Drupal for Higher Ed: Reflections from the Fall 2016 Intern Team

For the past four months we’ve been working at Sanmita as marketing interns. In the second half of our internship, we focused exclusively on building Sanmita’s sister brand, DrupalAnswers. Over the course of our internship we have gained experience in market research, higher education website audits, video marketing, the creation of social media and blog posts, and content curation.

We also learned how to create an integrated content strategy across different platforms. Throughout the entire experience, we worked as a team to complete tasks and brainstorm strategy, which we believe led us to produce even greater results than we would have alone.

When we started this internship we had basic understanding of what exactly web development involves. We understood there were multiple facets to the development process but our grasp of the topic was limited to design and the aesthetic aspect of a site. Throughout our internship, we gained a fuller understanding of what truly encompasses web development.

We now know the importance of the discovery process and why research is a vital part of a website’s strategy and creation. For instance, conducting proper research influences the development of information architecture, which plays a major role in determining the success and organization of a site. As we completed audits of college websites, we also learned several other aspects that contribute to a site’s success, including accessibility, page speed, mobile-friendliness, and how easy it is to navigate through the website’s content. One of our favorite quotes found during our research sums up what we learned perfectly:

“Pretty things can be useless, and ugly things can be useful. Beauty and quality are not always related.” ― Abby Covert, How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody

Essentially, good design rests upon a solid foundation.

Since our company focuses on higher education institutions, we spent a lot of time researching best practices for mission critical sites. Without a doubt, we agree that Drupal is the best CMS for higher education. Drupal is powerful, flexible, and is built to handle the complexity of a higher education site– even the White House chooses Drupal as their go-to CMS. As we’ve learned, Drupal is the best option when stability and scalability are vital to the project, or if it requires close attention to detail and unique customization. An added benefit of Drupal is that most of their extensions and ways to customize the site are free of charge – perfect for higher ed institutions that might be working on a tight budget.

Now with just a week left in our internship, we feel that we have gained experiences that we can apply in the future. One of our favorite parts of the internship was having the opportunity to work on the company’s integrated online marketing strategy. We strategized and executed ways to drive traffic to the website and blog posts through social media, demonstrating the importance of consistent messaging across all platforms. Another aspect of this internship that we were thankful for was being able to see the full lifecycle of the projects we worked on. We were involved in each step of the way, from start to finish. This was a unique experience that we have not received elsewhere. Overall, the skills and experiences we have had working at Sanmita are invaluable to us and will affect the way we will grow as marketers.

 

 

Improving Website Performance: A Site Manager’s Guide to Minimizing Downtime

Higher education institutions often have large, complex websites that cater to many audiences who depend on their successful performance: Faculty, students, prospective students, parents and the higher education community at large.

The importance of your institution’s website cannot be understated. The web is now mission-critical, meaning that if your web presence fails, your business operations suffer as well. For this reason, any downtime is an unwelcome hassle for anyone charged with managing the website.

Read more

Is Drupal Secure?

It’s essential that you have security at the forefront of your website projects to keep your data and visitors safe.

ARE YOU AT RISK?

Most websites only need to worry about automated security attacks. These kind of attacks have a very low success rate, but they still happen. High risk websites have to worry about someone trying to actively hack their site. Usually this happens because of a few reasons:
  • Your website has information worth stealing (ex. ecommerce site with membership records)
  • Your website has a lot of visitors
  • Someone wants to shut your website down

Read more

Automate Your Drupal Site with #D8Rules

Have you ever dreamed of automating your Drupal site? Want to send out customized emails automatically to notify your users about updates? Automatically update a Block on the Home page after the 100,000th user visits your site? Create custom redirections, system messages, breadcrumbs? Rules for Drupal 8 can help you do this and much more!

 

How Rules Works

The Rules for Drupal 8 module allows site administrators to define conditionally executed actions based on occurring events (known as reactive or ECA rules). With Rules, site builders have a powerful interface to implement custom workflows on their site. This has proven to be an essential tool to the whole Drupal ecosystem. By 2014, the Rules module had over 200,000 reported active installations. Rules currently ranks amongst the top 20 most popular Drupal modules and is used at 1 out of every 5 Drupal sites in the world.

Rules integrates with Drupal Core APIs and all structured data exposed using the Entity and Fields systems. Over 350 other contributed modules integrate with the Rules API to provide their own custom events, conditions, actions or exposing custom data in a reusable way.

 

Supporting #D8Rules through Crowdfunding

The D8rules project has proven to be a key to opening trust and success of any future crowdfunding projects on Drupalfund. Drupalfund was first announced during Drupalcon Munich. The very first Drupalfund project was created during Drupalcon Prague.  Before D8Rules, Drupalfund has seen 7 successful campaigns, but none of this size. The folks behind Drupalfund believe that if they can raise enough funds to fully support the project, the community will begin to trust crowdfunding – a huge boost to the entire Drupal development project, enabling those who contribute.

 

The Status of Rules for Drupal 8

The upcoming revolutionary release of Drupal 8 is a complete rewrite that the community has been working on for the past three years. The folks behind Rules for Drupal 8 believe that the D8 release will be as successful as how complete its ecosystem is. For this reason, they plan on having Rules ready as early as possible.

As of early April, #d8rules has reached their second milestone. The last four months, the team has been busy getting the Rules MVP ready for Drupal 8. Thanks to funding provided by Acquia, drunomics and epiquo, #d8rules contributors were able to dedicate over 300 hours to implementing the most critical features to reach 2 out of 3 of their planned milestones. Milestone 3 is all about getting a final release of Rules for Drupal 8 ready.

The Rules module has been featured in many places, including books, on-site DrupalCon trainings and online learning series, screencasts, and even a famous Drupal event presentation by Amitaibu.

 

 

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The least you should know about Drupal

What is Drupal?

Drupal is an open source content management system (CMS). CMS are the back-end infrastructures of websites that allow content to be created and managed with greater ease. Of all major content management systems, WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are the most popular. All are open source platforms. “Open source” refers to any software that opens its code to anyone with programming skills. The major advantage of using open source software is anyone can modify it to suit the needs of the individual project.

When compared with WordPress and Joomla, most developers agree that Drupal is more difficult to master, but much more powerful and flexible. You can find a more detailed comparison of the three open source CMS options in our post, Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, Oh My!

Drupal is no ordinary CMS. By design, Drupal is the perfect content management solution for nontechnical users who require simplicity and flexibility. Through a modular approach to site building, Drupal offers its users both. For this reason, Drupal can be described as having the strengths of both a content management system and a content management framework. With Drupal, you can build almost anything. It’s just a matter of combining the right modules.

The History of Drupal

Dries Buytaert started the Drupal project in 2000 while attending the University of Antwerp. It was originally designed as a simple message board system. Originally called “Drop,” Drupal looked eerily similar to what would become Facebook. Dries and his friends would use the system to leave each other messages, coordinate dinner plans and write updates about their lives.

Over time, others became interested in the project. Strangers would email Dries patches for Drupal. These interested parties grew into a mailing list and then a much larger community. Eventually, Drupal gained the recognition and respect it deserved as a very capable CMS by the web development community.

Drupal Core Concepts

Nodes vs. Modules

A single web site could contain many different types of content (informational pages, news articles, polls, blog posts, etc.). In Drupal, each of these items of content is called a node. Each node belongs to a single content type, which defines the various settings for nodes of that type (such as whether the node is published automatically and whether comments are permitted).

So, a “node” is a piece of content. Anything can be a node; a page is a node, an article is a node, a product is a node. It is a developer’s responsibility to define their nodes and how each will be displayed and handled on your site.

A module, on the other hand, is a piece of code that serves to extend Drupal’s functionality. As a new Drupal user, you’ll start with Drupal’s core module, the simplest version of Drupal with very few features. When you add modules, your site can do more. There are plenty of modules that have already been created by Drupal’s developers to address a number of website needs. Rather than reinventing the wheel, a new Drupal user can add these modules onto their site. The modules that can be added are called “contributed” modules because they have been contributed by members of the Drupal community. As the size of Drupal’s development community is quite large, there are plenty of modules available that can handle almost anything. For example, Ubercart is a popular eCommerce module that offers a website the infrastructure necessary to sell products online.

Nodes and modules are the basic building blocks of Drupal. On top of nodes and modules are layered other Drupal controls, such as permissions for different types of users, menus and themes or “skins” of the website. Your development team has complete control to customize and tweak the site as you’d like. It’s this level of customization that makes Drupal so powerful yet so difficult to master.

 

Entity Types

An entity type is a way to group together fields. Entity types are used to store and display data, which can be nodes, comments, taxonomy terms, user profiles, etc.

 

Comment

Each comment is typically a small bit of content that a user submits and attaches to a particular node.

 

Taxonomy

Taxonomy is Drupal’s system for classifying content provided by the core Taxonomy module. With Drupal, you can define your own vocabularies and add new terms. Each vocabulary can then be attached to one or more content types. In this way, nodes on your site can be grouped into categories, tagged, and classified in any way of your choosing.

 

Users & Permissions

Next to content, users are the most important component to your website. By default, a user has a set of associated properties including a username, password, role, and e-mail address. You can extend these properties through additional modules. For example, you could add a “Link” field to a user to log their Twitter address.

With Drupal, you can easily manage users, divide them into types or groups and define different levels of permissions. Permissions can be set to control what users have access to view and/or edit in particular areas of a site. Permissions are a powerful feature to use when developing your site’s structure as they can be very specific

Every visitor to your site is considered a user, whether they have an account and log in or visit the site anonymously. Each user also has a numeric user ID special to that type of user.

Types of Users

  • Master Administrator: This user has the ID one (1). The Master Administrator is the primary admin user account created during Drupal installation. This user has permission to do absolutely everything on the site.
  • Logged In: Users that log in are assigned a user ID when they register for the website. A user name and email address is associated with any user that isn’t anonymous
  • Anonymous: Anonymous users who visit the website but do not login all share a user ID of zero (0).

You can assign permissions for other users on your site via roles. Drupal permissions are quite flexible as you can assign permission for any task to any role, depending on the needs of your site.

 

Regions & Blocks

Pages on your Drupal site are laid out in Regions. These include the header, footer, sidebars and main content regions of your site. Your chosen theme may define additional site regions.

Blocks are chunks of information that display in the regions of your site. Blocks can take the form of HTML or text, menus, the output from modules, or dynamic listings (e.g. list of upcoming events).

 

Menus

By default, content on your Drupal site is not placed in any particular structure. The best way of bringing structure to your Drupal site is to use menus.

A standard installation of Drupal has four initial menus: main menu, management, navigation and user menu. You can add more menus via Drupal’s interface. You can also choose where and how they will be displayed.

 

Themes

With Drupal, you aren’t limited to a single way of presenting your site’s content. You can define custom themes or designs for the site. You can find some contributed themes here.

The Theme layer is separate from the data layer, the functionality extension layer (module) and Core. Your Theme controls the look and feel of your site. How your site is displayed, including the graphic look, layout and colors are defined by your Theme. The Theme consists of one or more PHP template files that define the HTML output of your site’s pages, along with one or more CSS files that define the layout, fonts, colors, and other styles.

 

Views

Not all sites will have Views, but those that do benefit from the excellent tools it provides. Views allows you to choose a list of nodes or other entities and present them as pages, blocks, RSS feeds, or in other formats. With Views, you can create dynamically updating lists or content (i.e. latest news), based on properties of that content.

 

More reasons to choose Drupal

  • Drupal is a powerful and flexible content management system used to build virtually any kind of website. Drupal offers custom functionality, flexible implementation, complex components, easy configuration, customize-able content types, list, sort and search information.
  • An ordinary CMS uses plugins. Each plugin is responsible for tracking and tracking a particular kind of content, and each remains relatively isolated from the others. With Drupal, modules interface with a common underlying system so you can build, mix and match clever, customized features.
  • Like other open source CMSs, Drupal is free and install to use. A CMS like Microsoft SharePoint can handle the same level of technical complexity that Drupal can, but it’s expensive to use due to licensing fees. Almost all of Drupal’s extensions are available free of charge as well.
  • Drupal’s installation is surprisingly easy. If you wanted to, you can have your first Drupal site up and running within an hour.
  • Unified interface: No default distinction between viewing and editing a page
  • Drupal provides an excellent out-of-the-box solution to eCommerce sites
  • Drupal sites can handle heavy traffic. That’s why sites like WhiteHouse.gov and choose Drupal. Drupal has a special built-in cache system that facilitates speed. To see other projects being built in Drupal, check out our post, Three Cool Drupal-Based Software Projects
  • Drupal’s community is 800,000 people strong. This dedicated group of contributing developers who help to update and expand the software has extended Drupal’s capabilities with more than 18,000 modules.

Who shouldn’t be using Drupal?

Drupal isn’t always the best choice. Not every web project requires the sophistication, power and flexibility that Drupal provides. If your only requirement is to write a personal blog, Drupal is not the right tool for you. For large and technically complex websites, however, Drupal stands out amongst its competitors.

 

The Future of Drupal

Drupal 8, the latest version of Drupal, is specifically designed with mobile in mind. Buytaert’s goal for Drupal is to be the best CMS for mobile websites. There are even a number of ready-made themes and modules available to Drupal users designed to specifically enhance a user’s mobile experience.

Drupal is one of the best open source web development platforms. It’s best used for large sites with number of different content types planning to grow over time. With premium design capabilities and technical capacity, you can’t go wrong with Drupal

 


 

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Three Cool Drupal-Based Software Projects

Drupal has long been known for its incredible versatility and extensibility. Here are a few interesting Drupal-based software projects and solutions you should know about:

 

CiviCRM

CiviCRM is used by more than 10,979 organizations on a daily basis. This free and open source CRM solution is web-based, offers a complete feature set out of the box, and integrates with your website. CiviCRM is specifically designed for the needs of nonprofits, non-governmental organizations and civic sector organizations. The CiviCRM community envisions that “all organizations – regardless of their size, budget, or focus – have access to an amazing CRM to engage their contacts and achieve their missions.”

CiviCRM is built for constituency, or customer relationship management. This CRM solution is designed to manage information about an organization’s donors, members, event registrants, subscribers, grant application seekers and funders, and case contacts. CiviCRM can also manage volunteers, activists, voters and more general sorts of business contacts such as employees, clients or vendors.

CiviCRM’s core tracks contacts, relationships, activities, groups, tags and permissions, while its components keep track of contributors (CiviContribute), events (CiviEvent), member lists (CiviMember), cases (CiviCase), grants (CiviGrant), campaigns (CiviCampaign), petitions (CiviPetition), bulk mailings (CiviMail) and reports (CiviReport).

CiviCRM is currently used by many large NGOs including Amnesty International, Creative Commons, and the Free Software Foundation.

CiviCRM is a competitive, powerful piece of software, but like any decent software project, the core team has plans for improvements in future releases of the project. CiviCRM’s roadmap includes a new and powerful form designer built with modern tools to make it quicker and easier for users to customize screens. The team also has plans to improve the API as well as polish the look and navigation of the interface in order to put more of CiviCRM’s functionality within easy reach.

CiviCRM downloads are available from SourceForge, where it was ‘project of the month’ in January of 2011.

 

RedHen CRM

RedHen is a Drupal-native CRM originally designed for common nonprofit needs. It is a flexible CRM system with functionality for managing information about contacts, organizations, and their relationships with you and each other.

Although it’s fully-functional on its own, RedHen is also designed to integrate with enterprise CRM solutions suchas Salesforce or Blackbaud. RedHen is created and maintained by ThinkShout, who wrote the latest version of the Salesforce module.

RedHen also has capabilities for engagement tracking, customizable one-page donation forms, and website-integration for purposes such as event registration.

Because it can integrate with your website, you can use relationship and interaction information to change the way your site behaves and the way your users interact with it. For example, users who have logged in to your site can update their mailing address and that information is reflected in your CRM database.

RedHen allows you to customize your CRM data in the same way that you can customize Drupal. Its modular structure is similar to Drupal Commerce. The modules you get won’t give you an instant functioning CRM. This requires configuration and customization for your specific needs. It’s possible that one day, RedHen will produce “Features” and “Apps” that provide prepackaged CRM solutions for different use cases, but these don’t exist just yet

 

FarmOS

FarmOS is a Drupal web-based farm management and record keeping tool. With farmOS, you can manage areas, plantings, animals, equipment and more with a number of pre-packed contrib modules. The distribution also includes fourteen farmOS-specific modules including Farm Admin, Farm Asset, Farm Crop, Farm Equipment, Farm Map and more.

FarmOS allows different roles to be assigned to managers, workers and viewers. Managers have access to the entire system while workers can use the record-keeping tools only. Viewers have read-only access.

Because farmOS is built on Drupal, it is modular, extensible and secure. Both Drupal and farmOS are licensed under the GNU General Public License, which means they are open source. You can download and set it up yourself on your own web server, or you have the option of using a farmOS hosting service called Farmier.

The lead developer of the project, Mike Stenta’s inspiration for farmOS came from software he developed for a CSA program. He says, “If you can think of it, you can probably build it in Drupal – and chances are someone already has.”

FarmOS is currently looking for beta testers and other contributors to the project.

 

Let us know what you think of these Drupal-based software solutions. We’d love to hear from you!

Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, Oh My!

So you’ve decided to create a new website. First of all, congratulations! A web design or redesign project can be a big undertaking and we want to help simplify this process for you by getting one big decision out of the way.

You have a few options when it comes to deciding on a content management system. WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are the three most popular CMS choices online and are all open-source and free to download and use. How will you ever decide? We’ve made it easy for you by comparing these three CMS providers in terms of features, flexibility, capability, and ease-of-use. Below, we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each solution:

 

WordPress

Over 68 million websites use WordPress, making it the world’s favorite blogging software. WordPress powers sites like the New York Times, CNN,Forbes and Reuters.

  • Pros
    • User-friendly
    • Can accommodate multiple authors
    • SEO-capable
    • Expansive plugin library
    • Easy to customize
    • Flexible
  • Cons
    • Security – WordPress is often the target of hackers. You will have to install third-party plugins to boost your site’s security.
    • Limited in terms of design options: Even though WordPress is customizable, WordPress sites often look like WordPress sites.
    • Incompatible with older plugins
    • Limited CMS capabilities: You may find that WordPress is incapable of handling a very large volume of content. WordPress is often called a ‘mini CMS.’
  • Recommended use
    • WordPress is perfect for those who manage simple, good-looking sites or blogs with or without multiple authors

 

Joomla

With 50 million downloads to date, Joomla powers sites like cloud.com and linux.com

  • Pros
    • User-friendly
    • Smooth and easy to install
    • Expansive extension library: Joomla extensions are divided into five different categories – components, plugins, templates, modules and languages
    • Content management capable: Joomla is far more capable at managing a large volume of articles than WordPress
    • Robust developer community
  • Cons
    • Brittle codebase makes it difficult to extend or customize your site
    • The learning curve isn’t as steep as with Drupal, but the installation and management process can be intimidating
    • Lacks SEO capability
    • Limited access control (ACL) support
    • Limited to a single level of sections and categories
  • Recommended use
    • Joomla is a great option for consumers and small to mid-tier e-commerce brands. If you want something more powerful for enterprise use, consider Drupal.

 

Drupal

Drupal was created by Dries Buytaert and first released in 2001. This CMS option powers over 763 thousand feature and data-intensive sites like whitehouse.org and data.gov.uk.

  • Pros
    • Extremely Powerful & Flexible: Drupal can do almost anything. It’s easily extendable and there are modules available to customize your site
    • Thousands of modules
    • Offers unlimited article nesting using taxonomy, or by using the Category module
    • Fast: Caching improves the speed and performance of your site
    • Developer-friendly
    • Robust developer community – over 30,000 participants
    • Supports Multi-sites
    • Strong version control and ACL capabilities
    • Stable and scalable: Drupal is enterprise-ready and can be easily scaled to support even the world’s busiest websites
    • SEO-capable
  • Cons
    • Steep learning curve: Drupal requires the most amount of technical skills, so you either have to be dedicated enough to learn, or have a strong team of drupal developers and consultants who can help you with your site. The DrupalAnswers team understands these challenges and can help you get started and be your partner throughout the Drupal journey.
  • Recommended use
    • Drupal is the ideal CMS option for complex and professional sites or any large project where stability, scalability and power are of the upmost importance. If your project requires customization, or finely grained access control – Drupal is what you are looking for.

 

WordPress, Joomla and Drupal vary in terms of features and capabilities. We hope this information helps you to choose the CMS that best fits your requirements! We invite you to contact us with your website or CMS needs and any further questions you may have. We look forward to hearing from you!

What CMS does your site use?

Drupal vulnerabilities being actively exploited

Internet securityDrupal, a popular web content platform, released a notification of vulnerabilities in version 7.0 of their software earlier this month. Last week, Drupal announced that the vulnerabilities were being actively exploited and strongly recommended immediate action by Drupal administrators. The details of the vulnerability, exploit, and recovery steps are listed below.

We urge anyone running Drupal on their website to review this information and act accordingly. If you are a customer of the Acquia-hosted Drupal environment, Acquia reported that they have responded to this issue and are confident that their environment is safe.

https://www.acquia.com/blog/shields

View online: https://www.drupal.org/PSA-2014-003

* Advisory ID: DRUPAL-PSA-2014-003

* Project: Drupal core [1]

* Version: 7.x

* Date: 2014-October-29

* Security risk: 25/25 ( Highly Critical)

AC:None/A:None/CI:All/II:All/E:Exploit/TD:All [2]

Read more

Lessons From Cornell Drupal Camp

Here at Sanmita, we’re fresh off Cornell DrupalCamp 2013 and eager to share some of the highlights. For us, it doesn’t get much better than gathering 180 web professionals to discuss Drupal and higher ed web solutions.

Among the biggest headlines is Drupal’s explosive growth in the higher ed industry. In the last decade, the number of higher ed institutions using Drupal-based systems has jumped to nearly 3,000 sites (There are about about 4,000 accredited institutions in the U.S.). That includes main “.edu” college and university sites, as well as internal portals, blogs and digital signage, according to Acquia, the for-profit company provides Drupal services and support. Chris Hartigan, Acquia’s GM for Higher Education, says Drupal sysmtes now account for 27% of higher ed website management systems and growing rapidly.

So what makes Drupal-based websites and products so popular with higher ed? Read more

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