In the early days my website was almost pure html. Then I discovered php. A measure of consistency was possible across pages, thanks to php. Over the years, I moved from one Content Management System (CMS) to another. Basically, all CMS provide ways to separate web content from how it is presented. With the continued development of Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) quite sophisticated capabilities are now available in CMS. Several years ago I moved to Drupal version 6. Then I moved to Drupal version 7, but not without some real problems in the transition from 6 to 7.
Now support for version 7 is about to disappear, with everyone encourages to move to version 8. But Drupal v8 is a sophisticated, refined and highly complex beast. The Backdrop CMS was introduced as a fork based on Drupal v7, but with a number of v8 enhancements added. It was offered as the CMS for “the rest of us”, with a focus on smaller and less sophisticated organizations. Seemed just right for me, at least in theory.
The dynamics behind an open source (free) CMS are interesting. Contributions of open source components are significantly encouraged by their role as advertisements for the contributors. There was a real difference between the quantity and quality of components (modules and themes) contributed for Backdrop CMS and Drupal v8. Backdrop has attracted relatively few contributors. It’s taken time for contributors to adjust to the sophistication of Drupal v8, but there are now a goodly number and quality of Drupal v8 components.
All of which had an impact on what I should do next. While the transition from Drpal v7 to either Backdrop CMS or Drupal v8 was happening, my need to websites was declining. The idea of a stand-alone website for LIFE courses made weaker sense when I was the only one using the site (and opening it to others proved to be fraught with difficulties). The idea of a local site for downtown Toronto community associations had great conceptual appeal, but support and contributions proved anemic. All I really needed was a personal website, ... where I could present my course and community ideas.
I spent some considerable time investigating alternatives. Wordpress and Joomla are both more popular CMS that depend on a database backend. Drupal is normally ranked number three in order of popularity of such CMS, but there are some 300 other database oriented open source CMS. I must have installed a half a dozen of the more popular examples on my local machine. And then I experimented with some of the popular site generating system that produce static sites locally which are then to be upload to a public server.
I came back to Drupal v8. Yes, it introduced sophistications that were practically irrelevant to my needs, and made the process of developing my own modules and/or themes beyond my willingness to investigate. But the sophisticated open source themes and modules that others offered allowed me to “tweak” my site to fit my personal needs.
Let me illustrate this with the theme upon which I have settled. The theme in a Drupal site basically determines how the site’s pages will be presented on different sized screens. There are hundreds of open source themes available for Drupal v8. I decided to work with the Zircon theme. It provides spaces for 13 groups of blocks, with the user free to determine which spaces to use and which blocks should occupy the used spaces. The wide screen version of the layout is:
I basically settled on using “Content” as the place to put blocks of my content and “Sidebar Second” as the place to put interactions with the viewer, e.g. search. Everything else is static with the exception of the header image which changes for the home page. Adding an injected css tweak increased the size of the type to something more comfortable to my (older) eyes.
The combination of Drupal v8, plus the Zircon theme, running on a solid cloud server (provided by Chemicloud) works for me and meets my needs. It’s got way more raw power than I’m ever likely to need, but the “package” is right for me. Out of the box Drupal offers a wide range of options for what information to present when and how. And the available themes and modules can provide opportunities to tweak the site without the need to build your own themes or modules. It works for me.