In a world where most of us have turned to expressing ourselves in snippets through the use of services like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ , there’s still a place in this world for websites. After all, 140 characters might get be enough to push out a message concerning how much you drank last night and where you think you left your pants, but unless you’re a MAG Poetry Prize winner, you might have some difficulty at expressing the emotions you felt in seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time on your summer vacation. It goes without saying that for businesses, having a website to showcase or offer support your products is a no-brainer.
These days, those looking to build their own site are spoiled for choice. For those that just want to throw their pictures, video and photos up online without worrying about anything more than what template to use and an occasional bit of spellchecking, Tumblr, Blogger or Windows Live Spaces are all great ways to go. If you demand more control over your site’s look and functionality, you can rely on open source Content Management Systems like Joomla, Drupal or WordPress. Unfortunately, to get the most out of these users often need to be prepared to fulfill the role of both a content creator as well as a back end site administrator, dealing with frustrations such as choosing a reputable ISP, setting up your home computer to act as a server, deciding whether or not to download new versions of the and dealing with PHP databases.
Isn’t there a happy middle ground?
Acquia seems to think so. If Drupal Gardens is any indicator, they may very well be on to something. By taking the power of the of the open source Drupal 7 Content Management System and combining it with turnkey-style site management, Drupal Gardens offers up a Drupal-a-Service platform allowing users to go from nil to an up and running site in well under and hour. With Drupal Gardens, there’s no need to worry about backend administration, working with frustrating FTP uploads or paying scads to a talented web developer for his years of dedicated technical education. Simply sign up for an account, set up your site and get posting. How do you get started? It goes a little something like this:
Using the web browser of your choice, navigate to the Drupal Gardens website. If you still need some coaxing on the fact that Acquia’s service is right for you, you’ve come to the right place: The page is chock full of highlights surrounding what makes it a great option. Once you’re convinced, click Create a Free Site to get the ball rolling.
In doing so, you’ll be directed to a sign up page that demands you designate a site URL, select a username, password and provide an email address to bind it all together. As Drupal Gardens is a relatively new service, chances are that you won’t have too much difficulty snagging a domain name that works for you. That said, don’t be too surprised to find that obvious names like scott.drupalgardens.com have been taken (because it totally has). Once you’ve settled on your credentials, click the continue button.
While a blog might be great for keeping a concise online record of your cat’s busy life, it doesn’t do much if you’re trying to promote a product or a service. Fortunately, Drupal Gardens accounts for this and offers a number of stylistic alternatives including a template optimized for promoting a product or service and another designed to help groups discuss or push their agenda forward. If none of Drupal Garden’s basic templates do it for you, there’s also the option to create a template to meet your particular needs. Acquia also provides their clients with the ability to pick and choose what services will show up on their sites. Must-haves like a rotating banner, an area for your Twitter feed, feedback and contact forms can all be turned off with push-button simplicity. When you're content with the type of site and feature set you’ve selected, click Continue.
At this point, as can be seen by the progress bar you’re presented with, your Drupal Gardens site is well on the way to being set up. Check your inbox: By now you should have received an email from drupalgardens.com that lets you know your account has been created and to remind you of your login credentials. Once your site is created, you’ll also receive a second email requesting that you verify your email is being helmed by a button-mashing human being and not some godless spamming machine. When it shows up, click the link to complete the set up process. In doing so, you’ll be directed to your site. If you don’t feel like responding to the email’s demands right away, don’t worry—you have seven days to click the link before your Drupal Gardens site and account are both deleted. Now, let’s move on. This is where things get interesting.
While it might not be much to look at yet, your new Drupal Gardens digs are set up and ready to be tweaked. Where services like Tumblr leave you to your own devices, Acquia has been good enough to provide you with a few sample posts, and other filler content to all new Drupal Gardens sites in order to give users a feel for the template they’ve chosen. Had enough of a feel? Good—time to make it your own.
Drupal Gardens, as with Drupal 7, can be controlled an manipulated via the administration toolbar at the top of your browser. Only users who have signed into the service can see or interact with the administration toolbar. Here’s the low-down on its various functions:
Dashboard: Clicking this link provides you with an overview of the latest updates to your Drupal Gardens site.
Contents: Shows a list of all of your site’s content, as well as who is responsible for posting it. An administrator can create publish, unpublish, edit, or delete any of the site’s posts from here.
Structure: Essentially, the structure link lets you decide what appears on your site and where it shows up. From here, you can configure your Drupal Gardens site’s Blocks (more on that in a bit), the content types, Menus, create simple content lists and your site’s Taxonomy.
Appearance: With the options available via the Appearance link, you can pimp your site out to your heart’s content. Foibles like the site’s layout, color palette, space for a custom logo, font customization, page borders and pre-made themes are only a few mouse clicks away. For the skilled (or adventurous), there’s also an option to putter about with Cascading Style Sheets.
People: From here, you can invite new people to your site under a wide variety of permissions levels. If anyone gets out of line, the People overlay also provides the the ability to block or delete users who get out of line… online.
Modules: With Drupal, Modules make the magic happen. Nothing on your site happens without them. The Modules link makes it a cinch to enable or disable the modules that make your site tick, adding or taking away functionality with a few mouse clicks. While some of the modules must be enabled at all times, Drupal Gardens provides users with a wide variety of additional modules to help you customize your site’s look and feel.
Configuration: As the link’s name suggest, from here, users are able to configure a wide variety of their site’s functions, including account settings, Content authoring defaults, how media such as photos, audio, and video are presented, language settings and a number of administrative functions.
Reports: With this link, you can check in on your site’s stats, recent log messages, and other important site information. For individuals looking to leverage their website for sales, media relations or product information, these metrics are vital.
While Drupal Garden’s free offerings will sate the website building appetite of most users, Acquia also offers a number of tiers of additional service that allows for a number of finishing touches like additional storage, one-to-one technical support, additional responses for any of your site’s web forms, and even the use of a custom domain name.
Now that your site is up and running, don’t be afraid to tinker! Drupal’s reputation as a flexible, durable CMS is well-earned, thanks to the hard work of countless developers volunteering their time over the years. The chances of your breaking anything is pretty minimal. If you do find a way to flummox the works, don’t fret: the helpful folks at Drupal Gardens forums are standing by to help you unbugger just about anything you accidentally bugger up.