COP functionality (hint of Drupal)

Our company, Coedu, was involved in a project on introducing a new, simulation-based learning object development software in the Hungarian vocational education. Besides developing the learning materials we tried to advise on the functionalities of a social network focused COP software.

We’ve considered open source content management solutions available also in Hungarian, so we didn’t research neither open source social network softwares due to localisation and integration costs, nor white social networks as they either provide their services for a fee or are ad-supported. Do anyone have some experience on the pros and cons of these solutions?

The two runner up platforms were Drupal and Joomla. The latter is the fancier and easier to set-up, but some forumdiving revealed difficulties building more complex solutions, especially robust tagging functionalities. Drupal seemed to be the better choice, however I had mixed feelings about it.

We’ve got our hands dirty with Tom, our CEO, first a year ago trying to figure out the metaphors of the system. We’re both using softwares on different platforms for two decades and got the chance to co-build some products both educational (VKT, Coedu, Coeditor, Edu.Web) and other purposes (VitaWiki, Shaker). We failed. Not a fancy entry for Drupal, however, some courses with the local Drupal community helped Tom and our IT staff to gain a basic knowledge of the tool.

Later I’ve followed Stephen‘s frustration in migrating his stuff to Drupal. He’d found the same hiatus of documentation that I’ve been confronted with. On the other hand I remembered Andy Roberts, a schoolmate from Ultraversity, who had some practical experiences.

I tried to do my homework and drew this mindmap after browsing the module list before mailing Stephen and Andy.

Daniel: “I had a rush to draft a Drupal-based, content-focused COP. I’ve tried to do my best to compile the public Drupal modules to a mindmap – modules in all small caps don’t seem to be that important.”

*

Stephen Downes, halfanhour, OLDaily: “You should definitely include CCK under ‘Contentbased’
Also there’s some mailing list modules you may want to include.
There’s also DrupalEd – you may want to contact Bill Fitzgerald about education-specific modules.
Good sketch. Be nice to see it as an image map linked to the Drupal module page (it would also be nice to see the Drupal module pages made useful, but that’s too much to ask).”

*

Bill Fitzgerald, DrupalEd: “From a quick glance, there are some issues with your mindmap — some of the modules you list are not actively maintained, and possibly there are some issues with version compatibility. At this point, you will probably want to build a site in 5.x, as it offers many significant improvements over the 4.7.x release.

As a matter of process, generally, when developing in Drupal, you will want to start with functionality, and then select the version, and from there begin your survey of modules (both core and contrib) that can deliver the functionality you need. For example, you can categorize content via taxonomy, groups, or node type, and further slice through it via user roles — the “correct” implementation will depend on the context of your cop –”

*

Andy Roberts, DARnet, ukcider: “I gave up on drupal for my own immediate projects after I saw the mess that was happening in the transition from 4.7 to 5.

Half the important modules which were developed under 4.7 had not been migrated to 5 and there was no likelihood of being done in the foreseeable future. People who needed such modules or wanted a stable platform for live deployment were being told to develop in 4.7 but undestanding they’d have to change over to 5 and re-learn how to administer at all differently later. The situation may have improved since then.

As a matter of strategy I would suggest not planning too much for having a large number of functions available, at least not at launch.

If members are not to be completely baffled by the structure of a drupal community platform then it needs to be really simple. So don’t enable books, stories, blogs and forums all at once, if ever.

You might want to make sure that members can easily find their own profile, upload a photo and have that used in their comments – there is some evidence that this increases participation. And make sure that the revision control and diffs work adequately for the the collaborative content which is to be the focus. There are also issues with the wysiwyg editors available and different browsers.”

*

Bill: “In my experience, it’s less an issue of functionality and more of an issue of what you expose through blocks and the menu system.

Sort out what you want your users to do, and then present them only with those options. The menu system in Drupal 5 allows for block visibility by role, and you can access this functionality through the UI — no code required —

RE the profile: this is immediately accessible in the default menu settings under the “My Profile” tab — the core profile module allows for customizable profile fields, but a better option is profiles as nodes (three contrib modules here: nodeprofile, usernode, node family). If you layer in CCK, you have pretty limitless opportunity here.

RE revisions and diffs: these also work well out of the box, and can be configured pretty easily. For full on wiki functionality grab wikitools and the related modules. There are also several wiki filters supported.

RE WYSIWYG editors: there really aren’t issues if you know where to look. Grab Moxie, or, for a look at what is being hailed as the Next Big Thing, take a look at WymEditor (btw, the only real issue with Moxie occurs in Safari — some of the features of the editor do not work cleanly in Safari) — I have yet to try WymEditor, but I have heard great things about it from people I trust. Many people have issues with WYSIWYG editors that they blame on the editor, when in reality the problems are caused by sloppy siteadmin config of the input formats.”

*

So much for Drupal, our choice was made simple by the fact that the developers of the system we advised had expertise in Joomla.

We’ve tried to downsize the functionalities to the minimum, so we’ve developed this prioritized list of functionalities:

cop_xls.jpg

I thank Médea Marosán, Barbara Kósa, Stephen Downes, Andy Roberts, and Bill Fitzgerald for their help.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Blog and wiki integration Update: try a Tiddlywiki for these purposes or check more adventures with Drupal. […]

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