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So you want to learn about Drupal? Well to whomever reads this. I don’t expect many visits from this post if any, so  I can honestly say that I have written this post just for you. If you would like to learn something – read this. If you’re in a really hurry just skip to the end and click on the links they’ll take you where you need to go.

If you’re really serious about being a Web Designer/Developer/Programmer/Artist/Uberman then it really would be better for you to just take a bit of time and read all of this because I will try to save you as much pain and suffering as I can. I’ll explain where I’m coming from and I will give you my honest, best advice as to how you can learn about Drupal.

My Drupal story and how I came to learn of it’s existence was a long hard slog. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of information available on the Interblob about it, it’s knowing what to type into the search engines and where to begin looking.

To sum up how I have become a ‘Drupler’ let me tell you about how I came to discover Drupal.

Firstly, I have been designing websites since the early days (around 1996 – lol) before then I would use what was known then as BBS or Bulletin Board Software. I would hack away in HTML and come up with a simple site (that didn’t use a database) for Internet Explorer 3 and Netscape of some version or other.

It wasn’t until about 1997 that a work coleague of mine showed me some demos that were written in Flash. Coming from a video games programming background I found Flash very exciting, however in those days there was no such thing as ActionScript.

It wasn’t until 2001 that I started to get really quite involved in developing Flash sites, by 2003 (I work fast here you can tell can’t you – lol) I had developed a Flash site that I was quite proud of, it’s never been finished and I think the reason is because not only was I running my computer repairs company, I was developing the companies Flash website in my spare time. If you like you can see that site still online here http://atworkcomputers.co.uk

When I moved from Brighton on the south coast to sunny Croydon just south of London I immersed myself in programming Flash. I scoured the web for tutorials and spent pretty much 18 hours a day developing this site

I must have spent over a year working on the Flash site for this domain name. I went to http://gotoandlearn.com where there are numerous excellent video tutorials by Lee Brimelowe who works for Adobe.

I had designed my front page with a 3D starfield and I spent hours and hours agonising over every pixel that went into that site. I had a log in screen a products screen a ‘contact us’ page that would allow anyone to send me an SMS message to my mobile phone if they were in need of technical help. I also had worked into my design a ‘plugin’ for want of a better word by Ribbit an Internet phone company that provide their developers with the ability to be phoned from anywhere in the world straight to their mobile from their website – Very cool stuff.

I had spent a lot of time.

So, so, much time it was unbelievable. Everything was starting to come together. I had managed to get myself to 3rd position in Google on a search for ‘Computer repair Croydon’, my site was looking amazing. I had SMS working, a beautiful contact page. Free phone calls from anywhere in the World, a login screen, I even had ‘themes’ running whereby I had ColdFusion 8 reading the servers date and it would retrieve from a MySQL database a sequence of colour pallets, so if it was Christmas you would see a ‘Christmasey’ theme, it would stream an .mp3 file and sing away. I had snowflakes drift down beautifully over a warm cosy background. Basically – before I get too involved in description, I had what I thought was a website to match the very best on the Internet – Not the best maybe, but pretty much one of them.

I was pleased with myself.

My companies phone number was displayed proudly on the home page and I sat back and waited for the phone to ring.

And waited, do you know how many phone calls my super amazing Uber website brought me in?

None.

Well ok, I did get one call.

I was how we say in the UK ‘Gob smacked’. What more could I possibly do? Where was my mistake?

Firstly, I was under the delusion that to be on the first page of a Google search meant wealth beyond avarice. To be listed at the top of Google would mean I could expect phone calls from people asking for computer repairs all over the country.

How wrong I was.

It’s all very well being on the first page in Google for my keyword of choice (don’t let the term keyword confuse you. A keyword is not a word – it’s a sequence of words – a phrase such as ‘computer repair croydon’ is what Google call a keyword even though there are 3 words used. It’s a phrase.)

There are so many strategies about how to make your site popular on the Interblob it’s unbelievable so I won’t discuss that here, but my salient point is this – GET FOUND. You can only do that by having lots of content on your site, by providing information to others preferably free of charge and then to thank them for their visit.

What this means is not to just change your homepage every day, it means that you need to have a content management system in place – a CMS. And that is why you have just found me now.

Still being a little silly and sticking by my guns – after all I’d just spent 1.5 years developing my Flash site when it dawned on me that I needed to have a database running at the heart of my website, not just a pretty page.

After my heart had stopped palpitating I decided to start writing a CMS system for my site so that  I could ‘easily’ add content. I use the word easily a little loosely here because I knew it meant another thousand hours work developing my Flash skills. It was one day that after a google for ‘Flash CMS’ that I found the amazing site by someone called Tyler Larson a.k.a ‘Tall Tyler’. You can see his work in action at http://motionandcolor.com . Tyler had achieved something stunning. He had a website that displays entirely in Flash – BUT it uses WordPress as a content management system. Stunning.

I looked into his work and although I regard myself as a competent programmer, Tyler’s work involved a lot more learning.

It was a cold, hard day when I decided that all the work I had done over the past year and a half – for my own sake, for my sanity and for the benefit of my web-presence had to be dropped. Gulp! Yes indeed that really was quite a shock. I don’t work in the advertising industry, I’m not currently working for any Hollywood studio. The most important thing I could do was to just get content ‘out there’.

After signing up to a great place to learn stuff at http://lynda.com I had learnt enough about WordPress to host my own ‘blog’. I left my current Flash site as it was and then integrated WordPress into the same domain – and I started blogging.

It was the right choice. It was a good move – if a bit gutting.

This site looks nothing like my old one. Basically it’s crap. The graphics are pants, the layout looks just like every other crappy site out there, but the difference is this. I get found. I can also write about anything that tickles my fancy.

One other important point about moving to WordPress (yes I promise I will get to Drupal soon) is that I had left the ranks of being a programming Guru to join every other basic numnutz on the planet, being nothing special I had to swallow my pride and just bite the bullet.

It was in my search for templates for WordPress that after several months of having my blog that I discovered a site that I think looks stunning. Ladies and Gentlemen just take a look at http://rockettheme.com – Friggin’ fab! The rocket theme sites used a CMS called Joomla! (that’s not Joomla, it’s Joomla! with the exclamation mark). I wanted my WordPress site to look like that.

So I learnt Joomla! I created a new website and got to work. Joomla! is a lot more bloated than WordPress and a bit of technical knowledge wouldn’t do you any harm, but around about the same time after discovering Joomla! I heard about a CMS called Drupal. Now I was getting confused. Which one? What’s the difference between them all and just why is it that I constantly seem to need to learn so frigging much all the time.

I did more research.

I found a site with a comment on my travels through the Interblob that summed them all up beautifully and I use this as my mantra if I’m explaining this to others about the three major CMS’s and it goes like this:

If you want a website that looks like a blog, but had tonnes of support, lots and lots of plugins (extras) that is superb for the search engines, is easy to maintain and update and takes about 1-2 days to setup – WordPress.

If you want a website, that really is a proper website that looks stunning, has e-commerce facilities and with enough effort you can have up and running in 1-2 weeks – Joomla!

If you want a site that you can have complete control of, that can handle huge traffic, that can win awards and has all the bells and whistles and you can have up and running in 1-2 months – Drupal.

I am now a Drupaler. It helps if you’re a programmer but there are some great tutorials avaialble .It’s hard work and there’s a lot to learn, but Drupal gives you complete control over your site, anything that is possible to do on the Internet today can be done with Drupal. The really big sites that are out there today many of which are Drupal.

Forums, E-Commerce, back end, front end, uppers, downers, bells, whistles – you name it and Drupal has it. I’m not one to give up easily and after all my hard work with Flash and every ounce of effort that I have put in to understanding the Internet and how to market. Every hour will all be worth it when I am a Drupal master.

In my ‘learnings’ – lol, I came across some superb tutorials that will walk you through the in’s and out’s of Drupal, presented very well indeed by the boy’s at http://lullabot.com. Go there, take your time you are really investing in yourself here, but in my opinion Drupal is the pinnacle of what it really means to be a web designer. When you become a master of Drupal any and every comapny in the world will be interested in what you can do.

Clean URL’s is a pain in the bum, but I’ve written some post’s on that on this site to. If you get stuck there is a squad of hard core coders at hand and they are very kind to offer support and there are a lot of incredibly useful plugin’s (known as modules).

Anyway, I’m glad I could share my experiences with you and many thanks for your visit. I would be very happy to read any comments so don’t go being a stranger now.

All the best and go check out http://lullabot.com

Sci-Fi Si

P.S.

My final ‘tip’ that I just remembered to include in this post and one which I find really is of value and will save you many, many hours work and your site will be all the better for it is this:

“Don’t re-invent the wheel”

Just don’t. You might be a great programmer with a miriad of ideas of pure genius, but just don’t carry on writing everything from scratch. There is a lot of solid work that has been done. Drupal is a core of code that is a truly excellent base to start from and it’s completely free, so go on, if you’re hard enough. Stick with Drupal and learn how to tame it, it really will pay off. 😉

P.P.S

I’ve written quite a few posts about Drupal on this site – so far every problem I’ve come across and solved, so you might want to bookmark this site now so you can come back and see the solutions to many common Drupal problems – If you get stuck I’ll spare what time I can to help.

All the best

Simon

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