DH201 Post #2: Debating Drupal

May the WordPress gods not come out of the sky and strike me with their thunderbolts for talking about Drupal, a competing(?) content management system, on this WordPress-hosted blog.

That opening prayer done with, I got on with installing Drupal as a tiny, baby first step to completing my DH201 project. I’m excited. After all, it is the digital in digital humanities that drew me to this class and keeps me here. In this particular instance, “the digital” consists of learning two technical applications — Drupal and Mallet (a text mining and analysis tool).

So maybe my anticipation and excitement at “discovering” Drupal blindsided me, but I was caught entirely by surprise when before even becoming familiar with Drupal, leave alone attaining any mastery over it, we instead started talking about how using Drupal limits our ability to do presumably wondrous, creative things. Drupal defines the project; it constrains us; its built in functionality is the box we must yearn to escape.

I’m flabbergasted. Do CS (computer science) students have such a discussion at the beginning of their Java, C++, or whatever else class? Or do they learn the programming languages? Oh, I’m sure the they bitch debate how lame a particular programming language or package may be, how the libraries that came with it are crap, how nobody codes in this language anymore, how it’s so terribly limiting of the wondrous and creative CS souls that are just yearning to burst free.

I just thought that they would learn the damn things first*.

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*: And maybe they have. Maybe it’s just me who’s sitting in the dark, taking baby steps to learn Drupal. Maybe it’s just me who’s now clicking around and discovering the easiest-to-use, most accessible functions of Drupal. These are probably the least flexible aspects of Drupal and should my jail breaking soul find that objectionable, I think it perfectly appropriate advice to tell it, “go figure out CSS/PHP/HTML”.

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2 Responses to DH201 Post #2: Debating Drupal

  1. Stephen Somerville says:

    I think it’s important to keep in mind the many layers at work when it comes to creating something digitally; any way you slice it you’re almost always working through some sort of interpreter in order to get the machine to do what you want it to do; that being said, any time you are using a tool, especially with a GUI, whether it be Drupal, WordPress, Livejournal, whatever, you’re sacrificing flexibility and freedom for usability and ease of use. In the case of utilities like Drupal, this is really the draw; it’s like creating a form for other, less technical users to work with, so non CS-minded can create the content that populates blogs etc. So if you don’t need as much flexibility, then it’s totally acceptable to introduce more distance between what a user is creating and, I dunno, assembly language?

    • Hey Stephen!

      What’s up? Are you still LA, still in the program? Or are you, unlike the rest of us bums, actually out in the world doing stuff & bringing home the dough?

      Re: digital technologies — totally agree. The trade-offs are manifested in the technologies, but the real source of trade-offs are embedded in the users. What are users’ natural inclinations and/or current skill sets? How much time and energies are they willing to expend to overcome those inclinations or improve on their tool set? At the limit, are those advocating for “total freedom” wiling to write machine codes, mess with electrical hardware, reject the binary system of relaying electronic bits?

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