This year’s DrupalCon took place in Nashville, TN, over the entire week of April 9-13, and I had the privilege of attending for the first time in 6 years. It was held at the very same venue as WordCamp US, Music City Center, with almost 3,000 people filling the halls and auditoriums to connect and learn more about Drupal.

You probably didn’t know this about me, but I love Drupal. In fact, Drupal is the reason I’m so involved with WordPress, believe it or not. The first time I saw Karen McGrane speak was at DrupalCon 2013 in Portland. Karen is a content strategist who does a lot of work with Drupal websites, and she gave a keynote at DrupalCon Portland. This was the first time I’d seen anyone talk about admin UX, usability in general in Drupal, and the importance of adaptive and responsive content. It was also an inspiring experience in another way – seeing her up on the stage, speaking about what she loved in such an eloquent and enthusiastic manner, gave me the push I needed to speak at my first WordCamp. A few months later I talked about Editor UX at WordCamp Milwaukee, and the rest, as they say, is history!

DrupalCon 2018 attendees group photo

2018 DrupalCon attendees, photo courtesy the Drupal Association

DrupalCon is similar to WordCamp US in many ways, but there are key differences in the core of the Drupal community that make it incredibly unique. One thing to know about DrupalCon, is that it is absolutely MASSIVE. DrupalCon happens over five full days, with every day packed to the gills. At various points throughout the Con, there were up to 13 CONCURRENT TRACKS to pick from.

Talk about tough decisions! The event sprawled over 3 levels of the Music City Center and it truly seemed as if Drupal had taken over Nashville. The Sponsors arena was the size of a full-on expo, with buffets of snacks, lounging areas, and even a live t-shirt screen printing station.

The whole thing could get to be very overwhelming, especially since Drupal doesn’t have the large citywide Camps throughout the year like WordPress does. For many Drupal developers, the year goes by without any other Drupal events, and then BAM! DRUPALCON! I go to a LOT of conferences throughout the year, and it was even overwhelming for me. So I was happy and surprised to see something I’ve never seen at a DrupalCon badge stickersconference before. There were color-coded stickers for badges that meant either “Hi! Let’s talk!” or, “I’m not interested in conversation, just here to learn.” There was even a quiet room for people to go to get away from it all and catch up on work or just plain solitude. As a natural introvert, I appreciated these considerations a lot.

A Jam-Packed Schedule

The event kicked off on Monday fully dedicated to non-session events. These included Training sessions, Summits, Sprints, and a First-Time Attendee Social. Training courses ranged from an absolute beginners guide to Drupal, all the way to decoupling and integrating Drupal site with a custom-built React app. Summits, one-day topic intensive meetings where people who share an industry or interest can come together to collaborate, are typically held throughout the year in various cities, but this year they were all held at DrupalCon. Just like WordPress has throughout the year (think LoopConf, WPCampus, etc), their focuses included Decoupled Drupal, Higher Ed, Nonprofit, Business and Media, and more.

DrupalCon 2018 Exhibitors Hall

DrupalCon 2018 Exhibitors Hall, courtesy of the Drupal Association

Tuesday through Wednesday were full of regular sessions and Birds of a Feather breakaways, along with social happy hours and afterparties every night sponsored by different Drupal businesses. Friday was a full day dedicated to giving back to the Drupal community, which included first-time code sprints (that was me!), mentored sprints, and general sprints working on issues in the Drupal issue queue.

State of Drupal Presentation with Drupal Founder Dries Buytaert

As the State of the Word with Matt Mullenweg is always highly anticipated every year, so is the State of Drupal presentation from Drupal founder Dries Buytaert. Dries’ presentation focused on two things – growing Drupal adoption and the importance of evolving Drupal community values and principles. And as we are seeing, the two are inextricably linked.

Dries Buytaert, DrupalCon 2018

Dries Buytaert giving the State of Drupal address

It doesn’t take much abstraction to find the common denominator. The key to growing Drupal adoption is by making Drupal more accessible to everyone. And with that in mind, a number of amazing initiatives are being put in place, initiatives that give me hope and excitement for the future of Drupal.

There will be a focus on content creator experience which includes documentation that is understandable not only at an in-depth development level, but also at simpler layman levels, encouraging newbies to get involved and learn more. This gives evaluators the ability and power to understand Drupal processes, empowers them to make informed decisions and inspires them to contribute. And in doing so, opens up the Drupal community to a whole new wave of participants, people who have different, valuable perspectives, problems and ideas. New voices in the community is the true path to the future, and Drupal is ready to embrace and encourage it like never before.

Decoupling Drupal: The Hot Topic of the Week

DrupalCon 2018 window art

DrupalCon 2018 window art in the Music City Hall lobby

A lot of things have changed in Drupal since 2013. Drupal 8, which was just a twinkle in our eye in 2013, is now in full swing with a lot of discussion around D8. A big feature of D8 is the RESTful Web Services API, and as such, a large part of DrupalCon was talking about decoupling. With the ability to expose entities as REST resources, you can now build a decoupled Drupal site, populate a native mobile app or feed to a Drupal site, or integrate with any number of web services. There were a lot of people eager to show what they’ve done, and lots of discussions around what could be done.

Weather.com’s Project Moonracer, Princess Cruise Lines’ menu and services application, and even the Japanese government, who has adopted Drupal 8 as a portal site for huge numbers of statistical information, all had talks on how they’re using decoupled Drupal to do amazing things. In fact, decoupled architecture is such a hot topic right now that there is an entire conference in its second year dedicated to the topic. If you’re interested in getting waist-deep in everything decoupled, check out Decoupled Drupal Days in NYC August 17-19.

Usability: The Other Hot Topic of the Week

I was delighted to see that Karen’s great points in 2013 were living on today, as admin usability and content creation was also a huge part of the week. As we all know, Drupal is a very powerful and flexible content management system. And with complex information architecture, comes complex user experience… historically. This difficult user interface Drupal has always been known for is making great strides. Drupal is working hard towards making it as easy as possible for the editor to reach end goals.

Building a Great User Experience for Content Editor

Suzanne Dergacheva, Evolving Web

Suzanne Dergacheva, DrupalCon 2018

A packed room for Suzanne Dergacheva’s Content Editors talk

One of my favorite talks was during lunch on Thursday, the last day of sessions. Suzanne Dergacheva filled the entire room for her talk on Content Editor UX, proof positive that editor experience is a real issue on everyone’s mind. She said that what editors want isn’t always what they need. As site builders, we need to ask more strategic questions in order to find and implement what they really need. This includes evaluating what kind of content editing needs to be done, finding common use cases and requirements for content on the site, all the while constantly asking, “how can we make this simpler?”

As any project manager can tell you, the right tool for the job is the one that actually gets used. If you make an admin interface too complicated, it won’t get used, or it will get used improperly. You have to look at who is using the tools, as different editors have different needs. While people in a Marketing environment might need complex governance tools, Designers may need design capabilities. Drupal’s comprehensive roles system gives you the ability to provide different editor experiences based on user role. You can then determine the goals that your editors have, and from there decide what you can do as site builder to help them achieve those goals.

Site Building 2.0: How Layout Builder will change everything

Kris Vanderwater, Aquia

The enormous popularity of the Paragraphs module (an add-on that enables a content creation experience similar to Gutenberg) clued the Drupal community into something that they really already knew – editors want control over how their content is displayed. The WordPress community has addressed that issue in many different ways including page builders, the Customizer, and Gutenberg. However, Drupal has sort of remained in the dark ages when it comes to giving editors control over layout. Not anymore, though.

Kris Vanderwater gave a very detailed talk and demonstration on the experimental (but basically ready for use) Layout Builder module. It works much like a drag-and-drop layouts builder in WordPress, but can be used globally across your site, and can even be used on the backend to create a superior editorial user experience. This module promises to change the way people build and use Drupal sites forever… Sound familiar? WordPress is undergoing a similar change right now!

Catch All the Sessions Online!

DrupalCon Nashville YouTube station

It’s not even possible to touch on all of the different sessions that happened over the week. Fortunately, DrupalCon recorded and published EVERY SINGLE session, and they are available for free online. You can catch 169 sessions, keynotes, Q&A sessions, and more at the Drupal Association’s Youtube page.

I recommend you head over and AT LEAST watch the opening performance. It’s a hilarious and udderly ridiculous song and dance routine for the Grand Ol’ Drupry Prenote Show featuring such favorites as “Stand by Your Code”, “Geeks in Low Basements”, and “Uptime!”. Who says Drupal is just a bunch of nerdy developers who can’t sing?? ….Oh.

What’s Next?

I am going to outright say it. I am absolutely PUMPED to see, after my six years away, that Drupal is on this trajectory and I am excited to be a part of it. There is a LOT of work to be done before the great visions of this week are realized. But that’s what open source is about really, an ever-changing, always-growing, ecosystem of many voices, talents and ideas. I know that a lot of people came away from this week with new inspirations and ideas, and it will be fun to see how they play out over the course of this year.

Kind of kicking yourself for not going? Sort of wishing there was another crazy awesome Drupal event coming up so you can see for yourself? There is! The Bay Area’s BADCamp – 4 days of FREE — F-R-E-E — talks, summits, trainings, sprints and social events will be held October 24-27 at UC Berkeley. So mark your calendars, and I hope to see you there!

– Jamie