After spending two months redesigning Literary Kicks and migrating it from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7, I asked my wife Caryn what she thought of the new look. “It looks the same as before,” she said.
That really made me laugh, because it’s true. I spent two months trying out about ten new themes, two different responsive/mobile strategies and at least three crazy ideas about completely reinventing the look and feel of the blog. I then ended up choosing a design/layout structure that strongly resembled the layout and design that was in place before. I guess I don’t like to screw with a formula that works.
But, even if the difference isn’t obvious, I’ve made significant improvements in the site’s content architecture which will allow me to keep digging deeply into my archives, cross-pollinating by taxonomy and various metadata, and adapting to new reader devices and display formats. Most importantly, the entire site is now fully HTML5. If you don’t know much about HTML5, you might have at least caught a glimpse of one of its champions, Tim Berners-Lee, a long-time tech hero of mine, at the London Olympics Opening Ceremony.
This relaunch is also a milestone in my personal use of Drupal, an open source web content management platform that I’m very passionate about (I’ve written previously here about Drupal, especially with regard to its use by BarackObama.com and WhiteHouse.org). As a professional software developer, I have seen many content management systems come and go, and Drupal is by far the most exciting content management platform I have ever seen. What makes it exciting is not so much the software itself — like any complex software platform, it can be infuriatingly quirky, especially for beginners — but rather the community of brilliant open source developers who contribute to the platform and make it fly.
Like many software developers, I tend to have a stubborn and individualistic streak, and when I first started using Drupal on a client project (way back in 2005) I resisted learning too much about it. The first Drupal website I built was the worst kind of hack job, and I didn’t really start to understand the software until 2009, when I took on my first serious Drupal project. Even then I tended to resist following recommended practices and widely accepted Drupal coding standards as some sort of misguided personal rebellion, because I don’t like my software to tell me what to do. By the time I first ported Literary Kicks to Drupal (version 6) in 2010, I had adopted better habits, but still hacked core every now and then.
But, I have gradually learned, the value of a software platform like Drupal increases exponentially the more you follow its recommended standards. It’s only with the site launched this week, using Drupal 7, that I am fully complying with all Drupal required practices and presenting a truly standards-compliant. CSS-driven and hack-free site. This is the achievement that kept me working for two months, and the technical challenges were tougher than I expected. (The hardest thing? By far, the Omega theme’s multi-layered mobile-first CSS, which is a real bastard to work with, though the results can be impressive.)
Meanwhile, on a moral level I still struggle with the irony that excellent software development, which theoretically should be a highly individualistic activity, requires submission to shared standards, to a “group mind”. Of course, this is a subject I’m interested in on many levels.
Anyway, thanks to my readers for being patient during the two-months I spent offline. I know that a lot of the site is still not working (Action Poetry, the Archives) … and yes, I am painfully aware that nobody in the world really cares that Literary Kicks is now mobile-first HTML5. Well, I care, and every once in a while I’ve got to let my geek flag fly.