Drupal is a content management system that is free and open source. It allows you to build and configure complex and multi-faceted websites without first learning how to code or program. A new version, Drupal 7, is due for wide release very shortly. The system itself is stable and is in use on some major sites such as Examiner.com. However, there are still some bugs in the upgrade process which are awaiting resolution.
Lin Clark majored in Communication Design from Carnegie Mellon University and is engaged in her Master’s program at DERI, NUI Galway in Galway, Ireland. Her thesis is entitled “Semantic Web Technologies and Content Management Systems”. For those interested in working with Drupal or who are just starting out, she has made a series of video tutorials which can be found on YouTube and at semantic-drupal.com.
Lin has been closely involved with the Drupal community since she attended Drupal Camp Chicago in 2008. As she says, “There’s a funny saying in Drupal, ‘Come for the code, stay for the community.’ That totally happened with me. I came for the code and I fell in love with the community.”
In light of Drupal 7’s imminent arrival we took some time with her to ask some questions. One for the first was:
Why should we care?
Lin replied, “Any site that’s created with Drupal 7 will have RDF (Resource Description Framework) automatically turned on. That’s a good thing because it will allow search engines like Google and Yahoo to fully extract information from the data and present it in a way that the user can actually make sense of it in the search result. It also means that different services can pull different information from different sites… And present it in different ways. So, it offers a lot of benefits for data publishers and data consumers.
“Right now I am actually focussed on actually helping the people in Drupal figure out how to consume this information that is going to be exposed. People aren’t going to figure out why you should expose this information until they figure out how they are going to use it.”
Why is that important?
“If there’s a website that has RDF on it, it publishes RDF, that’s great, but no one’s doing anything with it. That’s kind of a problem when people don’t see what they can do with the data. Because then they don’t see the reason to put it out there.
“I am actually working on something in Drupal that allows you to use the Views module, which is one of the most widely used modules. It basically makes it easy for site administrators who don’t know SQL, who don’t know any query languages, to create queries on their database without having to learn any query language.
“It’s a visual query builder… It tells you what’s in that data set, what’s on that website and you can just say, ‘I want this thing, this thing and this thing and show it on my site this way.’ So, I think that helping people understand that they can do that with information will help them see why they should publish their own information that way.”
How will Drupal 7 change things?
“It’s one more step towards making all of our information interoperable. Right now there are a lot of people who have jobs where they are just fixing interoperability issues between different data sets.
“I would like to see those kind of jobs move up the ladder as far as they are an intellectual challenge, you know, because a lot of those jobs aren’t intellectually fulfilling jobs. We could move all of that resource to actually solving world problems. Actually investing in research that will stop climate change and all these things. Also once all the data is in this easily encoded and processable format, scientists can take data sets from seemingly unrelated fields and combine them and find new drugs, new compounds, come up with new hypotheses… Altogether all of the Semantic Web stuff is going to change the world and this is just one more step in getting the Web to the point where we’re sharing this information, not just pages.”
Where does one start?
“Basically, if you install Drupal 7 you have everything out of the box. You are already publishing RDF. So, it would just be a matter of moving your site to Drupal and that’s how you get involved… You can get really, really involved and be bringing in data from DBpedia which is the Linked Data version of Wikipedia. Or, you can be bringing in data if you are a scientist from the gene database. Or, bringing in data from all these linked data data sets like the BBC’s Wildlife or MusicBrainz. You could be doing that with a module so you don’t have to know the query language, you don’t have to know all the underlying technology. You can just install a module and you are ready to go.”
We are planning to upgrade the Technology Voice site with Drupal 7 when it is released, and we will write an article on how it went and what we found. In the meantime, if you are interested in moving to Drupal a good place to start, as mentioned in the article, would be with Lin’s video tutorials. You can find them on YouTube and at semantic-drupal.com.