DrupalCon Chicago 2011

I got back from Chicago a week away this past Monday, and am still reeling a bit. Both from the wealth of ideas and information I took in during my travels, as well as all that I missed while I was gone. Before I get too deep into the flood of everyday life, I thought I'd write something up to answer the main questions I've been answering and share some of the highlights of the trip.

How was Chicago?

I spent almost an entire week in Chicago, having built in an extra day to spend exploring the city before the conference(s) began. Chicago is a really interesting city, and I would love to go back and spend more time checking out all the galleries, museums and other cultural institutions it has to offer. I had heard the Chicago architecture was quite remarkable, but being unschooled in American history or the evolution of architectural schools, I didn't realize what an impact the Great Chicago fire had had on the city. It was amazing to see the great variety of different styles of buildings, and judging from the images on the wikipedia page linked above, I didn't even see the half of it. Slideshow of my photos from the trip after the break.

So this was a work thing?

I'm grateful to RNAO for seeing the wisdom in sending me to both conferences: one about CiviCRM and the other about Drupal. Both are large pieces of web software which we are making great use of at RNAO (although our main site has yet to migrate, sadly). It was a great opportunity to connect with some of the people who make up the Opensource communities surrounding both of these projects. It's been a few years since I've had the pleasure of attending a DrupalCon, so it was a bit of a shock to see how huge the community has become. There were over 3000 people in attendance, and we collectively occupied almost the entire Sheraton Tower hotel in Chicago for a full week.

I was also glad to have the opportunity to represent RNAO as a community member at the CiviCon, where I co-presented some of the core development work that we are sponsoring in collaboration with Joe Murray. Many thanks to Joe for spearheading the session (and doing the bulk of the work putting together the slides), and for introducing me to some of the key people involved in core CiviCRM development.

In spite of the huge numbers of people and the many over-subscribed session rooms, I came away with some excellent lessons and tools from the various sessions I attended. Almost more valuable though was the discussions and connections I made with people who are already or could potentially be collaborators with my small team here at RNAO. I look forward to working with a growing number of Drupal experts, and pushing forward solutions that help not just RNAO but contribute back to the Opensource communities from which we benefit.

What exactly is Drupal again? Civi-what?

For those of you who are not the web/tech geek that I happen to be, Drupal is my favoured Web Content Management System and Framework, which means it's the software that I most commonly use to build websites for work and for play. Drupal is an Opensource, community-driven effort, which means that gatherings such as DrupalCon, the more local and increasingly popular DrupalCamp (in various cities across the globe!), as well as monthly/semi-monthly User Group-style meetups are hugely important to the success of the project overall. Fortunately, Drupal has a strong, healthy, and growing community of passionate smart folks involved.

CiviCRM is related but separate. It is also web software, and also Opensource, but in this case it's goal is to be a Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system targeted at the "civic sector", including NGOs, non-profits, activist groups, etc. The project originally emerged out of the hugely popular Howard Dean presidential campaign, which used Drupal and other tools to produce a huge groundswell of support and engagement from people who otherwise might not have become involved. From there via a convoluted sequence of events, there emerged a non-profit company who's mission was to develop and improve the original set of tools. Over time CiviCRM has become quite mature and sophisticated for member and event management, activity tracking, donations, mass email with full clickthrough tracking/analytics, to name a few.

CiviCon Highlights

  • lobo's wrapup post
  • New York State Senate project "Bluebird" -> beautiful, branded, fast and solid
  • AEgir integration (WOW!)
  • To echo lobo: Awesome community!

DrupalCon Highlights