Drupal Help: too much information!
June 14, 2008 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I have been trying to get the hang of Drupal all morning. I am trying to set up a community/info site and I am completely overwhelmed. Help me figure out what I need to know!

I'm usually pretty good at figuring this stuff out, but I've been trying to read up on Drupal configuration all morning, and my mind is spinning and I seem to have gotten no farther than when I started. There is too much info! Its too damn flexible! What I'm trying to do is set up a page with forums, articles, wiki, user blogs, gallery and maybe some misc other features. But I can't seem to get past configuring even the index page. I turned on the default the forum module and can't even begin to figure out how that works. I've been trying to reed the help on their site as well as in their forums and well, I just don't know where to begin. I even found this book: http://www.packtpub.com/drupal/book however the reviews on amazon aren't so great.

So, any suggestions at all pointing me where to start with learning how to configure Drupal the intentions of setting up a community site, I think would really be great. I just feel like I need a little bit help sorting through the noise to figure out what I need to do.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Use Ning.
I have tried both.
Ning has less options, but plenty enough, and it's easier.
posted by bru at 2:13 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would recommend using The Drupal Cookbook. This is how I got my first grip on Drupal. Drupal does have a pretty steep learning curve. You mentioned a wiki... I'm not sure that Drupal has a well developed wiki. I did a Drupal Wiki Google search and it looks like there are modules that approach wiki behavior... You might want to consider installing an actual wiki on a subdirectory somewhere.
posted by crios at 2:20 PM on June 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Drupal isn't really something you 'get' in a morning, or even a day. It's not like Wordpress where you have a usable site pretty much out of the box. Be prepared for some frustration.

Still, here's some layout strategies that might help:
1. THE FRONT PAGE: The default front page is (i believe), the 'node' view. The node view shows every piece of content that is 'Promoted to Front Page' as a summary view. By default, new content is typically promoted to front page (ie, shown on the node view). You can set the front page to whatever 'view' you like, but this default is probably the simplest for you to use right now.

2. BLOCKS: Drupal layouts are essentially made up of blocks. The default Drupal template (garland), has a three column layout with a header and footer, so you have 5 different regions (left column, center column, right column, header, footer) in which you can put blocks. Blocks are turned on or off from the Site Building/Blocks control panel in the admin section. Most third party modules offer default blocks (that start out inactive! you need to activate them from the Blocks menu) or you can use or you can use the Views module to create your own blocks. I am not personally a fan of Views (I feel its highly configurable nature along with the way it generates SQL gives mosts users plenty of rope to hang themselves with), it's a very popular (some say essential -- I think it's going in 'core' soon) Drupal module.

3. MENUS: These work in a similar manner as blocks -- there's a number of 'menu regions' that can themselves be placed inside a block, or elsewhere on the page, and then a number of menu items which can be activated or deactivated. Mostly menus are automatically switched on depending on the plugins you install, but for things like navigation you will probably want to do some customization. There's a couple different menu types, but you're probably going to be most concerned with adding items to the Primary Navigation menu. It's been awhile, but I'm pretty sure Garland places these in the upper right hand corner (I actually recommend picking a diff. theme because of this).

Hopefully that should be enough to get you started with some rough layouts. Drupal can be very deep. I'd skip buying any books and slog through the information available online at drupal.org. Searching drupal.org is best done via google -- it's well-indexed there. The organization on drupal.org is imho TERRIBLE, so just search for questions as you have them. Also, you might have more success using 5 instead of 6 if you are unable to handle the custom development yourself. I'm not sure what the state of third-party modules are for 6 yet, and so you'll probably find a larger assortment available for 5. If you *can* though, go with 6.
posted by fishfucker at 2:31 PM on June 14, 2008

oh yeah, or use Ning. Perfectly reasonable alternative that will probably get you better results faster (I have limited experience with Ning but lots of experience trying to get Drupal to do things it wasn't meant to do). There are some associated costs (scroll down), but they look comparable to hosting costs for a Drupal site with a reasonable userbase.
posted by fishfucker at 2:35 PM on June 14, 2008

oh, and forget about wikis on Drupal. There is no simple route to getting wiki functionality. At least there wasn't about eight months ago, and I doubt the state of things has changed substanially. There *are* a few modules that "sorta" have wiki-behavior, like parsing wiki-style formatting, and they can theoretically be combined with other modules that would then auto-create nodes, but it's a pretty precarious architecture, all set on top of third-party code of questionable merit.

In fact, there's so many Drupal modules that "sorta kinda" do a functionality that someone should coin a name for it.

maybe klugdins. or dodgules. I don't know.
posted by fishfucker at 2:39 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I've been working on it for 2+ years and still get thrown for a loop; I love Drupal, but it takes commitment and you might be better off with Ning or Joomla
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:50 PM on June 14, 2008

As others have said, don't kick yourself over not 'getting' Drupal. Ease of use and learning is definitely not one of its strong points. It's also suffered from an extend, extend, and extend some more development path that makes it all a pretty tangled-up mess. It can do a lot, and once it's set up it works well, but getting there (or revisiting a site years later to refresh) is a huge pain.

As others have said, Joomla and Ning are alternatives with less baggage, with Ning probably the quickest to launch.
posted by rokusan at 3:55 PM on June 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help guys. Maybe drupal isn't that answer, I just heard so much good about it. I tried ning first, didn't like the rigid structure or that I have no control over the database or usebase. Actually, its pretty flexible for what they're offering, just not what I need. I'm going to dig in a little deeper and give the cookbook a go, and if that doesn't work, maybe look into joomla.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:16 PM on June 14, 2008

If not using the views module and CCK, you aren't really using Drupal. Really.
posted by aparrish at 4:39 PM on June 14, 2008

I would agree with rokusan. Setting up a drupal site is a chore but once it's up and running it runs pretty well. My savior was definitely the cookbook. That got me familiar enough with the basics that now I can start experimenting with some of the more advanced stuff. Good luck.
posted by crios at 4:40 PM on June 14, 2008

add me to your msn rod@braker.ca we'll discuss. been using drupal 6 years now loving it! I can help!
posted by br4k3r at 6:15 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

  1. Use Drupal 5.7. Drupal 6 has a few advantages and a ton of problems - one of the problems being the fact that essential modules don't quite work, and it's quite a bit buggier than 5.7 - which has been through quite a few revisions.
  2. If you don't know how to code PHP well, either use something else or hire someone to do the work for you. Even if you don't need brand-new features, existing modules will require coding or will have bugs that affect your site.
  3. If you don't plan of heavily investing in and customizing the site, don't use Drupal. Drupal is large and useful, but not easy by any stretch. It's the ultimate in pragmatic software: it pains everyone to look at how the code works, but it does work, and in practice it works well.

posted by tmcw at 8:51 PM on June 14, 2008

If you don't plan of heavily investing in and customizing the site, don't use Drupal. Drupal is large and useful, but not easy by any stretch. It's the ultimate in pragmatic software: it pains everyone to look at how the code works, but it does work, and in practice it works well.
Second this. Drupal's strength is NOT going to be "doing X better than Y," where X is building a wiki or maintaining a blog or providing forum functionality. Drupal's strength lies in an abstract content model that lets you treat 'images' or 'forum posts' or 'blog entries' as part of a big pool of content, and manage/display/work with them in different ways based on the workflow your site needs.

If you do decide that you want to pull these different kinds of things together, and you decide that you do want to invest some time in Drupal, there are a couple of key conceptual hurdles:

First, the content model. Drupal treats your content as a big, arbitrary pool of data that you can slice and dice as you like. Plugin modules can expose their own URLs (like 'news' or 'forum') that display different kinds of this content in particular ways. I wrote up a more detailed explanation of the subject at this page a while back.

The default front page isn't special -- it's just a very simple reverse chronological listing of posts that the built-in 'node' module provides by default. You can use any other url on the site (like the taxonomy page, or your forums, or a wiki page) to serve as the site's "front page" by going to www.yoursite.com/admin/settings/site-information. Quite a few sites use the Views module, or the more advanced Panels module, to build a 'landing page' that pulls information from various sections of the site dynamically.

Second, you're used to thinking of things in terms of "blog" or "wiki" or "forum". While there are lots of plugin modules for Drupal that approach things that way, the past couple of years have pushed the Drupal community towards more abstract tools. For example, a "wiki" is essentially a kind of content that anyone who visits the site can edit, with special markup syntax, and the ability to automatically create new pieces of content if one doesn't exist when a given URL is visited.

Software like TikiWiki pulls that together for you automatically. Drupal doesn't, and instead the community tends to scamper around building things like 'a generic input filter that does wikie-style markup on any content type,' and 'a module that lets you create content automatically if you link to something that isn't there.' Breaking down the functionality you're looking for into those kinds of pieces will probably get you to the right Drupal plugins much faster than asking for 'Blogging' and 'Wiki'.

If this sounds frustrating, the answer is, 'Yes. It definitely can be.' I worked with various other web CMS, forum, and community frameworks and came to Drupal only after I'd run into specific limitations that frustrated me in other systems. The evolutionary pressure in the Drupal site building and development community has been pushing it away from "turnkey" solutions, and towards smaller granular plugins that can be combined and remixed in various ways. That kind of system is very powerful, but it's damned frustrating if you're just trying to come up to speed and get from point A to point B quickly.

The kind of site you're describing -- combining interaction styles and content models from different types of web tools -- is something that Drupal really excels at, but there is DEFINITELY a learning curve involved. FWIW, I'm biased -- I'm one of the core developers of the project and I've contributed a couple of chapters to an upcoming O'Reilly book on building Drupal sites without custom code -- so don't take me as an objective source.
posted by verb at 10:20 PM on June 14, 2008

Wow. I'm in exactly the same boat as OP. I've set out to create a site very similar in structure to metafilter, and it's one obstacle after another in drupal. Still, I'm committed to actually following through on this, because I can see that Drupal is indeed quite powerful and flexible.

I've been working through the cookbook, and since I usually do better with books I'm definitely looking forward to the book verb mentions.

my only advice (which I often ignore) from going through the same thing is to not try to take too much in at once. I usually get lost on some link bouncing, finding myself in some ridiculously different territory than when I started. I think it's probably better to say: "today I'm going to look at theming" and start reading up on theming articles. You'll definitely see other links along the way that seem useful -- DO NOT READ THEM. Just bookmark them for later (I just started my delicious 'drupal' tag for this purpose).

I find that those several-hour long marathons of swimming in information are not helpful, though as I mentioned, I tend to overindulge in them.

Find a nugget to tackle: CCK, Views, Themes, etc. (all these being things I haven't yet mastered) - and tackle it until you get it, then move onto the next one.

Please keep the thread posted on any useful info you get, as I'm eager to hear.
posted by prophetsearcher at 7:43 AM on June 15, 2008

ExpressionEngine has built-in forums, articles, wiki, and gallery. It's not free, but you've already spent a lot of time not getting anywhere with Drupal.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:27 AM on June 15, 2008

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