Presentations on Drupal, Accessibility, Wiki's & Open Source in Government



May 19, 2009

Last week was rather busy week for presentations involving Drupal. Most of them were associated with FOSSLC Summer Camp 2009, which fortunately were being taped by the organizers. The only non-FOSSLC event was participating in a panel discussion organized by the Translation Bureau of Canada.

Drupal Install Workshop

The week's presentations began with Steve McCullough & I leading a Drupal installation workshop. This went quite well for most of the participants because we were starting with a MAMP or WAMP install of the environment and then adding Drupal on top of that. Ran into a couple odd problems by going through this process. One guy had previously set up one or two other web servers and so had some conflicts to work out in his Vista laptop.

This was a very interesting process in terms of understanding usability in the wild. I'd highly recommend that we organize a few Drupal 7 installation workshops before the final release is made. We ran into a bit of a problem where someone had cookie's disabled and was getting a bunch of MySQL errors in the installation process. I haven't had the time to try to replicate this however.

Wiki's & Translation in Government

Following this presentation I went immediately to participate in the Symposium 2009 Round-table for the Federal Terminology Council of the Translation Bureau of Public Works. Of the panelists I was the least familiar with wiki implementations, and in particular the challenges that they bring to a bilingual environment. Alain Desilets has been developing software at NRC to assist with wiki translation. The other panelist was Jeff Braybrook, the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Canada. Jeff has been spearheading the implementation of GCPEDIA, an implementation of the open source MediaWiki application.

I didn't stay all this closely to these notes, but I wrote them up for the interpreters would have something to prepare them. I added an additional section about the integrating multiple online terminology databases to be able to provide translators with a range of possible options depending on the context.


The fundamental technical elements that make up a wiki are probably best described by these 4 elements:

  1. Open editing and flat permissions
  2. Keeping revisions, viewing diffs, & restoring them
  3. Very simple wikitext markup, usually no WYSIWYG
  4. Informal page structure based on title and text

There are at least three major approaches to consider and lots of open source tools to work with. Tiki Wiki & MediaWiki have both been featured here in this symposium, both these can be extended using various modules that have been developed by the community or you can develop ones yourself. There are also content management platforms like Drupal which are highly customizable and can provide a wiki environment. Furthermore, you can also create a hybrid system that allows your users to work with an integrated wiki & content management applications.


Choosing which of these three is the right fit for your organization may take some trial & error, but they are all using open source tools so the initial investment costs are low. MediaWiki is the wiki that most people are familiar with because of Wikipedia and so is the easiest to implement. TikiWiki can import from MediaWiki, so there is a nice upgrade path for the wiki approach.

Drupal would be ideal if you want to have more control over the structure of the content that users are submitting, the way that it is displayed, and the permission systems needed for your team. It has a nice file management system, faceted taxonomy, and a good system for managing multi-lingual objects. You can also swap out the wikitext with a range of options including WYSIWYG editors, Markdown or Textile.The flexible content type infrastructure also gives administrators the ability to modify the structure of the data after it has been implemented. However although it can use the same basic markup as MediaWiki, it isn't easy to provide support for the more advanced markup.

The technology is the medium for communications, so knowing what you need to communicate, how it will integrate with existing procedures is critical. Wiki culture is very participatory and you may want this for some communications functions and not others. Using two different web applications that have a common login & common design may help to re-enforce the tone of communication. The intellectual & cultural impacts of wiki's are more critical than the technical one.

There are also inevitably questions about how a wiki can be smoothly integrated with any existing file sharing tools, discussion forums and other mechanisms that are already in place within an organization. In some cases the solutions above should be considered to replace existing Intranets.

Open Source & Government

My next presentation was on getting open source in government for the FOSSLC Summer Camp. I was definitely speaking to the choir, but was encouraged to see representation from a number of government departments including Elections Canada. Open source software is widely used in government infrastructure, however it is so often done without official acknowledgment. This talk should be available, but I didn't prepare a slide presentation so it needed to be reformatted.

Accessibility & Drupal

My final presentation of the week was looking at accessibility in Drupal 7. I've written extensively on this in the Drupal Community and also this blog, but it's always good to have information presented in different ways. I've attached the OpenOffice presentation, the PDF version & this integrated presentation using Flash 10. (Note: if you don't hear anything, you may need to upgrade your Flash player) I shrunk down the embedded video, but it unfortunately cuts off some of the slide-show, the original Flash version is better.

NOTE: I realized after I posted this blog that I hadn't saved the PDF file with tags enabled. Since this was a presentation about accessibility I thought I would re-upload it with the tags. Now I don't know how much this will add to a presentation, but was impressed by this article on OpenOffice's accessibility functionality I'll leave them both online in case someone wants to compare.

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.