Laura Scott: BlogHer, pingVision & Drupal – Part 1

Laura Scott, President of pingVision LLC is a graphic and interactive media designer with a background in print production, television and web. On the eve of the 2006 BlogHer conference and just after upgrading the BlogHer site I posed some questions to Laura and she has provided some great insight. This interview discusses a little about Laura, Drupal and her work with the BlogHer community site.

This is the first in what will be a multi-part interview. If you’d like clarification from Laura on any of the points feel free to ask them in the comments and Laura and I will do our best to get you an answer.

When did you start using Drupal?

I first tried Drupal in 2004. I’d been playing around with blogs for a couple of years, off and on, which was really just sort of a distraction thing. It was just interesting, this idea of sharing an online journal. But I’d been doing basic “1.0”-type websites since 1995 or so it wasn’t long before I got frustrated trying to modify Blogger templates and wanted to start building something of my own using one of the open source content management systems. So I started researching them, looking at the software behind some of the big sites. From what I remember, I looked at Mambo, TikiWiki, Slashcode, Scoop and Plone. I wanted to get into something more robust than the simpler blogging systems, and the various Nukes, which were still popular, were reeling from some disastrous security issues not long before.

Drupal was on the list from the early going, mainly based on its reputation for being well coded. I crossed off TikiWiki because I was just baffled by it. Slashcode was interesting because they had perl and php versions, but I never tried it out. Scoop had much appeal because I liked the power Kuro5hin displayed, and some big sites with a lot of activity were using it, but for some reason I never tried installing it and running it. I wasn’t much of a perl coder — I’m still not, more on the llama level, if that — and I was also having trouble finding hosts that allowed mod_perl.

In the end, the short list included Drupal, Mambo and Plone. Plone was very appealing because of its power. I wanted to be able to do just about anything with the CMS, and Plone seemed to fall into that category. But Python setups are rare with hosts, and Plone’s reputation was that it had a very steep learning curve. So I set Plone aside, and tried out Mambo. Mambo had a lot of pizzazz, with some pretty themes and what, at first, seemed like an easy setup procedure. But once it was up, I found it to be very stiff — it was very hard to do anything outside of its rigid system. The typical Mambo setup was easy, but to make variants proved to be very hard, at least to me. I just didn’t “get” it. And I didn’t really feel all that comfortable with its licensing, which seemed open but had this proprietary aspect that kind of scared me away.

But with Drupal, while the learning curve wasn’t all that gentle, it just seemed to make more sense to me than the other CMSs. I got some php books and basically lived on the forums for many months, asking dumb questions and then starting to answer others’ questions. And the more I learned, the more excited I got about Drupal.

Can you give a quick overview of the history of pingVision and where you spend most of your time these days – on Drupal or DVD work or both?

I’ve worked a lot of freelance in the video realm. In fact, there are very few people who have established “jobs” in video, film and television. Most of us had to work freelance. So I guess I got entrepreneurial by necessity, and that can get you looking down the line, into the future and where the media industry (in a general sense) is going. That took me into DVD work and streaming video for the web and designing user interfaces to present that video.

It’s all changing so rapidly. Right now we have the internet, which has limited bandwidth for most of us — too limited for truly rich media applications — and we have cable and dish television, with their clunky interfaces and kludgy attempts at view on demand. And we have DVDs, which really are simple interactive presentations of rich media, all burned to a disc because the internet can’t handle that bandwidth.

But that’s going to change. There’s a convergence coming in just a few years, when what we know as “television” and what we know as “the internet” will become one thing, or maybe two very similar things: truly interactive television, or maybe it will be more like a truly fat broadband multimedia web. And unless Congress does something to undermine the neutrality of access to this interactive content, I feel it will be a really interesting cultural paradigm shift, truly getting away from the hit-driven economy (though that will always be there to some extent) and more into the long tail of fabulous, “undiscovered” talent, be it in entertainment like movies or in gaming or in journalism or in ways we can’t even predict right now. That prospect has fascinated me since forever. I have a felling this could represent an economic boom as well — a real boom, not a bubble.

So to answer your question, pingVision happened kind of gradually, almost spontaneous on its own. As I was getting better at Drupal, people started asking me to help them out on their sites. So in my freelance work, I started doing both websites and video-based projects — on both sides of the media realms that are converging. And THAT is way way too big for me to do alone. I always wanted to build a company, a collaborative organization that nurtures creativity and helps it flourish. Now seems to be a chance to do that. So here we are, just getting started, probably with a better sense of where we’ll be in five years than in five months. I’m just glad people are liking our work.

I noticed you’re hiring a PHP/Drupal Developer – business must be good. How is the candidate search going?

We’re hiring our first developer and are very excited. We aren’t ready to announce it yet, but it will be soon on our website. We had a number of very strong applicants, and we might be looking to hire them, too, as we scale up. The short-term plan is to build to five people. Then we’ll revisit things and see where demand may take us.

3 thoughts on “Laura Scott: BlogHer, pingVision & Drupal – Part 1

  1. Because people in the industry start to become aware of the marketing power of free blog technology (!). Everybody asking me lately got the same answer like Laura is providing: “Done this, tested that, ended up with Drupal”

    One of my friends set up a community site lately with mambo/joomla because he didn’t get the Drupal architecture in a day (He is an Oracle and PHP geek working for the biggest publishing houses). After testing and tweaking the Mambo/Joomla installation for a couple of weeks he came back to me asking “It might be that that was a wrong decision. What to do now?”

    Again I said: Free Drupal or commercial Expression Engine

    Now I am waiting for some Typo3 promoter on 🙂

    BTW: Plone and Zope and derivates are fantastic, awesome, great … you name it, but you will need a team for the aspects of administration

    Side Note: I have been testing different solutions and decided for my new editorial site to take Textpattern. I am very satisfied but still I have that nagging feeling that Drupal might have been the better choice 🙂

  2. First I think I agree with your statement. Google Trends shows that Drupal is growing in popularity: here’s an interesting graph of Drupal, phpnuke, postnuke, plone, and joomla. Joomla is clearly the most popular with Drupal growing as a relatively distant second.

    I’m not sure I can really say exactly why this is happening now. There has been lots of media/luminary coverage (e.g. Forrester, IBM) and support from large organizations in Open Source (e.g. SpikeSource, Google SOC).

    As you’ve pointed out by your decision here with Performancing’s platform, and as the Forrester report confirmed – Drupal is great if a “blog” is only a small part of your total platform because Drupal is designed for extension. I don’t think the same thing can be said about many of the other platforms.

    I’ve read lots of blog posts from people who I either respect or who convince me in their posts that I should respect them saying something to the effect of “Drupal is really clean and well designed, especially as a platform to extend.” I’ve never seen a similar article about Mambo/Joomla. People say they really like some of the Python based systems (e.g. Plone), but – as Laura points out – the main drawback of the Python systems is they require Python! That’s great if you have your own server but is a pain if you are on a shared host and most people are on shared hosts…

  3. Drupal seems to be coming into its own of late. Not sure I understand why now, it’s always been good but suddenly its on everyones radar .. why is that?

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