I participated in the great geek love-fest that was DrupalSouth Wellington, and the online love-fest on identi.ca and twitter that accompanied it. I think the frenzy reached its greatest heights during Angela Byron’s demonstration of Drupal 7, the upcoming major upgrade with innumerable awesome features and improvements. Some of the geeks who did not attend DrupalSouth were less than enthusiastic about our enthusiasm, and my non-geek friends who were following along on Facebook were very confused. It is perhaps too much enthusiasm over a computer program, but DrupalSouth brought together about 100 people united over a single obsession, in a more concentrated form than linux.conf.au (LCA).
Drupal is a content management framework used to build websites ranging from small individual sites to some of the largest in the world. Like Linux and the kind of project that gets featured at LCA, Drupal is open source software and is motivated by the same principles of grassroots software development and community support. DrupalSouth piggybacked on LCA so that some of the international superstars of Drupal development could attend both events.
As at LCA, my DrupalSouth presentation was scheduled relatively early in the programme which meant that I was able to enjoy most of the event without speaker anxiety. While my LCA presentation was an introduction to humanities computing through the example of Founders and Survivors, the DrupalSouth one was a case study of how and why I used Drupal for F&S and some of the challenges that I had encountered. Even though I did less intentional preparation for this talk than for the LCA one, I felt more confident about it and got more directly useful feedback. I was speaking to a group of Drupal fanatics about how I used Drupal, so in the discussion/feedback we were able to get into the details of making good use of the system. I also received generally encouraging and enthusiastic feedback. I was surprised at how many people were genuinely interested in my talk and our project, but I shouldn’t be. The Drupal user base seems to be more diverse and multi-faceted than the traditional LCA population – DrupalSouth was not for people who were single-mindedly focused on low level programming and engineering.
On Saturday night some of us adjourned to the hotel for an impromptu hackfest where Angela and Emma Jane1 led us through various ways of contributing to Drupal development (coding, code reviews, themes, documentation…). After this I felt that with a bit of preparation (i.e. becoming more familiar with PHP) I could really contribute to the Drupal community… and I want to do this. I have been sitting on the sidelines of the free software movement for over ten years, and have contributed to it by trying to evangelise, but it has taken me this long to find a specific project that I think I understand well enough, and that is so important to me that I want to help out (and feel that I can).
At every previous LCA that I have attended, I have grumbled about how isolated I feel within the free software movement. Preparing my talk and going to DrupalSouth has given me an insight that is painfully, stupidly obvious. I feel isolated because I am isolated. For most of the year, I work, study and socialise with historians, public health scholars, theologians and church geeks (and assorted other groups, such as librarians). I attend my local Linux users’ group and lurk on LinuxChix and other online places where free software geeks meet, but I have tended to find these groups intimidating and I didn’t know whether I could belong in any meaningful way. At LCA this year I have finally reached a level of technical competence and familiarity within the Melbourne Linux community that I didn’t feel out of depth. At DrupalSouth, and with some of the Drupal people at LCA, I felt I was part of a community that bonded over curry/beer/gelato and late-night hackfests… because face-to-face contact still matters. I feel more positive about continuing these relationships online for the other 51 weeks of the year, alongside all the other communities and networks to which I belong.