Drupal Mini-Case Study: Theatre Without Borders (pt 1)

So this is a long time in coming:  Several years ago, I got involved with Theatre Without Borders (because of my background in theatre and international experience).  TWB is not a classic “without borders” organization – it does not do field work in war zones, nor emergency response (like the French Telecom Without Borders, for example).  It’s primary aim is to a) make high-level connections between existing organizations, projects and people in theatre around the world, b) promote and publish as much info about international theatre work as possible, and c) support and encourage person-to-person connections, by having individual theatre artists of every stripe and professional level just sign up to be a “contact” in their region / country.  So for example, if I were interested in doing some sort of theatre work in, say, Uganda, I would go to the TWB site, see if there are any contacts in Uganda, email them and start a conversation.

Well, their original site was – let’s just say this politely – very basic, totally hand-crafted and more than just a little bit crusty.  I immediately saw the potential that something like Drupal could provide (perhaps TWB was just another nail to my Drupal hammer):  easy yet powerful publishing with extensive “membership” possibilities. 

I actively tried to recruit a volunteer to build a basic site in Drupal, partly as a test run to see how easy/ hard it would be to develop a potentially powerful site on a shoestring budget – this was going to be a case study I would publish as part of my work at CompuMentor.

Well, the volunteer recruiting feel through, and I left CompuMentor.  But I was still interested in helping TWB, and it pained me to see their old site, and know that a simple Drupal site would be 1000 times better.  Finally, I agreed to do it myself, essentially for a stipend of less than $1k.  And now that I’m wrapping the project up, I’m keeping to my promise to talk about the process, and the realities of trying to do “simple” low-budget projects in Drupal.

This case study is split into two parts – the process notes, and then the site notes.

Process Notes:
The basics:  I budget 26 hours for the project, and I’ve spent at least twice that amount on it. 

  • I hit the “users are not nodes” issue, and trying to come up with workarounds (and trying to wade through the documentation as it was being written) sucked up a lot of time.
  • I underestimated the actual amount of content on the site.  I eyeballed about 20 pages based on a clicking through the menus – and then later discovered there were dozens of pages linked directly from nested pages.  As is often the case, the content had grown beyond the original site architecture, and I had to spend more time that I originally planned making choices about the sit architecture.

This last note points to a common mistake in “small, easy” web projects like this – lack of a full assessment.  I figured I had a handle on the site content – when I didn’t.  However, I doubt it would have been possible to really do that, because of the voluntary nature of the organization – the main person responsible did not have the time to organize and review all of the site content, and make decisions about how and where things should go.  If I pushed for that, the assessment part would have taken months (in fact, that’s kinda were we got stalled last time).  So a lot of the choices were left to me, and several times I had to push back and suggest that more content be consolidated rather than opening up a new section for a single page of information.

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4 Responses to “Drupal Mini-Case Study: Theatre Without Borders (pt 1)”

  1. 1 trevortwining July 11, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    Two very common problems to deal with when it comes to smaller drupal sites. I’ve run into both those issues myself.

    I’d be grateful if you could provide more detail about why “users aren’t nodes” was a pain point for the project.

    As for the assessment, it’s just one of those risks you take when you take on the work. I’ve had a few times where it’s worked in my favour, but not as many as where it has worked against me. I suppose you can just chalk up the extra time as karma investments.

  2. 2 smokinggoat July 11, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    I’ll write up a full post on the users vs nodes issue I ran into – it’s worth the exposure.

    As for the assessment – I guess I ended up kicking myself because I *know* I only did a cursory one, and even though fuller assessments can still be inaccurate, in this case I would certainly have been better informed. I think a lot of the pain was that this was the second project I had told myself “Oh, this will be easy” and then I ran into a of hidden landmines. 😦 But I’m happy with the site now!

  1. 1 Drupal Mini-Case Study: Theatre Without Borders (pt 2) « Goat at Large Trackback on July 11, 2007 at 12:06 am
  2. 2 Drupal Mini-Case Study: Theatre Without Borders (pt 2.5) « Goat at Large Trackback on July 11, 2007 at 9:10 pm
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