Web 2.0 in one day
Web 2.0 is no longer mere hype but a real shift, away from all content being produced by a single central designer and toward ongoing distributed web authoring, where users can create and comment on their own content. Tag-based navigation, Ajax-based interactivity and XML-based RSS feeds have made even state-of-the-art websites look outdated if they rely solely on static XHTML/CSS. The modern web designer needs to rethink and retool.
So how exactly do you produce a Web 2.0-capable site? Designing pages locally and then uploading them for viewing is no longer enough, so Dreamweaver-style static web publishing is out. Web 2.0 sites are inherently data-driven, which raises the frightening spectre of web scripting. There’s a world of difference between knocking up a few pages in HTML and writing programs in a procedural scripting language like ASP.NET or PHP; and the very thought of databases and SQL is enough to give the average creative a panic attack. Is this the end of the road for the traditional web designer? Thankfully there is a bridge across the chasm between web designer and web developer: a content management system (CMS). A CMS is essentially a web-hosted application for producing other web-hosted web applications, and its beauty is that it lets you do that without writing a single line of code. Better still, most content management systems are community efforts made available under open-source terms so they’re free to use. Once you’ve installed your chosen CMS, all you need to begin producing your Web 2.0 site is a browser.
So which CMS should you choose? For a basic, blog-style personal site there’s little doubt that WordPress offers the simplest way to get up and running. However I’m aiming a little higher here – Joomla would probably be the most popular choice at this level, but for maximum power I prefer Drupal. I first sang Drupal’s praises a couple of years ago in issue 140, but rapid development has transformed the product since then, and the changing nature of the web has made the advanced content handling and community benefits that Drupal offers no longer just desirable but essential.
I’m going to show you how to use the latest version of Drupal, release 6.3 at the time of writing, to produce the framework for a Web 2.0 site. But whichever CMS you choose, these basic steps will be relevant. And if you currently use Dreamweaver, Expression Web or any other page-based web authoring tool – or are planning a site for others to implement – it’s worth reading to see just how far you can get with Web 2.0 functionality without writing any code. Having read this column and pondered the implications, you may decide Dreamweaver has had its day and that a CMS is the way of the future.
The first step is to install Drupal, and immediately you hit perhaps the biggest hurdle you’re going to face. Getting the latest version is simple enough via http://drupal.org, and there’s even a prominent link to a video-based installation demo, but despite this it’s far from child’s play to ensure that your hosting provider supports PHP, to set the write permissions, create the databases and so on. Before you can think of going live you’ll need to be comfortable with such server-side nuts and bolts, if only so you can back up your database via a user-friendly front end such as phpMyAdmin. This knowledge will come in time, but for the moment I just want to show you what Drupal can do.