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Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

Yahoo! Open Source CMS Conference

Andrew Savikas is O'Reilly's Director of Digital Content & Publishing Services and author of Word Hacks. He recently attended the Yahoo! Open Source CMS Summit and wrote up some really good notes. I've included them below the fold.

Attendance was much higher than I'd expected. Jeff Robbins (of, former O'Reilly employee, and husband of author Jennifer Niederst-Robbins), one of the conference organizers, said they targeted the conference at 250 based on the space Yahoo had available, and they had to close registration after less than a week with 380 registered. Most attendees were there for Drupal -- there's clearly a lot of interest and a strong, vibrant (and global) community.

Video Delivery with Drupal -- CJ MacDonald, VirtuVid

I attended this one to see what was involved with incorporating video into content using Drupal. There's a lot of interest within O'Reilly around using video content to augment and complement traditional book and article content (we've started to do this on Safari), so this seemed like a good place to learn more. Not sure if Drupal's video capabilities are as well formed as would be needed, but the bigger issues seem to be around storage and bandwidth more so than anything else.

While ostensibly about incorporating video into a Drupal site, several meta and ancillary topics emerged that were quite interesting.

  • VirtuVid is a "long tail" business -- they've acquired the digital rights to a lot of video (from short-form to full-length special-interest movies), such as surfing videos and baseball bloopers. The site's still in development, but they have high sales per customer. They can sell videos for a few dollars or less and still make decent margins.
  • It's apparently really hard to buy video online "anonymously" (without creating an account or logging in to a website). VirtuVid is using rights management within Windows Media Player and a third-party license-management system to allow for anonymous purchases, commments, and voting.
  • Jacob Redding showed the Youth Video Exchange Network, a site used by public television stations to exchange large videos. That site doesn't actually host any videos, just used for organization, searching, metadata, etc. The actual videos are exchanged via pando links.
  • Kent Bye, an independent documentary filmmaker, showed his dev site. He has a lot of interview footage, much of which doesn't end up in final films, but may be useful to others. Site users help carve up and tag the footage into discrete chunks that are searchable, and can be re-mixed via a nice drag-and-drop interface. Snippets can be viewed chronologically, by tag, or another custom order.

"Taming the Beast: CMS integration on the deskto with CIFS, Office Dreamweaver, and anything else" (Alfresco)

I saw Alfresco for the first time a year ago, and while I was impressed with their workflow and document management features, I thought their web app was a bit heavyweight for folks used to working directly off of a filesystem (either GUI or command-line). The newest release of Alfresco seems to target that concern very well. They've implemented CIFS so their repository function just like a network drive on a desktop (works on Windows and Mac). So unlike WebDAV, the user gets all the expected context (right-click) items, and file metadata and properties are handled much more fully than WebDAV.

Among the most impressive things they showed was a demo using their PHP API (in development), where they used Alfresco as the database for the wiki, instead of mysql, so all the nifty workflow features can be leveraged.

Simple workflows (file copy, move, transform, send for approval) can be built easily within the GUI (just a lot of forms), and more complex workflows are done with BPEL. They even have an Eclipse plug-in that lets a business user drag/drop workflow icons, and then that workflow is exported as BPEL into Alfresco.

The State of Drupal -- Dries Buytaert

Dries opened by talking about how much of what Drupal implemented in 2000 and drove early success and adoption (features like rss, moderation, sso integration), are becoming commodities in collaboration and content management tools. For example, SharePoint 2007 will ship with blogs, wikis, custom content, and forums. These features are no longer differentiators.

Open Source CMS's themselves are becoming more the same, when looking at features. Dries has what he call's "Occam's Razor of CMS": Given two functionally equivalent content management systems, the simplest should be selected.

Therefore, CMSs are moving toward competing not on features, but on ease of use, aesthetics, support, and other dimensions [this is classic Clay Christensen innovation curve stuff -- as all products begin to meet customers basic needs, they must compete on other dimensions of performance]

Indeed, implementing critical features was easy, compared with the social challenges required to compete and thrive along non-technical dimensions. It requires community responsibility -- the Drupal website can't just be the responsibility of 2-3 people. He showed that with every major release of Drupal, traffic to Drupal website (and overall community size by inference) doubles.

If it's not features, what is it that will compel users to upgrade to Drupal 6?

Dries talked about the disintermediating effects of the internet: Amazon vs. bookstores, iTunes vs. Music Stores, eBay vs. Flea Markets. Sees success as elimination of middleman. "We've already eliminated the webmaster" [to thunderous applause]. So how to eliminate the developer, designer. Dries showed a nice slide adapted from Kathy Sierra's "Creating Passionate Users" blog, graphing ability and time to drive home the importance of getting users up the abiliy curve as fast as possible to "win". It's not about making Drupal kick ass, it's about making users kick ass.

Dries' also said that he sees innovation continuing to move "up the stack" -- you don't see a lot of innovation in the Linux kernel or Apache core, the innovation and creative energy has moved up the application stack. So can we "eliminate ourselves"? Can parts of Drupal be replaced with web services?

Elastic CMS Deployments with Amazon Web Services & Server Virtualization Technology - Derek Anderson

Though the description said this session would be about CMS deployments using EC2 and S3, it ended up being much more a demo by enomalism), a "virtualized management dashboard". I suspect the switch was because apparently the original speaker couldn't make it, so they sent the lead developer of the enomalism project (the parent company, enomaly, seems more broadly about Open Source and CMS consulting)

I was very impressed with how fully developed the applications running off S3 and EC2 have become. One of the Alfresco guys came up and showed how he uses a Firefox extension to manage his EC2 servers -- able to start/stop and provision them at-will. He said he uses EC2 to set up demo Alfresco servers for customers to evaluate.

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