Syndicate contentWeb

Google goes highly open

Posted on November 28, 2007 by agentrickard

Now this is a very cool idea. Dries has the details of Google's Highly Open Participation Contest for high school students. In short, it provides incentives for students to help out on open source projects.

Drupal is one of the projects, and this program is a great way to get started with open source.

As a Summer of Code mentor this year, I'm thrilled that Drupal is participating in the project.

Posted on July 5, 2007 by agentrickard


How many people does it take to start a movement? I guess we'll find out. launched today, after a lot of hard work by Robert Douglass, Larry Garfield and Marc Delisle. I know that Larry has been evangelical about contacting web hosts and PHP projects for the last month.

The purpose is to coordinate the movement of Open Source Software (OSS) projects to the exclusive use of PHP 5. Why exclusive? Because there are some incompatibilities between PHP 4 and PHP 5, developers often write workarounds to cover both cases. And, in other cases, we have to avoid using functions that are PHP5-only. Frankly, that just doesn't make much sense to me.

For me, the whole thing started in Sunnyvale, during Dries Buytaert's "State of Drupal" talk at the last Drupal/OpenSourceCMS meeting. After his informal talk, there was open Q&A. And, since we were at Yahoo!, Rasmus Lerdorf was handling the microphone for the audience.

The two had a friendly exchange about why more OSS projects didn't use PHP 5 (Drupal 5.1 and the upcoming 6.0 both run on PHP 4 and PHP 5). The basic answer, from Dries (as I recall it) was so many of our users rely on shared hosts and most shared hosts still only offer PHP 4. Now, pride in his work aside, Rasmus has a vested interest in getting people onto PHP 5 as a platform: if the developer community doesn't use it, support for new features will fall off, and the proect will suffer. Dries discussed this right after the Sunnyvale conference. Rasmus also faces the challenge that the PHP working group can't force people to drop PHP 4. The code is loose, and people can do as they like.

But there are great benefits to moving development to PHP 5 (especially if you like to pass data around using XML).

My position on the issue is simple, but its a complicated kind of simple.

  • I work for a large company where we use PHP 5.2 exclusively in production.
  • On my development machine, I code and test on PHP 5.1.6 (thanks to Marc Liyanage).
  • My web host (for this site) runs PHP 4.4.x
  • I develop and maintain a Drupal module
  • The company I work for runs Drupal and Joomla sites, and Jonah Braun is on our staff.

So one day Jonah was having a barbecue and we started talking about the PHP 4 / PHP 5 debate, and the role of Drupal and Joomla. We agreed, in theory, that the problem for both projects is this: If one declares a move to drop PHP 4 and the other doesn't, the project risks losing users not based on quality, but simply based on the availability of PHP 5.

Now we work on different projects, but Jonah and I agree (I think) that your decision to select software should be based on the merits of the product, not forced restrictions. So we thought: Hey, if we both declare that we're moving to PHP 5 on some arbitrary future date....

After that conversation, I sent a note to Larry (who I knew was working on cool PDO features for Drupal that, yup, require PHP 5), and he thought it sounded like a good idea. That exchange spawned this soon-to-be-infamous post to the Drupal development list.

Since then, thanks to Larry and Robert and everyone else who has commented on, worked on, or debated about the proposal, the movement has gathered steam and leaked out to the greater world.

And that's a good thing.

Banned in China?

Posted on March 12, 2007 by agentrickard

Monique Van Dusseldorp posting on the Poynter Institute website writes about the Great Firewall of China project.

The site purports to view any URL through a server hosted inside the People's Republic and to return information regarding whether your site is blocked or not. Interesting. According to the site, Secong Goose is banned, but my family site is not. If so, it is likely due to keywords (like newspapers and media) or the discussion of Drupal and open publishing technologies.


Though I'm not sure why the Goose would lead to Chinese sedition, I suppose that I'm proud to be banned.

See the original item at Poynter's E-Media Tidbits.

Innovation in community engagement

Posted on March 8, 2007 by agentrickard

CitJ Graphic

Lisa Williams, with Dan Gillmor and Jane Mackay have published an online report titled "Frontiers of Innovation in Community Engagement" over at Center for Citizen Media.

Whenever such studies get published, I do what I suspect we all do: scan the work quickly looking for self-referential items!

And I found one under the laudatory heading of Who's Doing Well and Why? Who's Still Working On It?:

Bluffton Today manages to pull off what so many are trying to do: gather a bustling community on the site that turns over content, making the site fresh to all viewers whenever they might visit. Not only that, the reverse publishing experiment is going well too.

Cool thing #2, the CitMedia site itself runs on Drupal (the report is a Drupal 'book').

Such an initiative need not be very expensive. Drupal, the widely-used open source content management system, was brought to 1.0 levels of development by two students in a dorm room with no formal budget whatsoever. Since then it has emerged as the leading open-source content management system, with a growing and thriving community of developers to enhance and support it.

And if you look in the source index, you'll see reference to MDW's Spotted photo-sharing software.

Morris Digital Works Suite: Many of MDW’s new signature sites, such as Bluffton Today, are built on the open-source CMS Drupal. But MDW has, in addition, a product line of its own. Some of the products are integrated with their Drupal sites, and others, like Siteweaver, are complete online publishing management systems in their own right. Particularly notable is MDSpotted, a photo gallery package that enables readers to upload photos. MDSpotted is in use at a number of sites owned by Morris Communications, MDW’s parent, but its gained traction well beyond that at sites like

Pretty cool. I'll have to post more after reading the full report.

Digital Edge Awards

Posted on January 29, 2007 by agentrickard

One of the annual newspaper industry conclaves is going on in Las Vegas this week. At the NEwspaper Association of America's marketing conference, Connections, they hand out NAA's Digital Edge Awards each year.

Morris and Morris DigitalWorks usually fare pretty well. (Heck, I even accepted an award in 2001). This year is no different, though maybe more special.

First, our buddy Steve Yelvington -- who sits 10 feet to my left every day he's in the office -- won the Online Innovator award for his long commitment to positive change in the newspaper industry. Lots of folks know Steve, but quite a few don't know what he actually does. Basically, he's looking towards the future, tracking trends, devouring research and translating the information into specific actions.

For example, came from Steve's commitment to the local market as the future and a strong desire to change the way that a newspaper staff interacts with the audience.

This year, the big challenge around here was applying the lessons of Bluffton to a larger market. SavannahNOW was the result. Led by Darryl Kotz and his team, SavannahNOW won the Edgie for Most Innovative Visitor Participation in the small newspaper category.

That's pretty cool.


Posted on July 17, 2006 by agentrickard

Ruby Baboon
Our newest site build on Drupal's feed aggregation tools. This one is all gossip, all the time. Not normally what I'd like to think I read, but the site is addictive.

A big shout to Nik the designer. Thanks to Drupal, we cranked this out in 10 days.

This was a change to break away from 'newspaper' web site and try something totally different.

Drupal modules (shout outs):

- aggregator2
- aggregator2_autotaxonomy (patched for 4.7
- flickr
- logintoboggan
- lovehate
- lovehate_vote (a block extension
- servicelinks
- tagadelic
- userpoints (added vote_up_down and lovehate support)
- vote_up_down Test Post

Posted on July 17, 2006 by agentrickard

Bernard Moon sent me word of the GoingOn launch.  It's a social network platform built on Drupal 4.7.  They've done some interesting work.This is a cross-post test to see if this post makes it to my 'real' blog.-- Update --Not bad.  Three errors:1) The URL above did not transfer to my WordPress blog.  It seems that <a> is not an allowed tag.  Links only work if you use the Rich-text editor.  I hate that.2) The tags below didn't transfer either.  It posted as MISC.3) And this is a deal-breaker.  I've updated this post 4 times, so I now have 4 versions of it on my WordPress site.The original WordPress versionThe latest WordPress version

OS Con in Portland

Posted on July 13, 2006 by agentrickard

As of yesterday, I'm off to O'Reilly Open Source Convention held in Portland, OR this July 24-28.

I will not be at the Drupal code sprint, sadly.

I'll be in town from the 25th through 29th. So if you're going. Leave a comment here or in the Drupal forum.

Back to the newspaper biz

Posted on July 5, 2006 by agentrickard

I've been writing almost exclusively about Drupal (working on it, too). But I'm coming up for some air. So here are some notes about newspapers and the web.

Steve points to a great Tim Porter rant about old-media thinking in the wake of the Knight-Ridder deal.

Then Tim jumps off to an angry Vin Crosbie who seems ready to write the whole industry off as a bunch of out-of-touch, fad-chasing incompetents.

Meanwhile, I'm also frustrated by the alternative being offered here: the utopian fantasy that if the news media would only incorporate 'citizen journalism,' all will be well. Bullsh*t!

Yes, I think that most of mainstream media long lost ago lost touch with a plurality — if not majority — of their audience. I agree that much of traditional media might have been complacently 'talking down' to their audience for years. I indeed think that "citizen journalism' is an excellent tool for helping to repairing those problems; but it is just one of many new tools needed. Most of "the people formerly known as the audience" still want to be the audience, don't want the onus of reporting the news themselves, and the ongoing data — including those from 'citizen journalism' projects that have existed for a few years — about citizens' involvement in journalism isn't and won't reverse the declining usage of news.

And here Vin is absolutely right. The 'news' just isn't much of a pull for most people. But there are two notions crammed into the overused 'citizen journlism' phrase that -- if we parse them out -- are worth striving towards.

1) 'Citizen' is generally taken to mean a legal member of a country or community. But it has further meaning as an engaged, committed member of that community. Citizens, to swipe from Robert Puttnam, don't bowl alone. They join or form leagues. Citizens interact. They connect. They act based on (gasp) enlightened self-interest. We should all be citizens (though I'm not one right now in my hometown).

A few months back, I channeled Tocqueville to frame some of what we're doing online these days. In Democracy in America, Tocqueville argues that the fundamental role of the newspaper is to bring together citizens by uniting people around common cause.

Kinda wacky; kinda noble. Very worth doing.

2) 'Journalism' nowadays means the professional (objective?) reporting of important events. But the root of the word comes from the daily chronicles of the lives of ordinary people (journaling). I agree that people don't want to act as modern journalists -- cj will never replace professional reporters. But if we can capture the random thoughts of our friends and neighbors using online journals -- or whatever other tools we can think up -- then we can feed those joys, complaints, issues, concerns, et. al. to the professional journalists.

In this case, the newspaper is a professional body that (as I have said before) amplifies the public voice rather than broadcasts to it. When we get it right, this is what projects like Blufton Today make possible.


Posted on June 30, 2006 by agentrickard

We launched a new, very different FanaticZone site this week. The site was built on top of Drupal 4.7.2 (our first 4.7 install) by two people in under six weeks.

The theory behind FanaticZone is similar to Digg. The site aggregates Sports news from around the web and allows readers to rank stories in a simple voting format.

The site is a test for us, in a number of ways. Primarily because it breaks us free from our traditional publishing businesses. Even more, it marks the first time that we've really tried to play nice with the entire Internet. (Steve Yelvington has more to say about this.) Newspaper-run web sites tend to be dead-ends. They want to be the end-all for the audience, and link to other sites begrudgingly.

FanaticZone is all about the links. It's using XML and RSS to interface with both Flickr and YouTube. It links to hundreds of other sites. And it allows users to add additional links.

While this isn't groundbreaking news for the Internet, it is new for us. Plus, since we built it on Drupal, we didn't really build a Sports aggregator site. We built an experimental framework that will allow us to create additional niche sites.

This project, like some others we're doing now, was helped along by my time at MooseCamp and Northern Voice.

More to come later. But for now, check it out.

Buy the Book

Buy your copy of Drupal 7 Module Development today!

It includes my detailed chapter on Node Access in Drupal 7.

Speaking Engagements

Contact me for availability.


  • agentrickard [at] gmail [dot] com


My Wish List