without in-depth discussions and debates about these challenges and more.

What is this track about?

The Agency Business track will provide insight, support and real stories from people running businesses and managing projects. Learn about other people’s experiences, and get tips and ideas on how to tackle the challenges faced in your business or project.

Come to this track to learn / speak about

Photo: Michael Cannon @ Flickr

Agency growth

Growing and scaling your business can be a tricky and daunting task. We need to consider strategies for how to grow our businesses, and how to do so sustainably.

With increased competition from both other agencies and other platforms, we need to look at not only how we generate new leads for our businesses, but how do we convince potential clients that Drupal is the best, that we are the best?

Leadership and Culture

What is the right company culture for my business? How can I better lead my agency through the challenges ahead? How can I provide good leadership to my team? How can we grow and scale our business, without losing our company culture along the way? These are just some of the questions we will look to answer in the Agency Business track.

Operations

Project management is a bit of a juggling act, with many different needs and tasks that need to be taken care of simultaneously. We’re always on the look-out for ways to increase a project’s effectiveness and efficiency, while reducing the risk of it getting out of control. Let’s share our experiences and ideas on how we can improve project planning, better manage timelines & budgets, and keep staff motivated, while all the time keeping clients happy and engaged in the process.

Diversification

Markets change faster and faster, so does our market. We need to adapt our products and offering to stay competitive and minimize our business risks. Perhaps it means diversifying your service offerings, perhaps it means developing a product, perhaps it means extending into new markets or verticals. However, we also need to consider how to keep clients happy and how to continue to meet their changing needs through innovation and/or diversification.

How to get involved

At Drupal Europe, we want to ensure that attendees get the most from this track through highly valuable and insightful sessions. We are looking for speakers to openly and honestly share stories about their challenges and how they solved it. We want to hear about your experiments, successes and failures, process discoveries, strategies, and tactics. We want real-life learnings, supported by facts and figures — prove to us that your way is best.

Want to submit a session under Agency Business Track?

Session submissions are open and will close on 30 June 2018.

Whatever your experience is, whether it be running a small 2 person operation or scaling to 30 and beyond, or managing projects and project teams, we want to hear from you. Your experience and insight is invaluable and we know others will think so too.

Come to Drupal Europe and share your experiences with us — submit a session to the Agency Business track today!

Know a great speaker?

Do you know someone who could be a great speaker? Or perhaps you know someone who has an interesting story to share? If so, please get in touch with the program team at [email protected].

And don’t forget to help us to spread the word about this awesome conference. Our hashtag is #drupaleurope.

We look forward seeing you in Darmstadt!

About Drupal Europe Conference

Drupal is one of the leading open source technologies empowering digital solutions in the government space around the world.

Drupal Europe 2018 brings over 2,000 creators, innovators, and users of digital technologies from all over Europe and the rest of the world together for three days of intense and inspiring interaction.

Location & Dates

Drupal Europe will be held in Darmstadtium in Darmstadt, Germany — with a direct connection to Frankfurt International Airport. Drupal Europe will take place 10–14 September 2018 with Drupal contribution opportunities every day. Keynotes, sessions, workshops and BoFs will be from Tuesday to Thursday.

Jul 11 2016
Jul 11

Throughout the software development world there are many “evangelist” roles who sell the code to the community, but maybe we need the other side? Maybe we need to sell the community to the those who are just there for the code.

Drupal is famed for its community, with the slogan “Come for the code, stay for the community”, but as Drupal starts to evolve into a more enterprise platform it’s expected to see more organisations coming for the code, and staying just for the code. Why should we care?

Drupal Cores lists 3635 contributors to Drupal 8 core. Without these people you wouldn’t have Drupal. If you’re not supporting these people your business model is flawed. Many organisations sell Drupal to clients and / or use Drupal themselves. What would happen if Drupal wasn’t a sustainable platform anymore?

The Drupal Association doesn’t have anything to do with the code itself, but they do run the platform that packages the code, hosts the code, tests the code, markets the code, as well as many other roles within the community. This year and last year the Drupal Association had to lay off a number of staff members due to funding issues. Organisations really need to get behind the Drupal Association otherwise there will be no Drupal. There are a number of ways you can support the Drupal Association, and it’s great to see more and more non-dev-shops listed on https://www.drupal.org/organizations.

At Appnovation we have had a lot of growth over the last 2 years and with this growth community contributions have not kept up. Therefore we’re currently working on a community contributions program to try to inspire the company as a whole to work closer with all the open source communities. We’re also embedding this within the sales and pre-sales process too, so we can ensure our clients know about and understand the open source communities behind the software we’re using with them.

It’d be great to hear your thoughts, ideas, and views. In return there will be more blog posts with progress updates.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

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Aug 21 2015
Aug 21

For a small Drupal shop or an individual Drupal consultant, how to grow up? It seems that small Drupal shops face a glass ceiling when they want to move upward. They are not able to find a larger project because they not big enough. It is not trustworthy or not give the stack holder a confidence if there are not a team of developers. Should we solve this problem by working together in a partnership? The Drupal developer is a very technical intensive. Let us follow the way lawyers did in their practice. We get together and build a strong team.

wuinfo lawyer blog for drupal developers

What is the benefit to run a Drupal shop in a partnership?
1) It is easy to setup unless we want to form an LLP partnership. As a professional Drupal Freelance, we may have some client already. Initial partners sign an agreement and form a partnership with some existing customers already.

2) A good size team gives confidence to customers. It is going to be easier to win a bigger project. According to #3 and #6 of seven common myths from Pantheon, big firms get big jobs. If you want big jobs, you have to get big first.

3) Having a partnership formed, we can recruit more junior developers and train them.

The challenge here is we never did it before. We do may not have any ways to follow. A comprehensive partnership agreement is needed. Here are some important things that we need think through before we form a partnership:
1) Types of Partnerships (General Partnership or Limited Liability Partnership)
2) Governance and Decision-Making
3) Partner Compensation
4) Capital Contribution
5) Overhead and Liabilities
6) Parental Leaves and Sabbaticals
7) Retirement and Termination.

Professional Drupal developers will benefit by practicing partnership in professional service. A reputable good size team is capable of catch and deliver bigger and more profitable projects.

Drupal developers provide highly skilled professional service. Lawyers give professional service related law. Lawyers have lawyer office to provide their service in a decent way. Why not copy the way how they did it to provide our Drupal service.

Referred document: http://www.cba.org/cba/PracticeLink/WWP/agreement.aspx

Aug 19 2015
Aug 19

Small and medium-size businesses can benefit with a good content strategy backed by a content management system (CMS) like Drupal. The internet is evolving fast. A good content strategy helps business keep a close pace with the trend.

More and more people are using mobile phones to get information and connect with others. A CMS website can quickly turn into responsive design. A responsive website provides better user experience for mobile users. Hence, Google ranks a responsive website higher than none responsive ones.

It is beneficial for a business to have a long term and short term digital plan. It saves money in a long run. If a company has a consistent plan for next 5 to 15 years, it helps avoid costly overhaul of previously built software and redo anything just because it did not fit into a big picture.

Here is an example of my customer who is doing great in the insurance business. Their consistent content strategy help them take a lion share of a niche market, a Chinese insurance market.

They are focusing on Chinese insurance market. At the very beginning, the owner of the business has an excellent long-term goal for his business. He built a comprehensive Drupal based system for his insurance business. With Drupal powerful Multi-lingual support, he built a website having three languages. The website is serving as a primary marketing tool. He published unique content that are valuable for Chinese travelers to Canada. There is an online insurance quotation system built from a Drupal contributed module. With the quotation system, people can easily compare insurance policies from different insurance companies. They can place an insurance order online. Other than that, backend system catches other customers' leads.

A system built on Drupal is well SEO-tuned. The website rank high in Google search result. Keywords like "Canada insurance" in the Chinese language is on the first page of both Google and Baidu. Their website rank high in the search result of other search engines. As I am writing this article, their keyword "Canada insurance" in Chinese rank #1 on Google search result and also on the first page of Baidu. It brings thousands of organic search visit and hundreds of high-quality leads every week. Without spending any other marketing dollars, the company doing great with the solid content strategy.

The owner of the business had the great vision at the beginning. He built his insurance business on a top of Drupal-based software system. Supported by an active and diverse community of people around the world, Drupal is an enterprise standard open source software. The system serves as a marketing tool that bring hundreds of quality leads every week. The content management system lets employees easily publish blogs and articles. Recently, they hired us a Toronto Drupal shop for a main Drupal version upgrade.

If the software is a pillar of a successful business, building a system from Drupal is a cornerstone of it. A good content strategy secures a profitable business.

Jul 27 2015
Jul 27

As one of Canada’s most successful integrated media and entertainment companies, Corus have multiple TV channels and websites for each channel.

It had been a challenge to have multiple channels' live schedule data displayed on websites. All the data are from a central repository. It became a little bit difficult since the repository is not always available. We had used Feeds module to import all the schedule data. Each channel website keeps a live copy of the schedule data. Things got worse because of the way we update the program items. We delete all the current schedule data in the system and then imported from the central repository. Sometimes, our schedule pages became empty because the central repository is not available.

Pedram Tiv, the director of digital operations at Corus Entertainment, had a vision of building a robust schedule for all channels. He wants to establish a Drupal website as a schedule service provider - content as a service. The service website download and synchronize all channels schedule data. Our content manager can also login to the website and edit any schedule items. The site keeps all the revisions for the changes. Since, the central repository only provide raw data, It is helpful we can edit the scheduled show title or series name.

I loved this brilliant idea as soon as he had explained it to me. We are building a Drupal website as a content service provider. It means we would build a CMS for other CMS websites. Scalability is always challenging for a modern website. To make it scalable, Pedram added another layer of cache protection. We added S3 cache between the schedule service and the front end web servers. With it, schedule service can handle more channels and millions of requests each day. Front end websites download schedule data from the Amazon S3 bucket only. What we did is creating and uploading seven days' schedule data to S3. We set up a cron job for this task. Every day, It uploads thousands of JSON schedule files for different channels in different time zones of next seven days each time.

This setup offloaded the pressure of schedule server and let it serve unlimited front end users. It gives seven days of grace period. It allowed the schedule server to be offline without interrupting the service. One time, our schedule service was down for three days. The schedule service was not affected because we have seven days of schedule data in an S3 bucket. By using S3 as another layer of protection, it provided excellent high availability.

Our schedule service have been up and running for many months without a problem. There are over 100,000 active nodes in the system. For more detail about importing large number of content and building an efficient system, we have some other blogs for this project.

Sites are that are using the schedule services now:
http://www.cmt.ca/schedule
http://www.teletoonlanuit.com/horaire
http://www.abcspark.ca/schedule/daily

Mar 06 2013
Mar 06

Lullabot is a 100% distributed company: here's how we've learned to keep things running smoothly!

In the beginning

When I tell new acquaintances that I work for a distributed company, they inevitably ask: “You do all of that from home? How?” We discuss this how on a regular basis, but haven't taken these conversations outside our figurative halls. In this article, all will be revealed!

Lullabot is a distributed company with clients all around the world—we don’t have a single office and almost all of us work from home. You might think that means we’re disconnected (not at all!), that we are lonely (never!), or bored (ha!). You might even think we’re nerds! You’d be right on that count, but that’s irrelevant to our working arrangements.

Being distributed requires a more deliberate approach to communication and getting “in the zone.” Here are some of the highly effective habits of our intercontinental team:

Get dressed like you’re going to work

Nine out of ten Lullabots agree (this is a made-up statistic, but keep reading) that their productivity is boosted when they prepare for the day as if they’re leaving the house to go to work. That means pants! And shoes! You don’t have to bust out a suit, but readying yourself for a purpose helps you get into a focused work mode. (The fact that you don’t actually have to leave the house just makes it a little bit happier.)

Have a schedule

To paraphrase our Director of Operations, Seth Brown: “Find your ideal schedule or pattern for productivity. For me, it involves working 8 to 6 with two hours for a long lunchtime workout. This restores me. For someone else, it might be about starting work at 10, having a nap in the afternoon, but working in the evening when they feel most productive. The key is finding your groove. We’re all unique. There are morning people, evening people, and everything in between. We have the flexibility to choose, but it’s important to be consistent with that choice so others can plan around you.”

Getting up early is the most productive time of the day (by far) for Karen Stevenson, Senior Drupal Architect. Karen's daily schedule: get to work early (usually around 4 a.m.), get done early and enjoy a walk or some family-time, and come back later if need be. For Sean Lange, a front-end developer, having set work hours and a daily routine is what works. The importance of a schedule seems to be key for all of us, no matter how offbeat that schedule might be. Have an idea where your time will be spent each day, stick to a pattern that feels comfortable and repeatable, and let your team members know when you’ll be in your groove. Otherwise, time tends to slip away and you find yourself “working” all the time with reduced productivity.

Draw a boundary

As I was doing interviews for this article, many Lullabots mentioned the importance of boundaries. Senior Drupal Architect Jeff Eaton argues, “The valuable thing about getting dressed like you’re going to work, and similar rituals, is that it puts a distinct dividing line between schlepping around and serious business. Because so many of the ‘Bots work on things they find interesting and are passionate about, it’s easy to stay half-connected 24/7. I’ve found that explicitly disconnecting makes it easier to focus when I am connected, regardless of the mechanism used to draw that dividing line.”

Angus Mak, Developer, says: “I never run straight to the computer after waking up. I always take some time to make coffee and let the dog out, so I don’t feel like I’m working before I’m even awake.”

Have a dedicated workspace (and/or device)

Having a home office is crucial for me. I need a desk with a proper chair to really direct my attention to work projects. Otherwise, I fear I’d be floating about the house, distracted by home duties and shiny objects. Having a dedicated workspace helps keep me organized and efficient. Jeff Robbins, Lullabot CEO & cofounder agrees: “It’s good to have a home base where both you and your family know that you’re working. Not only is this a good physical, personal reminder, but it also sends a message (Don’t bother Dad!) to your family without needing to interrupt your work to explain it. Working at home is living at work. Do what you can to differentiate work and leisure time.”

“I also use a different computer with nothing work related on it for entertainment,” says Angus Mak. “When I’m done with work, I switch to my personal computer. I still check work emails on the phone, but at least I don’t see any work related files, programs, code, etc. on my personal computer that might suck me back into work.”

If a separate computer isn’t in the cards for you, you can create separate accounts on your computer. Using one for work, and personalize the other one with your home life in mind.

While we’re talking about work devices, Jeff Robbins advises: “Spend the extra money for a quality microphone headset. If you work virtually, it isn’t just an adjunct communication device. It’s how you’ll be hearing all of your clients and colleagues, and it’s also how they’ll be hearing you. There’s nothing worse than being that guy that people can’t quite understand on the conference call. Never use speakerphone or your computer’s built-in microphone on conference calls. Ever.”

Be active

If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that Lullabots can “walk the talk," or at least, walk while they talk. I was surprised to hear how many of us walk, hike, or stand when we’re on long phone calls. According to Seth Brown: “Walking on phone calls is critical and gives me the endurance to get through the day. When I’m in front of the computer I don’t listen well—there are too many distractions.” Karen Stevenson advises, “Stand up while you’re on phone calls, at least the important ones.” Not only does this keep us focused on the phone call (instead of being distracted by other online tasks), it keeps our bodies and minds alert during a time when our attention could easily wander.

Another great piece of advice comes from Senior Drupal Architect Andrew Berry, “I try to keep snacks and drinks stored away from my office. Otherwise, it’s too easy to stay sitting at the desk all day: snacks are just a long reach away from your desk. Keeping them elsewhere means an extra minute or two, but also gives your eyes and body a rest.”

“I love going for a walk in the middle of the day,” says Matt Westgate, president and cofounder. “I usually reserve the hardcore gym exercise until the end of the day to release stress. My usual transition from work life to personal life is to prepare dinner while I’m having an end-of-day wrap up with Jeff or Seth. Cooking is a creative outlet for me, and it has the byproduct of being (usually) delicious!”

Get out

Leaving the house during a workday is often a good idea. A coffee run, a class at the gym, or some errands around town can help relieve cabin fever. If you’ve ever had the experience of working at an office, you know how relaxing a lunch away from the office can be. The same principle applies when you work at home! Take a step away, focus on something you need to do in your personal life, reboot, and return.

Jeff Robbins advises: “If you really want to bear down and work, get out of the house. Go to a cafe, get a big caffeinated drink, and put on headphones. The peripheral activity of the staff and other patrons energizes me. Because I don’t know anyone there, I stay isolated and can really focus on my work without distraction. Their chairs usually aren’t as comfortable as mine, so I don’t stay there all day, just a couple of hours. Then I can head home and appreciate my comfortable chair that much more!”

Use being at home to your advantage

Just because you’re working doesn’t mean you have to forego the comforts of home. Do the things you can’t do at an office -- put on some music, work from the patio, or open the windows!

Jared Ponchot, Creative Director, has his afternoon relaxation time down. “I try to schedule some sort of relaxing activity for the afternoon. I typically hit a wall between 2pm and 4pm, so I try to listen to that and either take a walk, go play with my kids, make a cup of tea, or do something for at least 15-30 minutes that’s completely relaxing. That moves all my brain power from my prefrontal cortex back into a more balanced right/left brain, I think.”

Having multiple places to work in your home is another advantage over a typical office. Jerad Bitner, Senior Technical Project manager, mixes it up between a traditional desk, treadmill desk, a lazy boy, and a standing desk. “Sometimes I like the couch,” he says. “It’s a great way to help prevent repetitive stress injuries, which often result from working long hours in the same position.”

Shower

It surprised me just how many Lullabots mentioned the shower when I was researching this article! From Nate Haug, Senior Drupal Architect, “In the midst of all the phone calls, naps, and lunch, I usually take at least one shower in the middle or end of the day. To me the shower is the absolute most productive place in my entire ‘office.’ There’s no problem so difficult that it can’t be solved with a good shower.”

Jared Ponchot also had an opinion on the shower. “I fully relate to the idea that being showered and dressed before work can help orient one’s self. However, I’ve actually changed my routine, intentionally waiting to shower until late morning or midday. I’ve found that it’s a powerful tool for ‘creative pause’ and cranking alpha waves. I want it to disrupt my ultra focus, a zone I get into when I’m working on for more than a few hours. There are so many times when I scramble to get out of the shower because I’ve suddenly understood something or had an important idea during that break.”

Work. Rinse. Repeat.

Be interactive (in work and other aspects of your life)

“Connecting with people face-to-face during the day is really important” says Matt Westgate, and many other Bots agree. “That connection could be family, a local group, or going to the coffee shop or the gym. I find those face-to-face connections remind me that I’m also making human connections when I’m on the phone or writing email. It helps me better empathize.”

Being interactive during work could mean contacting a client or colleague using videochat via Skype, Google Hangout or GotoMeeting rather than shooting off an email. Lullabot uses several means of communication for our team, but nothing feels quite like face-to face time.

Outside of work, “it’s important to talk about non-work things, to make up for the social interaction you’re losing by staying at home,” cautions Karen Stevenson. It would be incredibly easy to turn into a hermit. Many Lullabots recommend becoming involved in a community or interest group outside of home.

“The biggest thing that helps me keep the balance is being in a group.” Angus Mak continues, “I train dogs a few times a week at a dog club, and that forces me to leave the house at 6 p.m. Having something outside of work that I am passionate about really helps.”

“If you’re a designer working from home, you need to join some sort of group in your local area and force yourself (against your will if you’re wired like me!) to go hang out at their events,” says Jared Ponchot. “I’m a part of the Atlanta Web Designer group. I’ve had to miss it a few times and keenly feel the loss.”

Speaking of family, it can be hard to work at home with family present, as they are (and should be) Priority Number One. Finding the work/life balance in regards to family is something that I’ve had to work hard at. It’s helped to get to a point where I can say firmly, “Right now I am working!” and stick to it. After work, if I’m as diligent giving my family attention as I am at giving work attention, we all feel good.

This is also an important issue for Seth Brown who has three young daughters. “For me,” he says, “the act of shutting my door is symbolic. It says, I’m at work, don’t bother me. But if a child falls off a bunk bed or there’s some other emergency, like sick kids at home, you have to step out of work mode. I feel like it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing to be there for your family when they really need it, but sometimes it can come up at the most inopportune times. It's stressful trying to listen and participate in a conference call while trying to calm a crying child.”

Work at NOT working

Working from home with a distributed team comes with a few challenges that wouldn’t exist in an office. Different time zones, different work schedules, and spotty Internet connections can all work against you. The biggest issue seems to be the same wherever we are: the tendency to overwork. How can you leave work at work when you work from home?

Blake Hall, Senior Developer: “For me it’s always key to remember (and sometimes force myself) to carve out time where I have no Internet access. I inevitably get sucked into something interesting (even just Yammer) if I don’t.”

“It’s easy to get me to read an e-mail or message,” explains Nate Haug, “but I’ll only respond when I’m at my desk. The variability of my days means that I always schedule phone calls and meetings in advance, preferably not the same day. I usually don’t accept direct phone calls and I use conference lines or Skype as much as possible to prevent clients or even co-workers from using my phone number and breaking that scheduled time.”

Now, for the summary

The end all, as they say, is simple: don’t be afraid to try new things, even if they seem odd. Don’t be afraid to explore, find the schedule and best practices that work for you, and work that way. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to work from home, if it works for you.

I think James Sansbury, our Development Manager, said it best: “It’s working from home, not homing from work, so the point everyone’s making is to create a clear line for what work is and what home is. If that means you get dressed before going to work, get dressed. If that means setting specific work hours, set those hours. If that means taking a long lunch, take a long lunch. The easy part is determining those things; the hard part is actually doing it. DO IT. DO IT!”

Jan 14 2013
Jan 14

For Acquia, 2012 was a great year. In many ways, it's been our best year.

Last year, we saw more evidence of Drupal continuing to become a growing part of the mainstream. While this trend has been apparent for some time, in 2012 we were being adopted at a faster rate by more and more enterprise businesses and government agencies. Acquia, in many ways, has risen on the tide of this acceptance. Maybe we helped build this momentum. And along the way, as we've grown, we have worked to keep the philosophy of open source as the guiding philosophy of Acquia.

The Open Source Way

The concept of being guided by the philosophy of open source, which I call the Open Source Way, is reflected in Acquia's approach to our products and services. For example, we believe it is important to provide the capability to easily transfer data from one platform or solution to another, and not be shackled to proprietary vendors' platforms. The solutions we offer, whether PaaS or SaaS, allow innovation and agility by following the open source way, eliminating lock-in. We've coined the terms OpenSaaS and OpenPaas to refer to this.

This approach has resonated with enterprise business. This is reflected in our growth metrics for 2012. Our growth was reflected in our sales bookings, which grew at a record rate. We finished the year with 15 consecutive quarters of revenue growth, surpassing even our own aggressive goals.

Acquia grew by more than 160 employees last year, and now totals about 280 staff. In addition to Acquia's base in Burlington (Boston, MA), we have 28 employees in the UK office, 14 in our new Portland office, and 82 working remotely. Success poses many challenges. Hiring so many people is difficult. On one recent Monday, we have about 20 new staff undergoing orientation in our Burlington office. We've met the challenge of hiring, though, and we've assembled a staff of talented, passionate people. They are the reason for Acquia's success.

Our core strength is our ability to accomplish the aggressive goals we set for ourselves. This ability is the result of both the collaboration and the passion the Acquia staff brings to everything we do. Acquia's culture, in which collaboration and passion are key, also reflect the Open Source Way. We bring this passion and collaboration to our customers as well, and we work hard to ensure every customer's success. In 2012, the number of customers renewing with us was up, returning that commitment and loyalty.

Landmarks and trends

As we moved through 2012, we saw the growing acceptance of cloud computing. No longer was it "should we be on the cloud", but businesses asked "how best to move to the cloud". More often, the open, elastic cloud computing offered by Acquia was the answer. Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) both continue to gain further acceptance and grow, again providing that ability to react to business needs rapidly, putting a larger portion of resources into building exactly what is needed when it is needed, rather than investing in expensive infrastructure and maintenance. The success of our cloud products means that Acquia will continue to invest and expand in this area in 2013, especially as we saw the trend last year that having many microsites, often one for each product or service, is quickly becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Other landmarks in 2012 were the growing number of health/pharma businesses moving to Drupal and the cloud, joining financial services companies and government agencies also making the move. Until recently, these industries were wary of open source and cloud-based services, fearing that these solutions weren't secure or reliable enough. The reality that the cloud can also be fault-tolerant and highly available, and that security and government compliance requirements can be met with confidence, opened up the cloud to more and more enterprise businesses in 2012. Their move to the cloud in 2012 reinforced the fact that freedom of innovation and agility of open solutions are driving factors for large-scale business as well as smaller organizations.

As the public moves rapidly to mobile platforms of all kinds, including smart phones and tablets, the need to provide a great user experience on these platforms is becoming increasingly important. UX also became important in 2012 as marketing rather than IT became the driving force behind more and more websites. Acquia responded with the creation of our Spark team, which took shape as a five-person team made up of some of the world's best Drupal experts.

Also in 2012, Acquia acquired Mollom, a company I created to address the challenge of managing social spam on websites. With the tremendous growth of user-generated content as part of the social media explosion, unwanted content has become a more important issue to take on. As a SaaS tool, Mollom fits in with Acquia's existing services.

Drupal community

In 2012, Acquia continued to invest in the worldwide Drupal community in a number of important ways. First, we sponsored over 82 Drupal events around the world in 2012. These events brought new people into Drupal and helped existing Drupal users learn new techniques. We employ more than 110 Drupal specialists, most of whom are significant contributors to the larger community. We've sent our Drupalists to more than 30 of these events (as well as hosted sprints ourselves at Acquia) to collaborate with others in the community on important problems for Drupal.

We also grew Acquia's Office of the Chief Technical Officer, or OCTO, in 2012. OCTO includes a dedicated team who work on Drupal full-time, on projects that include:

  • Drupal core architecture issues.
  • Authoring experience improvements via Spark.
  • Spearheading process changes that help the community work better together.

And finally, Acquia has sponsored other key contributors in the community to take on critical work, including the configuration management initiative, web services, and "Views in Core".

Looking forward

This year, like 2012, will be a key year for Acquia as we continue to develop products and services built on the open source philosophy.

Life-cyle management applications will be an increasing focus for Acquia in 2013. These applications will help craft great digital experiences by providing the tools to monitor and optimize digital content.

Of course, we'll continue to nurture and expand our vision of OpenSaaS and OpenPaaS. We'll continue to make the move to PaaS even easier, providing solutions that offer all of the functionality needed, but in a simplified package. We'll accomplish this by combining PaaS, Drupal services and Application Performance Management to produce comprehensive solutions that continue to make Acquia a no brainer when it comes to choosing a PaaS provider. PaaS platforms that embrace an open ecosystem provide faster business value, as many of our customers have discovered. We are working with our growing number of partners to help them build customer solutions on our open cloud platform.

As we start down the road of 2013, we enter the year just having raised $30 million in Series E financing, the single largest financing we have done to date. As we have grown and matured during 2012, these funds will assure sustained growth and success in 2013. No matter how rapidly we grow, or how large the Drupal community becomes, Acquia will put its open source philosophy at the core of all the work it does. In the end, the people of Acquia and the Drupal community, following this philosophy, are building the future of the digital experience. The Open Source way.

Dec 21 2012
Dec 21

Listen online: 

Jeff Eaton and Sara Wachter-Boettcher discuss her new book Content Everywhere, the benefits of cross-discipline communication, and the need to build tools for humans.

Links mentioned:

Release Date: December 21, 2012 - 10:00am

Album:

Length: 38:32 minutes (15.27 MB)

Format: mono 44kHz 55Kbps (vbr)

Dec 20 2012
Dec 20

It's easy for web agencies to fall into these classic traps: learning to recognize and sidestep them is critical for long-term success.

There's a Niels Bohr quote that I love: "An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field." After ten years working as a development manager at web agencies, I feel like I've made more than my fair share. What follows are three different mistakes that I've either made or seen other agencies make in hopes that I might save you, my generous reader, the trouble of making them yourself.

Act I: The Blood of Unicorns

"...it is a monstrous thing, to slay a unicorn. Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime. The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenceless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips." — J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

While in Berkeley last month for Badcamp, I met a designer friend for breakfast. Despite the hip, sun-drenched, vegan-friendly vibe, the excellent espresso and the excitement of the camp ahead, my friend seemed forlorn, and not fully present.

My friend is that rare breed of graphic designer who also knows Drupal theming, markup, CSS frameworks, and jQuery...and understands UX...and responsive design...and PHP..and rapid prototyping. This makes him that rare, mythical beast known as a UX unicorn.

“What’s wrong?” I asked my friend.

“I’m thinking about going out on my own again.” This troubled me as I had recommended my friend find an agency job when he became burned out on the 80-hour weeks that go with running your own freelance business. I pushed for details and found out that my friend was literally booked for 85 billable hours per week on the schedule. Yes...85. He blamed his resourcing manager, but, as I probed for details, another story emerged. It turns out the resourcing manager was just caught in the crossfire between sales and production. It turns out that the agency had a disproportionately large sales organization, a much too-small production team, and rampant opportunities.

My friend’s agency, let’s call them Acme, had grown up in an area where web talent was hard to find and expensive. Instead of holding back sales, the company opened the flood gate, hiring junior developers, interns, and a legion of “account managers” to help manage client expectations. These teams would provide the illusion of service while waiting for the few talented engineers and creatives to free up. The account managers, ostensibly hired to protect the developers from clients, turned on their besieged production team, jockeying with each other for the attention of designers and developers for their respective clients.

In the end, according to my friend, Acme had quality control problems even though they were building fairly simple projects, and, while they were able to sell lots of web projects in the $15K - $30K range, their client retention was poor, and they didn’t have a reputation that would allow them to start taking fewer, larger clients—a typical path to sanity for smaller agencies.

Acme’s problem lies in the disparity between its prodigious sales talent and paucity of engineering talent. They were figuratively drinking the blood of unicorns to sustain their business, but at what cost? Low quality, a poor reputation, low morale, high employee turnover, and a higher cost of sales since there are fewer repeat customers. So how to solve Acme Agency’s problems?

Finding Solutions

First of all, they need to discipline their sales effort. At Lullabot, we’ve created a capacity chart. This is the photo negative of the typical manager’s resource utilization chart. Instead of showing who’s booked on what, it shows the sales team what availability can be sold. Once that availability is removed from inventory it’s gone and sales doesn’t try to sell into it. At Lullabot, we try to book our team no more than 30 hours per week. There are occasional exceptions of course, as we still exist in the real world of unexpected technical hurdles, client-driven delays, and late launch nights, but it’s important to us to protect the sanity of our team. We don’t do this out of altruism. We do it because human beings and organizations need slack in the system. As Tom DeMarco says, in his fabulous book Slack: “Slack is the natural enemy of efficiency, and efficiency is the natural enemy of slack. There are things you can do to make an organization more efficient that interfere with its ability to change and reinvent itself later.”

What does our Lullabot team do with this slack in the system? Many of them spend hours working in the Drupal issue queue or on their contributed modules, others learn new technologies, and build their own projects and products. (We’re even starting up an internal art and science fair this year to showcase our mutual creations this summer.) Obviously, most people have heard of Google’s 20 percent time, so this should be nothing new. But in addition to allowing us to innovate and adapt as an organization over time and retain good people, it also means our quality is higher (since our people aren’t overworked, they’re less likely to sacrifice quality for speed and, in their own time, they’re constantly researching and playing with the latest technologies).

As quality improves, reputation improves, and, as your reputation increases you can take on bigger and bigger projects. With bigger projects comes the opportunity to book people solely on one project. Human beings are not fungible commodities like oil that can be horse traded in bits and pieces between projects. Task switching incurs an enormous penalty on efficiency. Some theorists estimate efficiency losses as high as 15% for each marginal project. If you can avoid it, don’t spend precious efficiency subdividing your people between a thousand different clients.

Finally, the tools exist to manage your people virtually. If Acme were to relax their in-office requirement they might be able to find more Drupal talent wherever it exists, which would allow them to grow their overloaded production team. Find the best talent where it exists. Lullabot is a fully distributed company, which means we can hire the best Drupal developers wherever they choose to live. Throwing inexperienced production staff—or worse yet, account managers—at your technical debt just because they’re the best you can find locally is not a reasonable solution.

  • Don’t overschedule your resources, the pursuit of efficiency can be the enemy of flexibility, retention, and sustainability.
  • Discipline your sales effort and make sure it matches your capacity
  • Consider a capacity report that shows your sales team exactly what they have to sell.
  • Hire talented people wherever they are, don’t limit yourself geographically.

Act II: Of Hubris and White Whales

“Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me? Truth hath no confines.” —Moby Dick

“I would strike the sun if it insulted me!” I remember reading these words with adolescent awe and thinking, “F’ yeah.” I loved Ahab’s outrageous hubris. It was similar for me with Neitzsche and with every nihilist protagonist in Russian literature who would occasionally break their studied silence to play Vodka-fueled Russian Roulette to the great distress of some adoring tragic heroine. Clearly my judgement had a way to go. Hubris is after all tragic flaw numero uno.

Earlier this year, Lullabot was referred to a really sexy opportunity. This was way BIG for us…and our standard fare of clients like The Grammys, Sony Music, and Martha Stewart is not exactly small potatoes. With fame, fortune, and a wee bit of hubris in our eyes, we flew out to a major Eastern seaboard city and made our pitch. After hearing more about the opportunity, we decided to go for it. Marshalling a large part of the team’s energy, we put together a 100-page proposal, providing an architectural roadmap and recommendations for how we would do the project. A week later we heard back, we were a finalist! Even better, one of two finalists. We were ecstatic. We headed out East again with about 10 Lullabots to do a second round of presentations. During this time, I had a niggling, yucky feeling at the back of my mind. Because of the short timeline and massive scope, this project as we had proposed it was going to take nearly all of our resources, and involve some of our partner network of companies.

We were ignoring the fundamental rule of risk mitigation: diversification. Portfolio theory 101 tells us that risk and reward are inextricably linked. Because humans like reward and abhor risk, we diversify. In financial terms, risk is essentially volatility. Projects are inherently volatile, but they are differently volatile. By having multiple projects, an agency mitigates risk. Some projects will go great, others will drag you down, but having a healthy mix means a lower exposure to volatility in any particular direction. But why make it so complicated? Our ancestors walking out of the cave with two separate baskets of eggs knew this principle. It’s common sense. But we were intent on this figurative white whale, swayed by the collective excitement of doing something big and unparalleled.

A week after our visit, there was ominous silence from the potential client. We knew this wasn’t a good sign, but it wasn’t until a week later till we heard we’d lost the project to another, larger agency. We’d spent $10K chasing that whale, but we also felt strangely relieved as we returned to business as usual. Sadly, that’s not the end of the story. We found out a couple months later that the BIG CLIENT ended up purchasing a major existing web asset to fill the gap and terminated the project after a month or so, leaving the winning vendor in an awkward position. We’d dodged a bullet on that one. To ramp up for a project this big and long, we likely would have slowed our sales effort, gotten into agreements with partner agencies, and committed the bulk of our team. Extricating ourselves from that mess may have proved difficult.

Lessons Learned

Thinking back on the experience, it’s not only the lesson of diversification that I learned. In Moby Dick, Starbuck, the Pequod's charismatic first mate, tries to save the ship, questioning Ahab's monomaniacal obsession with the whale. I feel like my inner Starbuck was trying to warn me all along, but I was unwilling to listen. If you find yourself chasing whales, make sure to engage in a broad, open and honest conversation with your team and examine your own instincts. Don’t quelch dissent by simply labeling it as pessimism. And, if you still decide to harpoon a Leviathan, make sure you’re capable of enduring the downside, not just the up.

  • If you’re going to go chasing whales, check your hubris at the door and make sure you’re consciously assuming the risk.
  • If you’re risk averse think of your project portfolio as you would your 401K and diversify, diversify, diversify
  • Allow for healthy dissent in your company, and in your own mind. Listen to those niggling discomforts in the back of your mind and bring them to the forefront to be analyzed.

Act III: The Ponze Ain’t Cool

“How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June. . . . If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that-for that-I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!” —Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray trades his soul in order that the damage from all of the years of sin and debauchery accrue to his portrait instead of himself. While the portrait shuttered up in the attic grows blacker and more hideous with each passing year, Dorian retains his youthful, innocent beauty. Of course, eventually things come home to roost, but I don’t want to spoil the ending. How does this relate to a mistake that an agency might make?

When I started out with my first agency in 2003, we were three people renting the extra space in a server room from a larger area software company. We were eager to make a dent in the marketplace and build some awesome websites. We wanted to make dreams happen, especially our own.

Like many small businesses, we didn’t have a lot of money to spend on accountants or process so we used Quickbooks and set up a basic chart of accounts. In cash accounting, you recognize cash as it comes in and goes out. It’s that simple. This seemed far less complicated than accrual accounting so it seemed like the right choice for us.

Being the savvy business people we were, we didn’t want to get scammed so we decided on a policy of 75% up-front and 25% on launch. Because our sites were small, most of the business people we wanted to work with could afford this, and we didn’t want to work with the ones who couldn’t. Life was good. This policy saved our bacon a couple of times, both because it protected us from unscrupulous players, but, also because there’s a time value to money and cash sooner trumps cash later. With lots of cash up front, we were able to bring on additional resources as the jobs got bigger and we didn’t suffer liquidity problems. At least in the beginning.

Soon, problems began to emerge. It seemed like we could never finish projects and there were too many jobs to do, with new ones piling up at the door. Still, top line revenue growth was off the charts, which suggested to us we should keep doing more of the same. We grew and grew, hired and hired. Because we weren’t tying revenue to work, the only incentive was to take more work, regardless of capacity. Eventually it becomes like an addiction, a Ponzi scheme. You can’t afford to pay people to finish your current projects until you’ve secured new work, but the new work is paying for work you should have done in the past.

Avoiding the Pitfalls

Growth can be a Faustian bargain, camouflaging a host of problems. If you’re going to grow, do it carefully and fund it with cash reserves from profits you’ve booked in the past, not with the revenues from future projects. There’s such a thing as a maximum financeable growth rate if you’re growing without the benefit of outside capital. It’s beyond the scope of this article to explain how to make these calculations, but I was able to get a handle on this stuff after taking Guatum Kaul’s excellent, and free Intro. to Finance class, which is being offered again in January. Coursera is also offering another promising January course called Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Business, Part I, where these topics will be explored in greater depth.

In the end, Ponzi schemes by their nature come crashing down. When you’re oversold, your efficiency eventually seizes up, just as too many cars on a highway leads to a traffic jam. At a previous company we recognized the problem before it was too late and switched to accrual accounting. In addition, we took a more studied approach to growth, but only after a period of illiquidity and diminishing profits caused us to do some real soul searching and self-education.

Even if you’re a young company, try to tie revenue to work. Structure your payments into a third at project start, a third at the midway point, and a third at project completion, or tie payments to multiple milestones in the project. If you want the litmus test of money up front as we did, talk to your accountant or bookkeeper about how to stick the revenue on the balance sheet and then recognize it over time as you work the hours.

Another strategy that Lullabot uses is to work with clients on an agile basis and have them pay per sprint for a set amount of resources. Our sprint model—based on a combination of scrum and rapid prototyping—typically involves a cross-functional team of three full-time resources for a series of two-week sprints at a fixed cost. Ideally, the team has a UX unicorn, a back-end developer, and a front-end developer. The client controls the backlog and dictates what we work on in each sprint. By being cross-functional, small, dedicated, and proficient with Drupal, we’re able to bring projects to market quickly, and for much less than comparable scope waterfall projects. In addition, we solve the cash flow problem. Each team earns a regular two-week paycheck for the previous two weeks of work. How might you structure deals to avoid the cash flow roller coaster?

  • You don’t have to fully convert to the complexity of accrual accounting to tie revenue to work.
  • Learn about SFG (maximum financeable growth rate) and maintain adequate working capital in the business.
  • Growth, like Dorian Gray’s portrait, can conceal a host of ills. Pace yourself and be careful not to disguise project or resource problems with growth. It will catch up with you in the end.

Epilogue

The pitfalls discussed above don't appear out of nowhere; they often come alongside opportunities. Learning to sidestep them helps mature web agencies to make the most of the good without suffering from the bad.

Wood engraving image from the Illustrated London News in 1847

Dec 17 2012
Dec 17

Listen online: 

Jared Ponchot and Jeff Robbins chat with toy designer, creator, innovator extraordinaire Wayne Losey about the nature of client services, the DNA that lies at the center of product, brand and narrative, and the tax exempt status of jedi's in some foreign countries. Wayne helped create a number of our favorite toys and action figures for some of the top brands the world including batman, spider man, star wars, pokemon and micro machines.

Mentioned in this episode:

Release Date: December 17, 2012 - 3:56pm

Album:

Length: 64:57 minutes (37.44 MB)

Format: mono 44kHz 80Kbps (vbr)

Dec 14 2012
Dec 14

Listen online: 

Join Addison Berry and Kyle Hofmeyer on this episode to chat about the DrupalEasy Career Starter Program (DCSP) with Mike Anello, who is running DCSP, and Tom Kehoe, an intern here at Lullabot who came to us from Mike's program. We talk about how this ground-breaking program got up and running, and its future. Tom has a great perspective on getting up and running with Drupal, and entering the virtual workspace world, all within three months.

Podcast Notes

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Release Date: December 14, 2012 - 9:32am

Album:

Length: 56:30 minutes (32.67 MB)

Format: mono 44kHz 80Kbps (vbr)

Nov 29 2012
Nov 29

It's a lot of money but we're on a big mission. We believe that Drupal is uniquely positioned to provide a single, unified platform for content, community and commerce applications. We believe an Open Source platform like Drupal is the best way to keep up with the evolving web. We believe we can take on a large variety of proprietary competitors across different industries. We know it is true because we've seen Drupal invade enterprises and overturn their established web technologies. We believe Acquia is breaking new ground with our combination of cloud products and business models.

We've made good strides towards this mission. Drupal continues to grow faster than proprietary competitors. And as Acquia, we have grown to 250 employees and are well on our way to posting around $44 million in annual revenue this year on $60 million in bookings. Specifically, Acquia's revenue has grown at 250% CAGR over the past 3 years, making us the fastest growing software company in the US according to Inc. We added more than 100 employees in the past 12 months. We've seen some incredible growth across the board.

But we also believe we are just getting started. We are in the middle of a big technological and economic shift in how large organizations build and maintain web sites. We believe that Drupal and Acquia are poised to come out as the dominant player.

We'll use the additional funding to continue to go after our mission. We're set out to build a successful, high-margin, highly defensible software company. Expect to see us use the money to accelerate our sales and marketing efforts, to continue our international expansion across Europe and Asia Pacific, to grow each of our product teams, and even to build more products. Part of our funding is also to make Drupal more relevant and easier to use by digital marketers and site builders - and things like Project Spark are a critical element of this. As Acquia builds products, we're committed to contributing to the Drupal project - to drive adoption of Drupal and make it more competitive with proprietary CMS players.

Press coverage:

Nov 22 2012
Nov 22

We have agreed and completed an acquisition of fellow UK North West based Drupal agency Leafish.

This latest move marks the culmination of a significant 12 months for Ixis, which has been appointed to the UK government’s G-Cloud I and II procurement programmes and secured significant contracts with the British Council and charities VSO and International Alert.

The deal will see Leafish directors Paul Byrne and Dylan Sides join the company as part of the acquisition to expand our Drupal hosting & development skillset with their combined experience of over 16 years dedicated to Drupal.

Dylan will be heading up our Drupal hosting infrastructure & QA process whilst Paul will be involved in the Drupal support, development and project management areas along with the rest of the team.

Paul Byrne, Leafish director, said:

“We are delighted to have this opportunity to work with Ixis and their clients. After a successful eight years developing and hosting websites at Leafish, we are keen to meet this new challenge and bring our business and experience to a new environment."

We are confident that the strengthened business can educate organisations about the benefits of adopting Drupal compared to proprietary models and become the provider of choice across a range of sectors.

Nov 19 2012
Nov 19

What's a site worth if you can't ambiguously tell authors how terrible their articles are by rating them on a scale of 1 to 5 chili peppers? How can we segregate against nodes by only allowing the popular nodes to sit at the cool nodes table? Well lucky for us we're going back to high school in this blog post as I introduce you to a few cool Drupal modules that show us how to get organic results for popular content.

Fivestar

 is one of the more basic, but useful rating modules that adds “rating stars” to content. Users rate the node based on the number of stars you made available, then you can view the average rating of the node to see how popular it is. Simple right? Fivestar is based on , is officially supported in Acquia Drupal, integrates with Views, and is easily the quickest way to add ratings to nodes.

Want to extend Fivestar? Check out . Want your own custom Fivestar widgets? Drupal Ace can show you how in their .

Rate

 is pretty similar to Fivestar in the voting aspect, but it also allows for thumbs up/down, emotion ratings (funny, mad, angry), etc. It’s like Fivestar and  all in one, plus a bit more. Rate also has some interesting features, such as Rate Expiration, which disallows voting after a set period of time (for that one guy who wants to down vote an article... 3 years after it was posted). Rate doesn’t allow users to cancel their vote, whereas Fivestar does. Some will bicker back and forth about which one is better, but we’ll leave that to the drama nerds and their never ending debate between Star Wars and Star Trek... Which by the way, a Star Destroyer could take on the Enterprise any day. Just ask .

Want to add some visualizations? Mix it up and integrate with the  to show off those sexy bar charts. I can hear the ladies running already.

User Points

If you want to add a bit of narcissism to your site, look no further than . Okay I kid, healthy competition between users might be a better phrase. User Points allows users to gain or lose points by performing different actions on your site. This may be writing a product review or commenting on a node. With this module, the users are fighting for popularity instead of your content. User Points ties into Services, Rules, and Views which makes it even more site builder friendly.

If you’d like to extend User Points, check out this  to add even more functionality.

Radioactivity

If this list of modules were your high school homecoming court, then it’s time to meet your King (or Queen). We’ve met the runner-ups, but  steals the show. This module will give you the most organic results for content based on popularity. Radioactivity provides more of a hotness meter. When an entity is getting attention (either by views or actions defined by rules), it will become hotter by an increasing energy that you set, while those that are not receiving attention are cooling down. Pretty cool, huh... er, I mean hot? You get the point.

So why the name Radioactivity? The cool down rates are based on the concept of half life, or the amount of time it takes for the quantity of something to reach half of the original value. Using Radioactivity, you create a decay profile that sets the cool down rate for the entities it is assigned. Want to know the current trending articles on your site? Set the half life to 3 hours and the granularity to 15 minutes (which is the interval of time to update the energy), and watch as the popular articles float to the top while the not-so-hots sink to the bottom in real-time. Have an ecommerce site? Integrate Radioactivity with Commerce using .

Of course there are a number of settings you can use in the module, such as using memcache for storing energy values, so it’d be nice if you had some direction. Though on the project page there’s a few links for tutorials or documentation, I think that Teemu Merikoski of Wunderkraut has an  for Radioactivity.

Know of any interesting modules that help showcase popular content on your site? Let us know in the comments below.

Nov 15 2012
Nov 15

Posted Nov 15, 2012 // 4 comments

Drupal can be a scalable platform that can handle high traffic and serve large volumes of data easily with the proper configuration set up and server layout.  The large number of themes and modules in the community makes site development extremely easy and valuable in a sense that you can develop a large set of features in a short period of time without too many hours burned on coding everything from scratch.

 

Knowing this, it’s tempting to simply install everything within your site.  However, if you are going to maintain a high-traffic website, it might be a good idea to offload some of these features elsewhere.

Plan and determine what features of your site should be maintained within your installation and which features should be hosted from external sources.  I’m not saying you should start copying and pasting embed codes from third party websites or start hosting all subsets of data and media files on separate servers.  More so, I recommend that you should entrust third party services to take care of certain features (especially if they can do it better than what exists in the module space) to minimize risk and increase performance.

There are plenty of modules that can help you with this.  For example, rather than use Drupal’s internal commenting module, you can rely on Facebook or Disqus to handle this for you.  Google Analytics is another way to analyze your site’s traffic externally.  I am also fond of other modules such as Paypal and Intuit Merchant Services, which handle credit card payments elegantly for you without the hassle of worrying about security right off the bat (assuming you configure your SSL certificates correctly).

Sharing (work) is caring!

So if, for example, all the comments on your site take up half the server space, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone take care of that so you don’t have to buy more server space?  You might be better off outsourcing that functionality elsewhere so that you can focus on more obscure features on your site.

I would suggest this approach for many reasons:

  • Reliable support for the application by a team of dedicated maintainers focused on one (or a few) functionalities

  • You can switch these features out with careful modularization

  • Simplifies your site’s architecture…and your job

  • More features outside Drupal’s framework

  • The features are readily available (in most cases)

  • More cost-effective (since the pricing is catered to sharing resources amongst multiple websites)

  • It’s kind of like running your website on several sites at the fraction of the cost (since these external services price their services efficiently to share them across various clients)

But do you trust other people with your information?

 You have to consider the potential repercussions that might occur if you do indeed take this route.  If you do decide to take this route, you should ask the following questions before you make the big move.

  • Is the service reliable?  If the service goes down, will my site go into utter chaos?

  • Is the data exportable?  If I build a new version of the site later on or if I want to use a different solution later, will it be easy to migrate it?

  • Does it have all the features I need and (a lot) more?  Can I trust that I won’t have to move to another solution 6 months from now?

  • Do I really want to own the data?  Will it be difficult to customize it however I want for my own needs?

  • Do I want to be liable for protecting the credit card numbers and other sensitive information in my database?

  • What does the terms of service say?  Do you truly own the data, or can they use it for certain purposes?

  • Do your users trust whoever is handling the data outside the site?  Will it tarnish your site’s reputation if you put it on the site?

You shouldn’t take some of these questions lightly.   Using a credit card processor with a history of data leakage or advertisement software that serves annoying and potentially malicious advertisements can ruin your site’s reputation.  It would be wise to do your research on anything you do externally before you implement it on your site.

Couldn’t I just create these features myself on my own separate servers?

If you have the funding and bandwidth to do it, go for it!   Many opt to use the Apache Solr module to delegate the search functionality away from the main site’s server to achieve this.  This approach is common and not unheard of.

Doing this requires more manpower.  Even if the features are developed externally, you still need to upgrade them internally.  Features maintained externally typically have the advantage of acquiring upgrades without a need to do anything on your end (that’s the beauty of webapps!).  Going this route, you should always subscribe to their blog to make sure you're aware of any changes they make on their end.

Note: At this point, you might think doing all this implies laziness.  Rest assured!  There is nothing wrong with good lazy, however, as long as you achieve the goal at hand.  When the job is done, the amount of work done on your end is trivial as long as you have the research and documentation to handle any future tasks proactively (i.e. be aware of any caveats and risks when using a service, and keep note of any muddy scenarios not covered by their guarantees).

In conclusion…

Remember a decade ago when things rarely ran on APIs, and most site maintainers typically have to copy and paste embeddable codes to achieve the same thing (not to mention the site’s architecture being bloated and messy after a while)?  In some cases, a lot of the code back then didn’t really fit everyone’s needs, so you tend to have a lot of duplicate codebases across sites that tend to go stale months after it gets implemented.

Consider it blessing that we’ve gone all this way to weave various web services into existing sites much easier while tapping into polished features without a sweat on your end!

As a Phase2 developer, Peter Cho strives to create elegant and efficient solutions to provide a positive user experience for clients.

Prior to joining Phase2, Peter worked for the Digital Forensics Center developing marketing and web ...

Nov 15 2012
Nov 15

While visiting BADCamp in Berkeley, CA last week, I sat in on several discussions about productizing Drupal. Jeff Walpole, CEO of Phase II opened the discussion with a presentation on various business and product models the Drupal community has embraced.

Jeff’s experience in growing a successful services company has been that of hard work, long hours and hiring top Drupal talent to fulfill the requests of his clients. His team has created several Drupal distributions that have awarded Phase II business in the government space, yet the distributions themselves have been expensive and taxing to develop and maintain, and have been difficult to quantify based on sales.

One long-term business model would be a shift to productize Drupal in a way that is sustainable, scalable and maintainable. Creating a diverse and robust ecosystem of complementary products and services that compliment the Drupal platform would benefit the community and could add recurring revenue to a business. While this model looks good on paper there are several challenges that need to be overcome.

The first challenge that arises is licensing and selling. To dispel the myth of GPL licensing, we can in fact sell Drupal core, Drupal modules, Drupal distributions, etc. The question then becomes, how can we sell something that is freely distributed? The answer to that question is complex and open for debate.

Another question asked was, even if we do sell Drupal modules and/or distributions, how do we keep others who have purchased our product from giving it away to others for free? The answer is that we cannot…unless we tie it to proprietary APIs or services.

APIs, plug-ins and 3rd party services that support Drupal seem to be the way many forward thinking businesses are approaching the product challenge. By creating these valuable APIs and/or products we can create value to the community and design a product model that broadens our revenue stream.

So what great products can we create that will both be hugely beneficial to the Drupal community and provide monetary value to the business that owns, promotes and supports it? Whoever figures that out will be a true rockstar in the Drupal community.

Nov 05 2012
Nov 05

Listen online: 

Jared Ponchot and Josh Riggs chat with illustrator and designer Dave Mott about drawing, artists' versus designers' process, creative pause, how tools shape process, self-driven projects and more.

Mentioned in this episode:

Release Date: November 5, 2012 - 1:22pm

Album:

Length: 37:02 minutes (25.64 MB)

Format: mono 44kHz 96Kbps (vbr)

Oct 26 2012
Oct 26

Listen online: 

Jared Ponchot and Jeff Robbins chat with author, designer, musician Alex Cornell about creative block and his new book .

Mentioned in this episode:

Release Date: October 26, 2012 - 11:00am

Album:

Length: 50:19 minutes (34.85 MB)

Format: mono 44kHz 96Kbps (vbr)

Oct 12 2012
Oct 12

Listen online: 

Jeff Eaton and Kristina Halvorson of Brain Traffic discuss content strategy trends, the art of stakeholder wrangling, and proper bourbon pairings for your content audit.

Links mentioned in the show:

Release Date: October 12, 2012 - 9:00am

Album:

Length: 36:44 minutes (19.16 MB)

Format: mono 44kHz 72Kbps (vbr)

Oct 09 2012
Oct 09

Posted Oct 9, 2012 // 0 comments

The Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) has just completed its hefty migration of 52 agency sites, from Vignette (versions 6 and 7) to a Drupal platform.  As this important project nears completion, it’s worth looking at the project’s impact on the State of Georgia, Drupal, and on open government efforts everywhere.

GTA’s migration kicked off in September, 2011 as one of the first and largest major Drupal projects for state government.  The successful migration of prominent federal agencies to Drupal (e.g., Whitehouse.gov, Energy.gov, DHS.gov, FCC.gov, FEMA.gov, and the House of Representatives) has broadened awareness of Drupal’s ability to handle prominent, large-scale migrations, and allowed GTA to build on those successes. GTA built a Drupal platform for state agency sites to migrate onto Drupal, and 52 agencies have made the transitions so far. This precedent has gained attention from state and local governments regarding the possibilities for Drupal.

The Georgia platform was built on OpenPublic, a distribution of Drupal, built specifically for the needs of federal, state, and local government sites. OpenPublic powers thousands of sites for the public sector and nonprofit sector, but never before has it powered a platform as extensive as Georgia’s.  OpenPublic gave Georgia a “jumpstart” on the platform since it allowed the team to focus on critical customer requirements, instead of standard features which are typical “up front” requirements for most government sites. Also, the project’s success is attributable to close collaboration between government and vendor teams. The Georgia government development team was an integral part of this project and worked very closely with the vendor teams.

The platform leverages the OpenPublic Drupal distribution which puts end users in the content development driver’s seat. State content administrators have already used their new Drupal platform to independently create four additional sites (bringing the total number of agency sites on the platform to... 52).  As with federal sites, Drupal provides GeorgiaGov content authors with a rich set of tools to publish content (e.g., video-embed, photo galleries, Twitter pull module, and custom boxes).  These tools along with the eight beautiful themes designed by the Phase2 design team (i.e., Samantha Warren, Dave Ruse), enabled GTA to create unique sites with distinct branding for each state agency.

Here’s a diagram which helps to depict visually the platform and its benefits.

Recently, we sat down with Nikhil Deshpande, director of Interactive Services at GTA , who will be presenting his experience with Drupal at the upcoming Atlanta Drupal Business Summit  on October 26th, 2012. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’ve been talking to states and cities, (essentially local government). Almost everyone has a pretty similar structure, they are maintaining websites at an enterprise level, they have departments that are autonomous in the functions that they perform, but at the same time they are attached to each other when it comes to the overall governing body.  They like the way we have presented the platform and sites, from a user perspective, the platform is very intuitive.”

Can you expand on the importance of the user perspective?

“I’m seeing a shift where government is really starting to consider the user, it has taken some time to change people’s minds -- it’s not about the organization, it’s about the people looking for information from the organization.  Having the website reflect the organization, doesn’t really make sense, it’s really all about who you are serving.  So with this new approach, everyone is looking at our project as a case study and saying: this is where we want to be, how do we get there?”

That’s a great point Nikhil, the GTA project is a great example of what Drupal is capable of.  Can you give us a taste of what you will be discussing at the Drupal Business Summit?

“At the Drupal Business Summit in Atlanta I’m going to talk about our experience, and tell the GeorgiaGov story. What I am seeing from other states and agencies is that they just want to know what the process was for us. So I’m going to talk about the process, it took us a long time to finalize the decision that we want to go ahead with Drupal.  Most of my discussion will be about how we arrived at where we are today, and I will highlight the steps to get there at a high level.”

               Follow Nikhil on Twitter: @nikofthehill. Follow Georgia.gov @georgiagov

You can catch Nikhil Deshpande speaking at the Drupal Business Summit in Atlanta, and hear more Drupal success stories the following day at Drupalcamp Atlanta. It was a pleasure working with Nikhil and the GTA team; now that Drupal has proven itself at the federal and state level, we are excited about the possibility of collaborating with more state and local governments in the future. Drupal and its community have a huge potential to impact open government efforts around the world and we see the GeorgiaGov platform as an important step in that direction!

As Phase2’s Federal Practice Manager, Greg Wilson is responsible for the success and direction of the company’s support to federal government clients. In this role, he provides guidance regarding Phase2’s role in helping to ...

Oct 03 2012
Oct 03

Some Friendly Advice for Maximizing Your Team Experience

I'm just a couple months shy of being seven years from my last college class. I know that this isn't a significant number to you, but it is to me: it certainly doesn't feel like I've been in the real world that long, but it does explain why, when I stop to think about it, I've learned a whole lot from the four companies I've worked for in that span. I thought I'd share a few of those lessons about what has worked and failed: both for me as a developer, and in terms of managing a development team. Some of these things may be out of your control, but you might be able to pressure management to change the things you can't.

I don't want to shame or praise any particular companies here: every company has their own style, and everyone is always striving to improve the way they work. For that reason, I don't want to say who does what poorly, or claim that Lullabot does everything right (though admittedly, the Lullabot way has worked best for me). But, just to give you a sense of where I'm coming from, I will say that I have worked in variety of environments: a team devoted to the company's product (a web app), an agency that built Drupal sites for a variety of clients, a company that built Drupal sites and an installation profile for non-profits, and now, at a consulting company where I'm mostly building client sites. For the past two and a half years, I've worked remotely for mostly-virtual companies, so some of my lessons learned are specific to working on a distributed team.

First, some all-purpose lessons:

Keep standups focused on one project.

I've done some varietal of scrums in every company I've worked for, and at most, we had a daily standup call or meeting with everyone from the team or department.

This does not work.

When any one person is giving their update in a meeting like this, it's likely that half of the other people aren't on the same projects…which means they space out. It's not a good use of anyone's time. If the team is working on more than one project, have a standup meeting for each to keep them focused.

During standups, focus on the updates and punt any questions or discussion.

If you've ever been the last in a list of people giving their updates, without someone to keep everyone else on point, chances are good that you are occasionally knee deep in another project by the time the conversation got around to you. People tend to mention problems they've run into, and others may chime in with ideas or questions, and before you know it the standup has turned into a twenty-minute conversation about LESS vs. SASS.

Again, this wastes time. During a standup, have everyone do their update—what did you do, what are you going to do, what's blocking you—and if there's any part of it that requires discussion, make a note to address it at the end of the meeting. There's no reason for everyone else to wait around while two people hash out the implementation plan for some feature that no one else will touch.

Take your lunch break.

And not at your desk! You need to get away from the computer for a bit. I know it's pretty standard in most companies for everyone to grab a quick lunch and keep working while they eat, but that just leaves you at the end of the day exhausted and feeling like you haven't taken a break in nine hours…because you haven't.

If you work at the kind of company where you'll get a judgemental glance for having the audacity to step away from your work for a bit, I know a lot of great companies that are hiring. (Confession: I'm really bad at this one. Working from home makes it REALLY easy to make a sandwich and go right back to my desk with it.)

Spend the money on tools the team needs.

Make sure your team has a Github account with plenty of available private repositories. Subscribe to a time-tracking service. Get the more expensive hosting account when you're pushing the limits of what you've got. If you try to cut corners, it will bite you in the ass.

I worked for one company that didn't want to pay for more private repos on Github, so all of our clients were in separate branches in a single repository. Needless to say, this was a real pain to manage, cloning the repo took forever because it included a ton of stuff, and we couldn't really keep track of feature or bug branches so we just didn't use them.

Another time, management wanted the development team to manage the disk space on the development server, and get rid of dev sites that weren't absolutely necessary anymore. When asked to justify the greater expense of more disk on the VPS host, we had to explain that it would be cheaper to upgrade that account than to pay us for the time it would take to manage old files. Keep in mind that labor is a real cost, and trying to save money by using a manual process might do just the opposite.

Handle team assignments on a weekly basis.

On any given week, I know how my time should be distributed among projects. In previous positions, time has been doled out a month at a time. I for one find it difficult to determine where to focus my time if I'm given a few projects for the month and told to spend, say, 20% of my time on the first, and 40% each on the second and third. On any given morning, then, I need to review my time logged for the month so far and do some math just to figure out how I should spend my day.

Furthermore, things change more quickly than that: co-workers take last-minute trips for family matters or miss a week due to illness, or you get pulled onto a project that's behind schedule, or another client comes in with a small-but-critical project that needs a week of your time. By the end of any given month, the plan that you start with looks nothing like reality any more.

Having a weekly plan for project assignments and the amount of time for each ensures that everyone knows where their focus should be, while allowing for those last-minute problems that would completely scrap any longer-term plans.

For distributed teams:

Setup an IRC channel for everyone in the company.

IRC is free and there are plenty of free apps to use it. Setup a channel for the company, so people have an easy way to ask questions or chit-chat. And this really should be used by the entire company: at one employer, the developers had a Skype chat room that a couple of the PMs joined, but it really just meant that the couple of people in the company who were not using it missed out on all the in-jokes.

Setup IRC channels for each project.

This is a complement to the "individual scrum meetings per project" tip above: keep all chatter about a particular project confined to people involved in that project. You can even invite the client to join this channel, which is handy for getting answers to quick questions. Actually, this one isn't even specific to distributed teams, but it makes a much bigger difference for teams that aren't all in the same office.

Get a Yammer account.

I wasn't sold on Yammer at first, but have come to love it here at Lullabot as a way to keep up with co-workers. It's basically like Facebook but for a small group. I've talked to people who have used Yammer at larger organizations and hate it, and I can see how having too many people on there would skew the signal-to-noise ratio; I don't know how many people is too many, except that it's more-than-all-Lullabots.

With everyone at Lullabot on there, we get much greater insight into what everyone is working on, and a lot of personality that we wouldn't see otherwise: we post photos from our weekend excursions, share links to funny stories, and just generally get that social aspect that can be so hard to find in a virtual company.

And finally, for absolutely everybody:

If you're working on Saturdays, you're doing something wrong.

Or, more likely, someone above you is doing something wrong. Having too much work is generally considered to be better than having not enough work, but if you have to work on weekends more than once in a while, there has been a failure in the planning process. You've probably bitten off more than you can chew, and we've seen time and again that adding more man-hours to a project doesn't get it done any quicker. Life is too short to spend every weekend working, especially if you're so burnt out that you're not doing good work anyway.

These tips won't necessarily work for every team. For example, doing a standup meeting for every project will probably take way too much time if everyone is working on a dozen different projects…though you've probably got bigger problems if everyone is trying to keep track of a dozen projects.

Similarly, I mentioned time tracking and Github, but no tool is going to be right for everyone. We use Freckle for time tracking, but I've also been happy with Harvest (which has more features and mobile apps, but also costs more). We use Github for all our code repositories (and increasingly, for project management), but some teams need to use SVN or CVS or need to keep all their code on local servers behind a firewall; for those teams, some other code repository solution will be necessary.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I'm not trying to shame or praise any particular company, but I feel that the way we do things at Lullabot right now definitely works better for me than anywhere else I've worked. That said, we're always interested in improving any process or tool that we may use. What works where you work? What didn't work at your last job? How would you improve on the tips I outlined above?

And, if your current employer comes down on the wrong side of too many of my points above, maybe it's time to consider something new :-)

Sep 28 2012
Sep 28

Listen online: 

In this innaugural episode of The Creative Process, Jared Ponchot and Jeff Robbins discuss the creative process behind creating ... this very podcast! They also discuss creative block, design, group dynamics, business, song writing, and a host of other related topics.

Release Date: September 28, 2012 - 6:13pm

Album:

Length: 34:33 minutes (23.75 MB)

Format: stereo 44kHz 96Kbps (cbr)

Sep 20 2012
Sep 20

I've acquired other companies, but the sale of Mollom to Acquia, was the first time I sold a company of my own. Being the seller felt quite different. It's a interesting mixture of satisfaction tinged with loss. During the negotiation phase you feel joy and excitement. Then you feel frustration as you go through the due diligence process. It's a lot of work. Eventually, the day you hand over the keys you feel like you sold your baby. At the same time, you feel a sense of achievement.

Selling Mollom was a life-changing moment. Not because it was a big financial transaction (it wasn't), but because it proves that I was able to bootstrap and grow a company, steer it to profitability, and successfully exit. It was a great experience, because I know that at some point, I'll have the desire to do that again.

Sep 06 2012
Sep 06

We are less than 24 hours away from our fourth annual Dallas Drupal Days conference, with a Drupal Business Summit on Friday and DrupalCamp on Saturday. If you need more motivation to be here ..

    1. Hear Josh Koenig, fresh from interviewing Dries at the DrupalCon Munich keynote, talk about "The Drupal Destiny". With a name like that, it's got to be good.
    1. Learn how McKessen, 15th on the Fortune 500, built their Patient Portal using nothing but Drupal and tongue depressors.
    1. Find out 10 ways your Drupal site can get hacked. It just might be getting hacked RIGHT NOW!
    1. Visit the Results Oriented Social Media Summit going on at the same time at the same venue and totally included in your ticket. If you are into that squishy social stuff... (ed. Heeey! I like the squishy social stuff! I'll be there!)
    1. Get educated on using OAuth in Drupal, Dancing, and in Life.
    1. Improve your CSS skills by learning LESS / SASS / COMPASS / WOPR / WoW and CPR.
    1. Become knowledgable about Drupal 8, 9 and 10. * did you know Drupal 10 will be developed entirely using Higgs Bosons?

 

  • Absorb information on mobile applications strategies for Drupal. The slides for this session will be projected onto a 3x4 inch screen.
  • Be taught how to build Drupal modules. Please bring transcripts from your PhD in Computer Science for admission. Not really. An MS is fine.
  • Listen to the smooth, smooth sounds of Travis Tidwell teaching you how to make money in Drupal and Open Source.
  • Be force knowledge choked by Darth Vader himself with his Guide to Drupal SEO and Galactic Domination. Yes, that Darth Vader.
  • Talk about how great Dallas Drupal Days was Saturday night at the after party at the Fox & Hound, with free drinks and food.
  • Join us for a post-Camp mountain bike ride on Sunday. Tom McCracken will demonstrate his perfected endo techniques.

 

With dozens more sessions, if you haven't registered already, you better soon- time is running out.

Aug 27 2012
Aug 27

Posted Aug 27, 2012 // 0 comments

 One of the hallmarks of Agile project management is maintaining a product backlog. A product backlog is an important artifact of any project - it's where requirements are stored and prioritized by both the project team and the client.  Keeping a well-groomed backlog should be a continuous process throughout the project lifecycle. If maintained correctly, a product backlog can make Sprint planning a much more effective exercise.

I'm currently working on an Agile project and I've put together a few recommendations on effectively and easily managing a product backlog that I've learned along the way.

1. Schedule a regular Backlog "Grooming" Session

Ideally, this grooming session would take place weekly throughout the duration of the project. Make sure to schedule enough time for the session -  two hours is generally enough, but up to four hours may be necessary for larger projects. 

The goal of this session is to review items (either tasks or user stories) in the backlog and to adjust the priorities of the items. Top-ranked items can then be easily moved into sprints during sprint planning sessions. 

2. Involve the entire team

The entire project team should be involved in maintaining the product backlog through weekly grooming sessions and individual tweaks throughout the week.  It's important that the whole team agrees on the prioritization of the backlog as this activity will ultimately define development sprints. 

3. Make sure to estimate 

Another reason to involve the entire project team in product backlog grooming is to assign estimates to prioritized items in the backlog. This can take two forms - a rough hour estimate (for example: this task will probably take 6 hours), or via assigning story points.  Story points roughly show the level of effort involved in a task, without assigning a period of time to it (for example: this task has a story point value of 1, but another has a story point value of 5, indicating that the tasks will take 5 times as long as the first task). 

Story points are a good way to go if you will be presenting the backlog to the client for prioritization. This way, the client has a rough idea of the level of effort of a task before a task is broken down and assigned more specific estimates, which are likely to change from the high-level estimate.

4. Involve the client

It's important to involve the client in backlog grooming - especially as priorities change throughout the project. It's likely that the backlog will continue to change throughout the project as new User Stories are added and requirements are developed and fleshed out. Throughout the week, collect new client requests and requirements in the form of User Stories and add them to the backlog.   Set up a weekly meeting with the client to review and re-organize priorities. 

In her role as a Solutions Analyst, Dida brings her years of experiences as an online manager to deliver to the client user-friendly implementations. A natural-born communicator, Dida uses her talent to help clients find the most efficient ...

Aug 21 2012
Aug 21

Wow!

Today it was announced that Acquia is the eighth company on the Inc 500. This means we are the eight fastest growing private company in the United States. With nearly 7 million private companies in the US, being honored as number eight is an enormous accolade. In addition, we are the first software company on the list, making Acquia the fastest growing software company in the US. The current print edition of Inc Magazine also has a two page profile on Acquia.

This honor is attributed to each and every Acquian. I’m so proud to be part of such a hardworking and dedicated team! Go Acquia! Go Drupal!

Aug 16 2012
Aug 16

Posted Aug 16, 2012 // 0 comments

We recently had the opportunity to work with Thomson-Reuters on a rather interesting project - create a custom-built editorial suite on top of Drupal, with an eye towards eventually building out a multi-site platform - and build it in three months, just in time for the 2012 London Olympics.

Reuters would be pushing hundreds of articles and thousands of photos into the site every day, with high-volume days (like the opening ceremonies, or the Men’s 100m final) doubling the volume.   Reuters uses a feed management engine called MediaConnect to serve out photos and text articles to their clients, and our site would be ingesting this content to populate the site.

The content model was complex - a single article could consist of dozens of photos along with article text, and this text was subject to repeated updates. For example: Images start to arrive with a slugline specific to the Men's 100m final, and as each is ingested they are appended to a slideshow that was published when the first image with a unique slugline arrived.  Then, a text item arrives with the slugline that consists of a short write-up of the final results, and that item is in turn integrated into the article, which now consists of a multi-image slideshow and a text article.  Later, more images arrive and are automatically appended, and an update to the text item (perhaps a final, longer story) overwrites the original text item.

All of this had to have minimal latency, of course.

We built an ingestion engine that took in the MediaConnect content stream, converted the text and photos to type-specific entities, and stitched together the associated items into an article instantiated as a complex node that could support hundreds of content associations via a system of content manifests.  This content fed a network of landing pages specific to sports, events, athletes, and countries that had been built out to receive automatic content streams.  The end goal was a site that, once hooked up to the MediaConnect Olympics content channel, could be populated with no editorial intervention whatsoever.

That was the easy part

Well, it wasn’t actually easy.  But it was straightforward - the content was all encapsulated in well-formed XML, and although the ingestion and assembly rules were complex, once in place the system would run.

Harder, was allowing human intervention.  The editorial use cases were legion, and as is the case with any high-profile news site, especially one covering a high-profile event like the Olympics, the qualitative differences between one photo and another, one version of a headline and another, were subtle but crucial.  MediaConnect (and our system) lay at the end of a chain of editorial content management systems, each of which applied a layer of curation, so the content stream was not a raw torrent of news (for a look at what the photo editors experienced, see "A Glimpse Into the Hectic Life of a Reuters Photo Editor at the Olympics").  Even so, the editorial team required a high degree of granular editorial control over the story assembly process.  If a story received 50+ photos, an editor would want to lock the best one at the top while still allowing automatic ingestion of more.  Updates would come in for articles that had already been edited, but editors would want to review these updates to ensure that their own corrections were not overwritten.  Articles built by hand would need to be ready to receive automated content at any time.

Drupal provided many, many advantages to us in building out the editorial toolkit that the Reuters team in London used to manage the constant ebb and flow of content management.  We used many contributed modules

(Workbench,

Solutions Architect Joshua Lieb has a deep knowledge of web development, content management, and programming thanks to his more than than 15 years of web development experience in the government, publishing, and NGO sectors. His proven ...

Aug 14 2012
Aug 14

Posted Aug 14, 2012 // 3 comments

With the right preparation and foresight, launching your new CMS, or relaunching your CMS in Drupal, can be a smooth process. Anticipating the future and looking at the big picture of your companies' goals is integral to the success of this process. Here are the top 5 mistakes that you should avoid:

1. Spending huge focus, time, and capital assuming only today's problems, instead of tomorrow's

Quick exercise: Look at your current digital endeavor and think back to July 2010. What were you focused on then? How much of it matters now? How much of what you did is still in effect on your current platform and providing ROI now? In my experience it's about half. If it's 60-80% you are an excellent and disciplined strategist. (If you say 100% you are probably suffering from selective memory loss.)

The way to correct this mistake is to embrace agility within the context of your big migration and launch, and (this is the kicker) throughout the lifespan of your new Drupal site. Regardless of your specific endeavor, you must cope with a digital landscape that shifts every three to six months. You must meet the challenges of digital, while simultaneously delivering digital products on-time, on-budget and on-scope. Fifty percent of your project should focus on assumptions of "now", and the other half should assume the unknown. Looking to the future also allows you to let go of some of the aging products or content on your site and not get mired in the minute of a digital product that should be left behind. You will likely be forced to kill/change/revamp/ignore half the site within two years. New challenges will emerge, even within the timeline of the project itself. You cannot prepare for everything so set yourself up for success by assuming iteration. Build solutions that can easily change. Don't lock yourself into solutions based on a set of assumptions about digital that are likely to change. It may sound crazy, but after five years of helping businesses and enterprises reach their digital goals I know you should weigh your investments carefully with this in mind: Don't build a thing you wouldn't be okay with breaking in six months. I'm not the first person to propose such an approach for dealing with an uncertain future. Not embracing agility in your build and your ongoing strategy, could leave you without a future to face.

2. Assuming a sign-off on designs means the work of designing is done

Seeing is [not] believing: there is a false security that comes with the almighty "design sign off" on mocks, PSDs or design comps. Once everyone works through comps and decides on "The Design We Want," teams tend to gather everyone in a room and throw a static image of your new homepage up on a projector. "This is our New Site." Everyone nods, ohs and ahas, but know that many steps remain between that moment and the end of the design process. That first exposure achieves something, but it's not your team's or your organization's full understanding and acceptance of the design. The team will return to design again and again. The greatest challenge is to retain the fundamental successes of the original design effort, but eliminate the mistakes that reveal themselves through incremental development. In order to leave space for this to happen you can't fall victim to mistake #2, and if you try to retain the original projector image with rigid enforcement your new site will suffer for it. See number #3 on how to handle the on-going changes to not only design but all other aspects of your site.

3. Listening to your Users Too much, or Too Little

There's a sweet spot with user feedback and how it can fit into your agile process. You need to 1. Create an efficient way for users to give you feedback and 2. Understand how your stakeholders - every stakeholder - will engage with the new site. Agile is grounded in a basic assumption that guides number one: your stakeholders will change their mind… a lot. To actually meet their needs you must listen to and keep a focus on all stakeholders but that can be challenging given their inevitably shifting requirements. How can you stay efficient while managing your project schedule with time-boxed iterations and listen to all your stakeholders who always change their mind? You must find a way to incorporate continuous user feedback into the process of building your new CMS - it's the agile way. Don't unintentionally ignore some users who aren't internal to your organization: customers/readers/audience. For them you should use proxies or people with in-depth user knowledge. Proxies can be anyone from technical service folks to site architects and UX specialists to the patient saint who fields phone calls and emails from users complaining they can't do "X" on your site. Also plan for the fact that a disconnect will always exist between what internal stakeholders *think* people come to the site for, and what they actually do. Check your analytics and present data to confirm/counter assumptions and make that check part of your iterative feedback process. This leads to my final point: understand your stakeholders. Do all your research before the project starts and work to create a definition of all stakeholders involved: roles, goals, tasks and create user stories. Then schedule check-ins against those definitions and user stories within your feedback cycles.

4. Trying to be an SEO expert overnight (or even within the lifespan of your rebuild)

You can achieve solid Search Engine Optimization with your new build, but you cannot know everything you will need to know when you launch. I've seen serious scope creep on projects with people who were convinced they could crack google's algorithm. They build requirements around their Master SEO Plan for their site's global dominance in all search ranking. You will make mistakes and miss things in how you optimize your site for search. Instead, build-in pre and post-launch check lists for search optimization best-practices for content, redirects and performance. Then move on to the rest of your new site. Also know about "the most powerful Drupal module that does nothing."

5. If we build it, they will come

It used to be a big deal to launch a website. It's not anymore. Simply launching a site isn't the traffic boost it used to be. You need a PR and social strategy in place before day one. If you want to leverage your site launch to make a big splash don't ignore PR. Craft your media blitz with nuance. Have a social strategy in place to refine messaging to your own users, including messaging in the first few hours, days and weeks after launch. Talk with your technologists about highlights of innovation. Don't depend solely on your traditional audience. Work with your partners in technology, business and content to promote the site in all sectors, not just your own. Everyone should get a space to brag. Make sure you build something worth bragging about.

Kellye Rogers is a Project Manager at Phase2 Technology. She is passionate about listening and communicating with clients, developers and designers to create the best Drupal products possible. She lives for streamlined, innovative solutions ...

Aug 14 2012
Aug 14

We're excited to announce that Mollom has been acquired by Acquia.

For the foreseeable future, Mollom will continue to be offered as it is today. I will continue my role as general manager of Mollom, Ben will continue to lead the development of our products and the Mollom team will remain unchanged. If you are a user or customer of either Mollom or Acquia, everything will remain exactly the same.

When Ben and I started Mollom almost 5 years ago, we wanted to do something important. While most people were trying to figure out the social web, we were paddling out ahead of the wave, knowing that many websites would soon have to deal with increasing amounts of spam and content moderation. In the past five years, we have helped tens of thousands of people fight spammers on their websites, including some of the world's leading organizations.

We have blocked almost a billion spam messages since we started. It has been very rewarding for us to see that we have helped make the web a slightly better place. At the same time, we also built a healthy business. We successfully bootstrapped Mollom, and organically grew a team of 6 people.

The social wave keeps on growing; we're helping more and more people and organizations every day. But now that social wave has grown so big, we can't rest on our laurels. There are more business opportunities to explore, some of which we have been working on for a while.

At the business level, it made a lot of sense to merge Mollom into Acquia. Ben and I were looking to raise capital for Mollom to help fund future product development and expand our operations. It was clear that it would require a long-term commitment of my time – just at the point when I wanted to focus more on promoting Drupal globally and driving Acquia's growth and expansion. By having Acquia acquire Mollom, I can still be a part of Mollom, and Mollom could receive the resources to accelerate our efforts and create an even more exciting future for Mollom. It also allows me to double down on Drupal and Acquia. In short, I'm really excited to have Mollom as part of the Acquia family.

Keep an eye on us!

Jul 10 2012
Jul 10

Posted Jul 10, 2012 // 0 comments

As the new marketing coordinator for Phase2 Technology, I have really enjoyed getting involved in NYC Drupal events and getting to know the NYC Drupal community better. It has been very exciting to help organize and plan NYC Camp, (pronounced Nice Camp) a New York City mini-conference, which will be held on July 19th through 23rd.

This will be the first mini-con in NYC and the east coast. With all the talent and Drupal enthusiasts in the NYC metro area, this 5 day event is an exciting prospect for the NYC Drupal community and I think it will complement the other great regional Drupal Camps like DrupalCamp NYC, CapitalCamp (the following weekend in DC!) and Drupaldelphia. NYC Camp will include pre-trainings, sessions, keynotes, summits, sprints, contrib and Drupal barn-raising. This event is chock full o’ Drupal and there are even a few surprises planned for attendees! This inaugural event is exciting for a number of reasons...

NYC Camp will have an amazing lineup of speakers! We are very lucky to have some Drupal legends as keynotes and speakers:

Killer Sessions from Phase2 folks:

Although there will be sessions for all skill levels, NYC Camp’s goal is to get attendees to push themselves over the largest learning curves, the beginner Drupaler, and those experienced Drupal Devs who want to get to the next level. The hope is that this focus on beginner and advanced skill levels will complement the focus of the other excellent DrupalCamps in the northeast.

Learning Curve

A major goal of NYC Camp is to empower all attendees to be able to contribute to the Drupal project as well as get involved in the community no matter what skill level. We are providing free pre-trainings on Thursday for Drupal Newbies so that they will be confident about Drupal basics by the time the sessions and Keynotes begin. Sunday and Monday, NYC Camp will be devoted to contribution. All attendees of every skill level will be able to contribute whether it is in a sprint, NYC Community BoFs, or working on “barn-raising” nodes.

NYC Camp will take place in the beautiful Faculty House at Columbia University on July 19th-23rd. Find out more about NYC Camp here, and register! Hope to see you there!

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As marketing coordinator at Phase2, Annie is involved in the open source events in the New York metro area. She really enjoys engaging the lovely Drupal Community and promoting Phase2 to prospects, clients, staff members, and the greater ...

Jul 10 2012
Jul 10

Posted Jul 10, 2012 // 0 comments

I recently read an inspiring presentation  on the emergence of specialists in the field of web design. As the field grew and as technologies progressed, specialists emerged to manage the wealth of information and knowledge about the field. One such specialization is the field of User Experience, and within that lies the relatively undiscovered field of Content Strategy.

While it may not sound like something you want to devote budget, time, or staff to, developing a content strategy is essential to the success of any digital project because content is the fundamental unit of communication with target audiences. A content strategy can help define the purpose of your content, the method of production, and surface any gaps and areas of weakness in providing users with the information they are seeking. The burden of successfully developing, organizing and presenting content in an effective way, does not solely rest on the client, or even the user. It should be a critical component of any project and folded into a larger strategy that assesses the meaningfulness of the content.

The Difference between Information Architecture and Content Strategy

I believe there is an important distinction to make here when thinking about Information Architecture and Content Strategy concepts. Information architecture defines the structure of the content, essentially it is the foundation for the house that is to be built. It's the blueprint of the house, outlining where the kitchen is and where the light switch is placed. It organizes the house into rooms and sections and areas.

On the other hand, Content Strategy defines the approach to the "furniture" of the house, the items that populate the structure. While furniture can come in different shapes and sizes, essentially it is all threaded together by the design and feel of the house, the overarching "theme." Content Strategy aims to create this overarching theme and guiding principles by which content producers can quickly create and disseminate meaningful and relevant content to their readers. While Information Architecture focuses more on the organization of the information and their location, Content Strategy focuses on the production of content, the tone, and the curation of content and aims for consistent and useful content.

Getting Started

If you're migrating existing content from a legacy site into a brand new website, take the opportunity to do some "content spring cleaning" which will go a long way toward improving the usability of your site. Here are some tips on getting started:

  • Take inventory of your content in a Content Inventory.  How much content do you have?
  • Create a Gap Analysis. What information is missing?  Where are there gaps in information?
  • Use analytics to generate a Production Strategy. What's the most popular content and how can you generate more of it? What is the least popular content and why? What's the desired workflow for publishing content?

Showing that your content is well-cared for and carefully curated will go a long way in your user's eyes and will make the launch of a new site, and the maintenance of an existing site, much easier tasks.

In her role as a Solutions Analyst, Dida brings her years of experiences as an online manager to deliver to the client user-friendly implementations. A natural-born communicator, Dida uses her talent to help clients find the most efficient ...

Jul 05 2012
Jul 05

Posted Jul 5, 2012 // 0 comments

Last Friday night, a derecho storm swept through the DC area, having already left a swath of destruction across Ohio and West Virginia earlier in the day. Millions of people - including many Phase2 employees, as well as the main Phase2 offices in Alexandria - were left without power. The disruptions caused by the thunderheads even extended into the cloud, taking down Amazon's AWS server facility in northern Virginia, shutting down Netflix, Pinterest, and Instragram, as well as thousands of other sites, including a site that I had just logged into to test and close some tickets.

How do you prepare for this? It's not something you really work into a project plan. "Sprint 3 - Build content import scripts; Set up taxonomy management; Clean out freezer and sweep up glass after storm" What you can do, though, is work resilience into everything you do - after all, disasters come in all shapes and sizes.

Work redundancy into your workplan

The more people know about the full lifecycle of the project, the easier it is for them to jump in when they are suddenly required to cover for their colleagues. It sounds like an obvious thing, but there are competing pressures (known to most of us as 'time' and 'money') to bring staff in only when needed, and to have them focus specifically on the issues that they are specifically tasks to, and this can result in situations where staff enter a project knowing little about the backstory and the processes that informed the decisions that dictated the architecture that they are working within. One can argue that transitioning this knowledge through the project is the job of the analyst and the project manager, but what happens if your analyst is, for example, incapacitated by one (or, god forbid, two) sick babies? Or the project manager rides his bike off the road?

Something we've been doing lately is bringing the members of the full team (as envisioned in the project plan) into some of the earlier discovery and planning sessions - even if they are remote and only on a conference line (and working on wrapping their current project in the background), they are able to hear first hand from the client as they describe their business practices and goals, and when they build a related feature a month later they understand better what the ultimate reasons behind it are. If disaster strikes and they have to make a decision on what features to prioritize without input from the analyst (who wrote the ticket and worked out the implementation with the client), they can reach out to the client having already worked with them before, or can refer to the prior meetings to make an educated guess about the appropriate path.

This is of course a balancing act - you can't have too much redundancy, or the client will balk at paying the bills for developers not developing. Overall, though, bringing developers into the process earlier has (in our experience) introduced efficiencies later on that made it worthwhile.

Make everyone remote (even if they are always in the office)

Many of our developers are remote - our headquarters are in the DC area, but to do the kind of work we like to do we need to pull talent from a much wider pool of talent. We've had to adapt our working processes to make our teams efficient, and this has resulted in a culture of communication that places an emphasis on pushing information and processes into the cloud. The overall result is that many of our local team members are able to work as efficiently away from the office as they do within the office. I live in DC, and having worked at home full time in previous jobs I know that I need the structure of an office to be at my best. Yet many of my hours are billed from home, and this is possible because we have adapted our practice to support flexible work schedules. And when our office was shut down by the derecho, work continued, even if many of us had to relocate to Starbucks because our homes were without internet and power as well.

Build levees

Always make sure you have a buffer. Leave an extra sprint or two at the end for dealing with the things you can't forsee - there will ALWAYS be things that need doing at the end of the project. If everything comes in on schedule and nothing has blown up along the way, then congratulations are in order, and you can free the developers to work on other projects. Chances are, though, that you'll be happy you left time to tighten the screws and clean up the integrations.

Always assume that the worst could happen

Don't overdo it. Don't get paralyzed in worrying about what could happen, and don't waste time coming up with contingency plans for every possible catastrophe. There's a difference between 'the worst is going to happen' and 'the worst could happen'. The thing about disasters is that (hurricanes not withstanding) you don't often see them coming. Not that it interrupted anything, but we even had an earthquake last year in Virginia. Who'd expect that? Something always happens, though - maybe not a natural disaster, but a third party integration could go tragically wrong, or a team lead might need to take leave suddenly. Building redundancy and resiliency into your everyday practice doesn't prevent this, but it can help turn a disaster from a disaster into something that gets overcome as a matter of course.

Solutions Architect Joshua Lieb has a deep knowledge of web development, content management, and programming thanks to his more than than 15 years of web development experience in the government, publishing, and NGO sectors. His proven ...

Jun 19 2012
Jun 19

Posted Jun 19, 2012 // 0 comments

It's no secret to anyone who's been working in the web over the past several years that "content is king." As more and more organizations start to recognize the value of quality content, they are also realizing that their content will only be as good as the people, tools, and processes involved in managing it.

We've heard lots of horror stories from editors and content managers over the years about how their CMS was built in such a way that might have solved a hard problem or two but also somehow ended up making the simple things hard.

Crafting an intuitive and streamlined content management experience gets even harder at enterprise scale, where you're supporting large content teams and any number of external systems that need to be seamlessly integrated with your CMS to support your organization's overall content strategy. We don't back down from this challenge; we embrace it.

Empowering Content Managers

Given a difficult economic climate coupled with a 24/7 news cycle, it is more critical than ever that content managers be empowered to execute on their goals without having to rely on technical resources or code deployments. As a result, content management needs at this point in time extend far beyond simply creating, editing, and publishing content. Now it's all about ingesting, packaging, scheduling, and curating content from any number of sources.

Within larger content teams, content management responsibilities are typically divvied up amongst the group in one way or another (typically by site section for example). A logical extension of that is a core need for editors to see the subset of content under their purview as opposed to viewing a "find content" list that completely inundates them with a river of all incoming content. The right way to attack this varies (workflow states, section assignments, etc.) but the core problem is the same.

As certain topics gain momentum, editors need to have real time insight via analytics and a set of flexible and intuitive content assembly tools that allow them to capitalize on the opportunity and "own" that topic.

Efforts such as the Content Staging Initiative within the Large Scale Drupal group further underscore the need for content management solutions to be flexible and extensible enough to meet the needs of teams working together to ingest, evaluate, curate, and collaborate around their content before unveiling it.

Beyond Drupal

As I mentioned, big content management challenges inevitably require multi-faceted solutions involving systems other than Drupal.

For example, one client of ours used a service called PublishThis to create and curate "super stories" around big events that incorporated coverage from all sorts of different sources around the web. We built some tools that allowed super stories to be manifested and updated within the main site built with Drupal.

We've also worked on integrations with other legacy systems used to produce printed editions of content, so that it is instantly queued up for publishing on the web site. This concept could be extended to any number of other distribution channels as well (mobile sites, apps, etc). Karen McGrane did a brilliant job of breaking down the importance of structured content for facilitating this during her keynote presentation at the Content Strategy Forum in London last fall.

My colleagues and I at Phase2 are really excited about the renewed focus we're seeing from our clients and colleagues on crafting better content management experiences. We strongly believe that putting powerful and flexible tools in the hands of passionate content creators will benefit us all in the form of more usable and engaging content. As an old client of ours put it: "Now we can focus on our business instead of our technology."

Dave has a seemingly innate ability to solve problems, anticipate potential pitfalls, and translate business objectives into functional requirements -- which is why he excels as a Solutions Architect at Phase2.

Dave has an essential ...

Jun 12 2012
Jun 12

Posted Jun 12, 2012 // 0 comments

Right now, the Drupal Apps module is open source software development at its very best -- collaborative, smart people, solving their problems by building a great tool set together to solve real problems. And we couldn't be more excited by what people are doing.

When we created the Apps module for OpenPublic in early 2011, we were trying to solve a very specific problem: we wanted to make it easier for distribution users and site builders to add functionality to their OpenPublic sites, without bloating the distribution with functionality that only some users would want. 

LevelTen has taken this strategy with their distribution, Open Enterprise, with great success. Knowing that their distribution's users have varying needs around things like blogs, FAQs, events, or image handling, they built these features in Open Enterprise as Apps, making installing, enabling, or disabling this functionality simple. But then they took it a step further, and contributed a great solution to Apps,  allowing users to choose their apps upon distribution installation. Big win for Apps, big win for distributions. 

So now, we're seeing an exciting evolution of the Apps and Appserver modules -- more and more, distribution owners are creating simple, clean "base distributions," and then utilizing Apps to "specialize" the distribution upon installation -- and we think it's pretty freakin smart. Pantheon's "Panopoly" is a Panels-powered base distribution. You can install the Panopoly apps (shown here), or, if you're a university, you can install Chapter Three's Open Academy set of apps on top of Panopoly and have a "University web site in a box." 

And across the pond, Node One is employing the same concept -- and the Apps module -- with Nodestream. As the product's notes explain, "NodeStream Core is the base platform and NodeStream products are great add on features that can be turned on or off to target your project for things like intranets, newspapers, or enterprise websites." 

What began as a simple solution to one distribution's challenges has grown to become a solution set for many of the challenges facing distribution owners and maintainers, and we're excited to see that. Finally, we can stop arguing about apps, because whether they’re accused of being “modules for dummies" or an evil vehicle for code-selling and community-destroying, it’s not productive. Instead, companies are seeing the module for what it is -- a way to make distributions lighter, more modular, and easier to use to solve more problems for site builders. Many thanks to those who have committed patches and contributed code to this project – we’re really excited to see where it goes next.

As a product director with us, Karen Borchert keeps Phase2 growing each day; she focuses on the business strategy for our products, including OpenPublish and OpenPublic.

Thanks to her deep background in product strategy, Karen can ...

Jun 07 2012
Jun 07

Posted Jun 7, 2012 // 0 comments

It’s beautiful isn’t it? Just launched into the mighty currents of the World Wide Web, chaos and adventure beckoning, your new site bobs majestically by the dock. You and your coworkers clammer aboard, exploring all these new nooks and cranny's, playing with things you’ve only ever seen and in some cases only heard about on other seemingly unattainable websites. A steely glint emanates from your eyes as you daydream of exotic lands you will visit and the treasure you shall acquire…

But wait, what is this? The damn'd boat maker has forgotten to paint the port jib rigger, and this thing doesn’t have a steering wheel it has a rudder! What are all these different sails? How does the cargo get in the hold? How often should I paint this thing? What was a steely glint in your eye, turns slightly towards disappointment, disappointment tinged with terror.

I’m all to familiar with that look of terror. I’ve been building web applications and tent-pole websites for a long, long time, and of the many pitfalls and unproductive warrens one can accidentally wander into, unprepared site ownership is probably the saddest one. Big websites and custom web applications are so expensive to develop these days, and often only occur once every three or four years (if you are lucky!) in organizations that take on a proto-mythical status. Many people involved know that this may be the only, or one of two chances they have to do this, a lot is riding on it. The natural inclination is to focus on the “what and when” of your development, and to agonize over features, design, or what visitors will think. Those things are all important, but there’s something missing from your list, and that is “how will we own and run this thing?”

If I could be so bold as to offer you some advice, it would be: spend a few hours mapping the following out before you embark to the shipyards to have the website of your dreams shorn out of digital lumber:

(We’ll start simply)

1. Who will work on the website? Do these people own smartphones or do you not let them handle sharp objects? How much time can they devote to various care and feeding tasks your website will need? (Hungry websites are angry websites!) Are you trying to increase the number of people working on the website with this new system? Should you be spending any of your budget on making these people successful?

2. What promotions, events, and other things will you put on the website? Do you have an editorial calendar of when things will go up and come down off the website? Do you have a budget to help build cute little features to support these things? Is your website designed with campaigns and seasonality in mind? How important is this ephemeral stuff to your success? You can either waste or invest a lot of money here, or find yourself hamstrung depending on your answers above.

3. Who is going to keep your website updated, patched, secured? If you have endless amounts of money, this answer is easy! (Some vendor!) But if you don’t have endless amounts of money you probably want to consider this a bit more carefully.. Most “managed” hosting vendors won’t really help keep up a CMS system, their support usually ends before “the application.” This generally means you will hate them on some level, and that you’ll need to have some sort of CMS/Technical dude to supplement your lovely expensive managed hosting vendor.

4. How will we document and keep track of any changes, enhancements, modifications to our website? There are down in the weeds technical considerations here (What sort of Source Control Management system will you use, don’t worry overly if that sounds like Latin) and less technical ones as well. (We had a freelancer build out feature X, here is a zip file of what he did for us, and here our our requirements and information we gave him to build it.) And of course there’s day to day knowledge keeping: For the fall campaign we did X, Y, Z, we got so many conversions, and then when we removed it in the winter we had to remember to do A &B.

5. Scheduling a yearly checkup. It’s always wise to schedule a yearly or bi-annual audit of your website. Knowing how old Betsy is doing is very important to know even before Betsy needs to go to the vet. Some things to cover: How is the editorial/managing experience of the site? What frustrations do we have with campaigns or other non-day to day activities that you might forget about between aggravations? Is your website's visual design holding together? Does it look junky or less professional as time goes on? Is it slower to use? These are just some ideas to scratch the surface; I’ll bet you can come up with a much better list.

6. Planning for your ship to die… Yes it’s sad, but that day will come soon enough; Having a plan for how long you will try to use the website, when you will invest money and staff time again in it in a major way, and making good decisions throughout the actual life of your website all depend on knowing what your ROI is going to be. If you aren’t planning for your next website you won’t clearly be able to decide how much to invest in it as time goes on to make it useful and to keep up with changes in technology and user preference.

Here at Phase2 I help our clients create and implement process and governance polices that help answer these questions. Even if you’re not looking for a new website tomorrow you should start answering the above questions today. Let me know if I can help you with that! ;)

Nate has been working with computers ever since he was 8, when his mom bought an Amiga 1000 for the house. Although originally he'd planned to become an electrical engineer or a physicist, he ultimately settled into the web industry and has ...

May 09 2012
May 09

Posted May 9, 2012 // 0 comments

As a programmer, one of the things that I enjoy most is solving problems by creating new solutions. While I enjoy solving complex larger issues, I also love fixing an existing problem in the form of a bug. Bugs usually have a distinct problem that needs to be solved. When I am working on a bug fix, my mind usually cannot rest until I have come up with a sufficient solution. Once I have come up with a solution for a bug, there is a personal satisfaction that comes knowing the bug is resolved.

One of the most difficult things in fixing bugs is insuring that I have all the details to reproduce a particular bug. Being able to reproduce an issue is important in bug fixing. This provides a developer or programmer a test case to assist with debugging and testing the final solution. As a developer on many projects, I spend a considerable amount of time communicating with bug reports to insure I have all the necessary information to reproduce the bug. Often times, a bug report contains some information to get started in working on a solution, but not all of the information needed. The less time I spend deciphering the issue means I will spend less time fixing the bug and providing a solution.

This post will highlight some best practices and tips for filing a bug report.

Anatomy of a bug report

A bug report usually contains a set of fields for tracking specific information, a description field for describing the task, the ability to move the bug through different states, and provide additional comments as a solution is being worked out. At a minimum, most bug tracking application include the following fields:

  • Priority
  • Status
  • Assigned to
  • Description
  • Reporter

Along with tracking these fields some basics are usually captured as well such as date and time. These fields insure all the necessary information can be referenced when addressing an issue. The status field is important because it is used to communicate the stage or state that a bug is in. A bug typically goes through the following stages:

  • Open
  • Assigned
  • Fixed
  • Verified
  • Closed

Guidelines for reporting bugs

The most important part of a bug report is to provide the steps necessary to reproduce the issue. If you include all the steps and the details associated with reproducing the bug, then all of the important information should be captured. Screenshots and URL's are also important so that the developer can quickly locate and try to reproduce the problem. When writing a bug report, try to put yourself in the developers shoes and ask "What would I want to know to be able to investigate and fix this problem?". Here are some key items to think about and include with your bug report:

  • Title: The title should be concise, clear, and informative
  • Do not use vague language such as "crashed" or "failed" instead include an error message, or exactly what happened
  • Separate issues as best you can into individual bug reports. It is often tempting to clump several bugs into one bug report. This can be confusing as they all will have different test cases and some parts of the bug may get resolved before others.
  • Include details steps on how to reproduce the bug including the URL. If you are logged into a system include the username and/or role that you are logged in as.
  • Include browser version and operating system
  • Be specific and verbose in documenting your bug entry. The more detail that is included in the report will expedite the process of solving the bug.
  • Annotated screen shots are extremely helpful. If possible, include the location bar that shows the URL in the screenshot

Questions to ask?

There are a number of questions you should answer in your bug report.

  • Can you reproduce this bug?
  • Can you reproduce this bug in another environment or on another machine?
  • Does the bug occur in only one browser or in multiple browsers?
  • Has this ever worked before?
  • Does the bug report contain enough information for someone to reproduce the bug?

Summary

Writing a detailed bug report will expedite the bug solving process. Having a clear and concise title will insure that bug reviewers can have an idea at a glance on the issue. Separating out issues into individual bug reports will allow each issue to maintain its own status and be resolved independently of each issue. Once you have written your bug report, you should review it one last time to insure that you have included all the necessary information. It may take a little longer to file the bug report initially, but I guarantee you it will reduce the amount of back and forth communication required to solve the bug.

As one of our esteemed Web Developers, Tracy Smith affords us his vast experience in programming, database design, and project management. He has been developing web applications since 1999 and has used various languages and technologies ...

May 08 2012
May 08

Posted May 8, 2012 // 0 comments

Last week the new Georgia.gov was unveiled, giving us a first glimpse at the Georgia Technology Authority's innovative platform built on OpenPublic.  This coincides with a recent Government Technology (GovTech.com) ran an article, “Why Big Sites Run Drupal,” which describes the benefits of Drupal for government agencies. The article starts with an overview of the Georgia Technology Authority’s (GTA) recent decision to migrate 65 web sites from Vignette to Drupal, which resulted in $14 million total cost of ownership savings. The author, Jessica Meyer Maria, uses GTA’s decision as a departure point to survey the broader Drupal landscape in government and she includes perspectives from Phase2’s CEO and President - Jeff Walpole and Michael Caccavano, respectively. GTA selected Phase2 to help them with their migration to Drupal.

For government managers considering a web content platform, the article cites several points of interest. Specifically, Drupal’s capabilities in the following areas:

  • Integration with other systems
  • Security
  • IT cost reduction
  • Innovation through collaboration
  • Accessibility and 508 compliance

Let’s look at each of these:

Integration

“It [Drupal] is very compatible with other solutions and services. That’s probably one of its greatest strengths.” (Michael Caccavano, as cited in article)

Government websites rarely stand alone. They often must integrate with enterprise content, news feeds, data repositories, citizen service centers, payment systems, internal publishing tools, and other - often proprietary - legacy systems. Drupal uses open standards and technologies and integrates with these other data sources readily. Drupal 7 provides an extensible framework by which myriad existing or newly-developed modules can be used to ‘hook’ the Drupal core to other apps. The release of Drupal 8 in 2013 will retool this integration framework by way of the Web Services and Context Core Initiative (WSCCI). WSCCI “aims to transform Drupal from a first-class CMS to a first-class REST server with a first-class CMS on top of it."

 Peeks behind the Drupal 8 curtain reveal that this will happen by introducing a universal plugin system based on Symfony2 - a prominent, high performance PHP framework for web development. Symfony2’s low-level components are already robust REST-based systems, and this architectural direction for Drupal means that it can be nore readily integrated with existing or legacy apps. This allows agency staff to continue using their established tools and processes, and provides a low-risk on-ramp for adopting Drupal.

Security

“Possibly the biggest hurdle to Drupal adoption in government — security — has all but eroded...Lack of understanding, fear, uncertainty, doubt, concerns around security — those things have all really dropped off in the last year.” (Jeff Walpole, as cited in article)

Government agencies today are faced with the double-whammy of tightening budgets and increased security threats to critical infrastructure and data. Since Drupal often serves as the public-facing tip of the enterprise iceberg, its ability to prevent security vulnerabilities is crucial. Government agencies can’t afford to open themselves to security threats by way of their web site.

Counterintuitive as it may seem, Drupal’s collaborative, open source development model gives it an edge when it comes to security. Throngs of Drupal developers around the globe ensure a constant process of testing, review, and alerts which ensures detection and eradication of potential security vulnerabilities. Since thousands of developers dedicate their time and talents to finding and fixing security issues, Drupal can respond very quickly when problems are found. For government agencies, this is a great example of being able to “innovate with less.”

Also, Drupal 7 core includes a database abstraction layer that allows it to run on just about any type of database. Today, a Drupal site does not need to be bound to MySQL; a plugin can be written and added to the system to run on whichever database security policies and/or scalability requirements require.

Reducing Waste

At its most basic level, the argument for Drupal tends to be financial. As an open source model, it spares user agencies from costly licensing fees and vendor lock-in. The resulting cost savings can be redistributed, adding value in other ways.

Drupal offers numerous ways to reduce cost, as compared to proprietary solutions. These efficiencies allow government agencies to apply their finite resources in ways that provide the greatest benefit to the citizens they serve.

Most obviously, as an open source platform Drupal does not incur any licensing costs. While a large implementation can easily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to have the right to use proprietary software, Drupal’s community-developed software is free. This extends not only to the core platform, but also thousands of contributed modules, themes, and even pre-configured platforms known as ‘distributions’ (Phase2 maintains a number of distributions; you can learn more about them .)

Software licensing, however, is only one opportunity for cost savings. Other efficiencies come to light long after a project has been implemented. Drupal’s editor and administrative tools can be developed to align with existing processes, business rules, staffing resources, and user conventions. Drupal is fully customizable--not only when it comes to features and what site visitors see, but also with regard to editor tools, workflows, user roles and permissions, and more. By adapting to the organization, Drupal reduces barriers to adoption and process bottlenecks, providing long-term operational efficiencies that really add up.

Finally, Drupal prevents vendor lock-in. Because Drupal is an open source platform built with common technologies like PHP and jQuery, project owners have many options to various dimensions of their projects, including vendor selection, hosting providers, maintenance, and future development. They might continue a relationship with their original vendor, find a different vendor with more suitable pricing and skills, or develop their own in-house team of Drupal specialists.

With all these opportunities for greater cost efficiency, resources can be applied more effectively to high-impact areas like feature and content development rather than simple ownership and general overhead.

Innovation through Collaboration

“Because it’s open source, Drupal works to remove silos and barriers to innovative development through collaboration, making it ideal in the government sphere...The more government agencies that share code through Drupal, the more every agency using Drupal benefits. [...] For public-sector users, in particular, Drupal offers several incentives. The community-driven nature of the platform allows government agencies to feed back into its development and growth, ultimately influencing how Drupal evolves. “That’s where open source really starts to pay dividends,” said...Caccavano.”

By definition, open source software relies on community and collaboration. Drupal’s community of software developers is global and big. At 630,000 and counting, the community is diverse, active, and enthusiastic about working together to make Drupal better. Developers and project owners can choose to share their innovations through contributed themes and modules. This makes code available for others to use in their own projects, as well as tapping into the insights of those with similar interests to find ways to make it better.

Contributed code creates a kind of feedback cycle in Drupal, which gets more powerful as more people and organizations participate. In the case of government, when Agency A contributes back a module to address a need common to government (for example, tight control over publishing workflows) Drupal becomes that much stronger for Agency B. Instead of spending its resources to solve the same problem, Agency B can apply Agency A’s solution and instead put resources on developing enhanced features.

When Agency B innovates additional features for the module and contributes its own code, Agency A can benefit by applying the update, and now Agency C has an even more effective solution ready to be applied, combining the talents, insights, and experiences of both Agency A and B. Over time, more features become readily available, requiring less spending on custom development and freeing resources for real innovation.

This kind of feedback cycle occurs throughout Drupal. It propels Drupal forward at a very fast pace, and provides a powerful opportunity for agencies to indirectly work together to evolve it into a perfect-fit solution. For government agencies, this kind of community innovation represents a very concrete and meaningful form of engaging citizens in the betterment of government.

Accessibility

“I was part of the White House New Media team when Whitehouse.gov moved to Drupal, and I experienced firsthand how it helped pave the way for other government entities to make similar transitions...The unique requirements of developing for government — from security to accessibility mandates — were wrestled with and subsequently resolved and helped make the case for a smooth adoption of Drupal at Energy, and for any other government entities, for that matter.” (Cammie Croft, the Energy Department, as cited in article)

To effectively serve the public, government websites must be accessible to an extremely large and diverse audience. At times, this audience may require accommodations for physical disabilities, an array of devices, or multiple languages.

With its diverse, worldwide community of contributors, Drupal facilitates meeting accessibility needs on a number of fronts. Flexible and fully customized theming make it possible for Drupal sites to meet Section 508 and WCAG accessibility requirements. Responsive base themes like Omega are readily available to give themers a strong foundation for ensuring compatibility with a wide range of access devices; this will only get stronger as the community continues to adopt the “mobile first” philosophy. Finally, multilingual support is available through a number of contributed modules and system functions that allow site content to be presented to a viewer in different languages as appropriate.

In Closing...

So, what does government on Drupal look like? See for yourself by going to any one of the following sites that Phase2 worked with government agencies to create :

The movement of many government web platforms to open source and Drupal represents a major step not only in better, more responsive government... but also better web content. To be sure, the convergence of open source, open data, big data, and mobility has the possibility of transforming government service and information delivery. At Phase2, we’re looking forward to being a part of it.

As Phase2’s Federal Practice Manager, Greg Wilson is responsible for the success and direction of the company’s support to federal government clients. In this role, he provides guidance regarding Phase2’s role in helping to ...

Apr 01 2012
Apr 01

Today starts a new month and a fresh beginning for Drupal. After many discussions over many drinks at DrupalCon Denver, we're proud to announce a strategic inflection point for the Drupal community. As of today, the following companies will be merging into one company - a new formidable force in the Drupal community:

These 13-ish independent companies will be joining forces to form a new paradigm-shifting meta-company: Bluemarine Synergistics. Employing over 850 individuals spread out across eight continents, the company's name combines the popular and much-loved Drupal theme with the word "synergistic," implying strategic partnership, enterprise-empowered logistics, and e-business efficiencies.

Finally, Drupal will have a single dominant company for enterprise customers to be their long term partner. By combining so many Drupal companies into a scalable, virtualized talent cloud, we can make it easier for customers to find us - they won't need to shop around. And we can have a single, unified, sponsorship presence at DrupalCon and Drupal camps. It's not only good for Drupal, it's good for the Drupal community! Just think of the parties a company of this size can throw. It will be a lot of free beer - free, as in free beer.

With estimated combined revenues of $1.21 billion, Bluemarine Synergistics will be expanding over the coming year, hiring a 200-person sales force to create a giant "Drupal tuna net" to capture companies in new verticals such as cosmetics, agriculture, Amish social organizations, multilevel marketing, "waste management," adult entertainment, online file transfer services, and even the hunting and fishing industries. It turns out that there are many companies, even entire industries, not yet using Drupal. For instance, the aging baby boomer population represents a huge market not yet tapped by Drupal. Bluemarine Synergistics will attack the baby boomers.

"We believe that there's a great deal of money to be made here," said former Lullabot CEO Jeff Robbins. "It turns out that everyone wants a website. Drupal makes websites! Bluemarine Synergistics can make your website for you, even if you're old or Amish or whatever."

"It's amazing how quickly it all came together," exclaimed Ben Finklea, former CEO of Volacci who will hold the title of Social Media Intern for the combined company. "Almost all 13 or whatever CEOs happened to be at Rock Bottom Brewery one night during Drupalcon Denver. We started doing tequila shots and yada, yada, yada - we merged! My title has changed but my job is basically the same as it always was."

"Twice in one month... WE LOVE MERGING!" said Michael Caccavano, former President of Phase2, former CEO of Treehouse.

"Mergers are our way of showing we care about each other. We could just hang out at DrupalCon twice a year, but this way we are together all the time." said former Phase2 Technology CEO, Jeff Walpole.

"This company has a lot of promise. It has a bright future, but I'm also proud that we're looking back and rediscovering some of the best elements of our past. We always felt removing Bluemarine from core was a step backwards. It's just so affirming to be a part of this giant leap forward," said former Gorton Studios CEO Drew Gorton.

Glenn Hilton, the former CEO of ImageX Media added, "It's a great move for ImageX. All the clients we lost to our competitors, we've now gained back."

"We used to lose sleep at night, praying that potential clients would fax us their Drupal project RFPs. Now, with our powers combined, none of us will ever go hungry again!" - Aaron Stanush, former partner at Four Kitchens and newly appointed Strategy Strategist at Bluemarine Synergistics.

"Originally, our promise to the Drupal community was that we would exclusively focus on professional services. In only a couple weeks' time, we realized that customers would appreciate a comprehensive offering that includes infrastructure. Pantheon is proud to consider itself a cornerstone in fulfilling the Bluemarine Synergistics promise. Can you put 'cornerstone' in italics for the press release? Thanks." - David Strauss, former CTO at Pantheon Systems.

"All of the former Aten Design Group team members are ecstatic about becoming a part of Bluemarine Synergistics. The BS product line is so bleeding-edge. Who can say no to the 24-hour-a-day website package? Just think about it - websites, any time of the day." - Jon Clark, former Business Development Director at Aten Design Group, now Assistant to the Director of Execution, BS Products Division.

Bluemarine Synergistics finally solves the "coopetition" problem once and for all. We're all friends. We're all working on the same software. Why do we need to compete for employees? Why do we need to compete for clients? Heck, why do we all need to decide what to charge? Think of all the good we can do if we just band together! One big company running Drupal for the good of everyone - that's Bluemarine Synergistics.

Company headquarters are currently being built on property located approximately two miles west of New Amsterdam, Indiana - the geographic center of all the previous headquarters when weighted by employees, revenue, and contributions to Drupal core.

Please share your excitement about Bluemarine Synergistics on your favorite social media outlets. Use the hashtag #bs4drupal because Bluemarine Synergistics is B.S. For more information, please visit http://www.bluemarinesynergistics.com. Thanks!

Apr 01 2012
Apr 01

Posted Apr 1, 2012 // 3 comments

This post was brought to you by The April Fool. While the prospect of world domination via super-Drupal has its own megalomaniacal charm, variety really is the spice of life. :) Kudos and many thanks to Jeff Robbins of Lullabot, who came up with the idea, wrote the "release," and herded the cats. If you enjoyed this, the bs4drupal search on Twitter is good for a few more chuckles.

Today starts a new month and a fresh beginning for Drupal. After many discussions over many drinks at DrupalCon Denver, we’re proud to announce a strategic inflection point for the Drupal community. As of today, the following companies will be merging into one company - a new formidable force in the Drupal community:

Bluemarine Synergistics logo

These 13-ish independent companies will be joining forces to form a new paradigm-shifting meta-company: Bluemarine Synergistics. Employing over 850 individuals spread out across eight continents, the company’s name combines the popular and much-loved Drupal theme with the word “synergistic,” implying strategic partnership, enterprise-empowered logistics, and e-business efficiencies.

Finally, Drupal will have a single dominant company for enterprise customers to be their long term partner. By combining so many Drupal companies into a scalable, virtualized talent cloud, we can make it easier for customers to find us – they won’t need to shop around. And we can have a single, unified, sponsorship presence at DrupalCon and Drupal camps. It’s not only good for Drupal, it’s good for the Drupal community! Just think of the parties a company of this size can throw. It will be a lot of free beer – free, as in free beer.

With estimated combined revenues of $1.21 billion, Bluemarine Synergistics will be expanding over the coming year, hiring a 200-person sales force to create a giant “Drupal tuna net” to capture companies in new verticals such as cosmetics, agriculture, Amish social organizations, multilevel marketing, “waste management,” adult entertainment, online file transfer services, and even the hunting and fishing industries. It turns out that there are many companies, even entire industries, not yet using Drupal. For instance, the aging baby boomer population represents a huge market not yet tapped by Drupal. Bluemarine Synergistics will attack the baby boomers.

“We believe that there’s a great deal of money to be made here,” said former Lullabot CEO Jeff Robbins. “It turns out that everyone wants a website. Drupal makes websites! Bluemarine Synergistics can make your website for you, even if you’re old or Amish or whatever.”

“It’s amazing how quickly it all came together,” exclaimed Ben Finklea, former CEO of Volacci who will hold the title of Social Media Intern for the combined company. “Almost all 13 or whatever CEOs happened to be at Rock Bottom Brewery one night during Drupalcon Denver. We started doing tequila shots and yada, yada, yada – we merged! My title has changed but my job is basically the same as it always was.”

“Twice in one month... WE LOVE MERGING!” said Michael Caccavano, former President of Phase2, former CEO of Treehouse.

“Mergers are our way of showing we care about each other. We could just hang out at DrupalCon twice a year, but this way we are together all the time.” said former Phase2 Technology CEO, Jeff Walpole.

“This company has a lot of promise. It has a bright future, but I’m also proud that we’re looking back and rediscovering some of the best elements of our past. We always felt removing Bluemarine from core was a step backwards. It’s just so affirming to be a part of this giant leap forward,” said former Gorton Studios CEO Drew Gorton.

Glenn Hilton, the former CEO of ImageX Media added, "It's a great move for ImageX. All the clients we lost to our competitors, we've now gained back."

“We used to lose sleep at night, praying that potential clients would fax us their Drupal project RFPs. Now, with our powers combined, none of us will ever go hungry again!” – Aaron Stanush, former partner at Four Kitchens and newly appointed Strategy Strategist at Bluemarine Synergistics.

“Originally, our promise to the Drupal community was that we would exclusively focus on professional services. In only a couple weeks’ time, we realized that customers would appreciate a comprehensive offering that includes infrastructure. Pantheon is proud to consider itself a cornerstone in fulfilling the Bluemarine Synergistics promise. Can you put ‘cornerstone’ in italics for the press release? Thanks.” – David Strauss, former CTO at Pantheon Systems.

"All of the former Aten Design Group team members are ecstatic about becoming a part of Bluemarine Synergistics. The BS product line is so bleeding-edge. Who can say no to the 24-hour-a-day website package? Just think about it – websites, any time of the day." – Jon Clark, former Business Development Director at Aten Design Group, now Assistant to the Director of Execution, BS Products Division.

Bluemarine Synergistics finally solves the “coopetition” problem once and for all. We’re all friends. We’re all working on the same software. Why do we need to compete for employees? Why do we need to compete for clients? Heck, why do we all need to decide what to charge? Think of all the good we can do if we just band together! One big company running Drupal for the good of everyone – that’s Bluemarine Synergistics.

Company headquarters are currently being built on property located approximately two miles west of New Amsterdam, Indiana – the geographic center of all the previous headquarters when weighted by employees, revenue, and contributions to Drupal core.

Please share your excitement about Bluemarine Synergistics on your favorite social media outlets. Use the hashtag #bs4drupal because Bluemarine Synergistics is B.S. For more information, please visit http://www.bluemarinesynergistics.com. Thanks!

As a part of the Phase2 team, Amy Cham applies her skills as talented writer and marketer that leverages her understanding of Drupal to do (and write) amazing things in the community. A voracious reader, she is always on the lookout for new ...

Mar 19 2012
Mar 19

Posted Mar 19, 2012 // 3 comments

This morning, we announced that Phase2 Technology and Treehouse Agency are merging to form a combined firm. We are incredibly excited about the future possibilities of this team, and hope you'll join us in our excitement.

Treehouse Agency joins Phase2We're choosing to come together for a lot of reasons. For years, we've been working in some of the same verticals. We both do work in the publishing space, and we've both built a reputation for innovative solutions in the government space. From our combined teams you'll see work with TheStreet.com, The Nation, The New Republic, Washington Examiner, and Thomson Reuters. Plus, our work with FEMA and the House of Representatives complements the incredible work that Treehouse has done with the Department of Energy. We are really excited to combine our experiences and expertise in these two sectors.

But this merger certainly goes beyond our mutual interest in the publishing and government sectors. At the heart of why we're joining up is because we're both teams dedicated to building elegant solutions to really tough problems -- from multi-site platforms to high-security sites to complex back-end systems.

Beyond the new offices and colleagues each of our teams now share, we'll be using this opportunity to grow as a company in many ways. Treehouse CEO Michael Caccavano will become our company's President, where he'll focus on something he has proven to be incredibly successful with at Treehouse -- finding, investing in, and developing the brightest and most talented people in our space. In addition, the Treehouse team gains an in-house design team, dedicated technical analysts, and more project managers; and Phase2 is rounding out our development team with expertise in new technologies and presence in more cities around the country.

We've never been a company who wants to grow "for growth's sake" -- we want to grow to meet the needs of our clients, develop high-caliber teams, and stretch ourselves toward the most innovative solutions out there. With shared verticals, presence in New York and DC, and most of all, an amazing team that is eager to start working together, we are beyond excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.

If you're at DrupalCon this week, please stop by the Phase2 and Treehouse booths -- we are excited to introduce you to the new Phase2.

CEO and co-founder Jeff Walpole leads strategy and firm development efforts for Phase2. Jeff has been instrumental in recruiting and managing staff, the acquisition of new clients, overseeing client engagements and leading process improvement ...

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About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

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