DrupalCon SF: The big time

Submitted by Larry on 22 May 2010 - 11:53pm

Well, it's been long enough after DrupalCon for me to survive another conference and a business trip, so I finally have time to reflect.


(See below for slides from my sessions.)

Code central

The Dev Summit went a lot better than I expected it to. It was actually one of the highlights of the conference for me, as often I'm torn between sessions, BoFs, and important meetings. I still was this time around, but at least we had more time dedicated to just core BoFs, which is in a sense what the Dev Summit was: An all-day mega-BoF on Drupal core.

Of course, the best part for me was sitting in a room with 20 other Drupalers all of whom were stoked about the gauntlet I'd just thrown down for Drupal 8: Panels, Services, Context, Blocks, and Menu, why are they different systems? There were several more meetings throughout the week, and now an ongoing discussion in a new working group to plan before we code. This will be how we make Drupal 8 even cooler than Drupal 7.

Talk is silver, code is gold, a plan is platinum.

The conference

The main conference itself was, um, big. I gave three solo sessions and two panels. There were more people in each of my sessions than were at the entire first DrupalCon I went to, DrupalCon Sunnyvale, only 3 years ago. It's a good thing I enjoy public speaking or I'd have been quaking. The main downside was that there simply wasn't enough room to move. The hallway between session rooms and the exhibitor area were both too cramped for 3000 people. I have a feeling that's a problem that's going to get worse and worse over time. Traffic flow is an important part of conference logistics.

The sessions themselves went fairly well, too. I had 2 of the 3 done and "in the can" 2 weeks in advance, quite contrary to DrupalCon tradition. And for the first time, the DrupalCon website included attendee feedback functionality. It's about time we got around to that. (A few camps have done it before but this is the first time DrupalCon itself allowed for feedback.) Based on the feedback on the site and other blog posts I must be doing something right, although there's certainly places I could stand to improve.

This was also the grand finale performance of my "Databases: The Next Generation" presentation. This was its 3rd DrupalCon appearance (with a prototype based on an earlier draft going all the way back to DrupalCon Barcelona), and it's time to find new gimmicks. Despite that, however, there were a few feature requests from the audience that since DrupalCon we've managed to slip in, or are about to. Clean architectural design is a wonderful thing.

The biggest problem, honestly, is targeting. DrupalCons now attract such a wide variety of people -- hard core developers, casual weekend hackers, designers, CSS gurus, project managers, business managers, non-technical Drupal evaluators, and others I'm forgetting -- that it's virtually impossible to know what sort of audience to expect. Will I have a room of 300 core developers? 300 Drupal newbie coders? 300 themers who want to know what this PHP thing is? There's really no way for me to know going in, and most of the negative feedback I received on my sessions was some form of "this wasn't appropriate for my interest/skill level/skill set".

That's a serious problem we are facing more and more, but I'm not entirely sure how to address it. We obviously cannot tell people they can't go to a certain session unless they fit a given profile, but how do we better "market" a session as targeted at a given level or audience type? How do we make sure that the people who spend an hour of their life listening to me talk about Views actually get something out of it rather than be bored because the first half was too basic for them or the second half was too advanced for them? (People have said both.) I don't know.

Certainly better preparation by presenters would help, but that's hard to do when 98% of us are not professional presenters and don't have 40 hours to put into preparing a 1 hour presentation (as books like Slideology would recommend). Doing a quick "how to present" session right before the conference (as Emma Jane has been doing) doesn't help that much either, since if you don't have your routine down pat by the day before the conference then you're already waiting far too late.

How do we do a better job of matchmaking presenters, content, and attendees? How can we improve overall session quality?

The keynotes

At most DrupalCons, there's the Driesnote and then two mostly missable other keynotes. This time we had two great keynotes between Dries and Tim Reilly. If you haven't seen Tim's keynote, do so. He manages to summarize, much better than I could, all of the reasons what "cloud computing" actually means and just how dangerous it is, because it's just a fancy name for moving all data and power back into the hands of a few mega-corps. In some ways it's a step forward, but in others it's a massive step backward for the "democratization of the Internet". (Also see this extremely timely XKCD comic on the same subject.)

The Driesnote, of course, was great as usual. But it was even better because it sounds like Dries and I have reached the same conclusion from different directions: The money now may be in bigger and bigger sites, but the vast majority (95+%) of Drupal installs out there are still small sites running on cheap shared hosting. If we want Drupal to remain relevant, we must remain relevant to the mass-market segment. Right now we are at risk of losing it, and that's no good. Examiner.com and Whitehouse.gov, as awesome as they are, cannot be the tail that wag the Druplicon.

And then of course there was the slide showing the top 20 contributors to Drupal 7. I somehow managed to clock in at #12 out of over 700. Fellow Palantiri John Wilkins pulled in at #20. And if that wasn't awesome enough, this past week we brought on board Dave Reid, D7 contributor #6. I guess Palantir must be doing something right.

The community

The community part of the conference was also rockin'. In one day, we went from a conspiracy to present Morten with a new T-shirt honoring his new daughter Freya to the Lullabot party, where many of the Palantiri ended up singing Karaoke. If you ever needed a reason to go to DrupalCon, this is it.

Curiously, throughout the conference people kept giving Drupal 7 branch maintainer and cat herder extraordinaire Angie Byron small cats to herd in effigy. You'd think it was a conspiracy or something.

And of course who can forget the various DrupalVolCons that sprang up in the face of the Iceland volcano? Not even mother nature can stop Drupal.


Yes, very. But it's not over yet. We still need to get Drupal 7 our the door.

DrupalCamp Chicago 2010 is only a month away, and we have space for 500 people.

DrupalCon Copenhagen is right around the corner, and session proposals are already open.

Drupal 7 has set such a high bar that it's going to take a ton of work to make Drupal 8 surpass it.

And let us not forget we're less than a year away from DrupalCon coming to sweet home Chicago...

The drop is always moving indeed.


For those who couldn't make it, here's the rundown:

Slides are below where applicable, in OpenDocument format. Sample code for the Views session is already in CVS:

Larry has grown too sexy for this system already, now there is proof.
The tattoos got me wondering first: well, did not know he was that heavily inked...
I guess switching to Harley Davidsons as a regular means of transportation should be appropriate for Drupal Rockstars :P

Watched the OOP Session on video and liked it very much.


As always, nice writeup. Thanks for the link back to my blog as well. Congrats on the hiring of Dave. As a fellow Nebraskan, I get the pleasure of having easy access to him in #drupal-nebraska, and he's always willing to help out. Not only is he a talented dev, he's a great community activist. Just don't make him so busy that you delay his book ;)