By David Peterson

Drupal 7 – a living breathing Semantic Web citizen

By David Peterson

I have just recently started looking into and actually using Drupal. I installed version 5 on a Linux server and it was amazingly straightforward. Well, the installation was straightforward. I still haven’t totally got my head around actually driving the thing — although from the developments that are going on it definitely looks like I have made the right choice…

Drupal 6 just came out last month and it had a number of changes:

… More features, easier to administer, easier to scale, easier to theme, easier to develop for, more people (developing/contributing) … source

Those changes smell like something big is brewing and that seems even more apparent given recent remarks by the lead developer, Dries Buytaert. Yesterday at Drupalcon 2008 – Boston, Buytaert gave his state of Drupal keynote:

From Network World:

Among the things he discussed was trying to define what comes next, both for Drupal and the Web. If Web 2.0 was about user management and relationships, Web 3.0 will be Web 2.0 plus “infinite interoperability,” he said.

For Drupal, that means becoming an RDF repository, exporter and importer, so that data becomes decentralized and can be accessed by people and computers in whatever format they want, on request, whether XHTML, XML or even JSON, he said.

“We want to allow other people to reuse our data. … Do cool stuff with large amounts of data. It’s just fun, in my view.”

And from Lullablog:

There’s going to be Less focus on functionality — more focus on data
* Integrate data from different sources
* Allow other people to reuse your date
* Decentralize data so that no party owns all the data
* You can do cool stuff with lots of data

“The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

DBPedia, US Census data, RDF Book Mashup, W3C WordNet, CIA factbook, FOAF, Musicbrainz.

The opportunity is that every single Drupal site can be an RDF repository that we can start to mash into to semantic web [overlaying Drupal on these websites]

The Social graph just connection people — we have an opportunity to make a graph that connects EVERYTHING.

We’re moving from the World Wide Web (WWW) to the Giant Global Graph. Tim Berners-Lee

This is very exciting to see. A powerful and widely-used Open Source CMS adopting such a forward looking vision. I will be keenly watching and look forward to participating in the development of version 7. Future web sites will become content distributors in their own right, beyond the reach of simple RSS/ATOM feeds.

Drupal 7 looks to fully embrace this idea of a web of linked data where every site becomes a data server in its own right — able to interact and be mashed up with other sites and other data sources. The database itself will be exposed to the Web (using as much or as little security as you want) with the individual fields tagged with semantic meaning; think hCard, hReview, hCalendar, FOAF, etc.

Linking Open Data logo

If you would like to learn more about where Drupal 7 is heading take a look at the Linking Open Data project (the diagram above is from their site). It is an initiative started just over a year ago by a dedicated group that has grown in leaps and bounds. Both in numbers of people and in actual linked data.

I am keen to find out if anyone knows of other major CMS platforms moving in a similar direction: Joomla, Mambo, etc? As issues such as data portability and linked data become more and more pronounced it will be interesting to see if others will follow suit.

  • phpimpact

    What’s great about Drupal it’s the community. Very organized, mature, always pushing forward and promoting their product. From the project management and marketing point of view they are ahead of the game. Now, I’d like to see some improvement in the system architecture, and of course, like any other programmer, the use of PHP5 and OOP.

  • Now, I’d like to see some improvement in the system architecture

    I’ve only used Drupal very briefly but the experience gave me a headache constantly having to override default system styles with those in the theme stylesheet.

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  • dev_cw

    I am not surprised that Drupal is taking this path. If you look at the new CMS contenders you will see that several have far more advanced structures and are bending towards the framework side of things and removing the strict methods that are present in most of the ‘old school’ CMS projects. Designers and developers want more flexibility and freedom to create what is needed rather than to remain bound to what is available without having to learn some obscure and limited syntax specific to some CMS.

    However, Drupal is announcing today what others have announced last year and are almost ready to deliver. Look at MODx for example which has been undergoing a complete restructuring and will be delivering a complete new approach any time now (no release data yet but will be soon). And there are others.

    I am noticing that the big CMS are loosing ground (very little ground in the scope of things, but enough to cause a bit of a stir) to the new comers. I will expect that all the big names will be announcing new approached in the near future.

  • I’ve only used Drupal very briefly but the experience gave me a headache constantly having to override default system styles with those in the theme stylesheet.

    Fortunately this is no longer an issue (to my understanding) with Drupal 6. The theme system has undergone several iterative upgrades and for Drupal 6 ease of theming was a high priority.

    For an overview of new theming features and helpful tools (including a Firebug-like tool to expose intricate details about a theme and how to interact with precise areas of it) have a look at the “Theming: it’s never been easier” section here:

    This page (see “Overriding core and module style sheets”) shows how you can finally override any/all system CSS files easily, replacing them with your own custom files (done by adding a line within the new .info files, no PHP required):

    In any case, my advice is to use a “simpler” theme, other than those included by default as a base theme to customize (for instance, the Zen theme). “Hunchbaque” is a good clean starting theme as well. If you prefer you can just extract the key bits of PHP variables from any theme and start a new “clean” one from scratch (just create the basic necessary template files, and override the CSS as mentioned above to have a completely clean theme). If you need more granular theming than the basic system gives, consider also installing the “Contemplate” module and use its output in your own template files (just use the module to get code snippets, don’t save the results in the module itself). It will often generate the more “complicated” code so you don’t have to come up with it yourself.

    Good luck!

  • phpimpact: Now, I’d like to see some improvement in the system architecture, and of course, like any other programmer, the use of PHP5 and OOP.

    According to:, Drupal 7 will be built on PHP 5.2.

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  • Mayhem

    Drupal 7 better be a friendlier and easier product, not to mention performance issues. It’s a geek’s bastion as it stands today. WP is growing by leaps and bounded and maturing into some pretty nifty stuff. ExpressionEngine is a beautifully coded product for the PHP crowd and its community is even more mature and friendly than Drupal’s. For those who want to dabble in Python (3.0 is INcompatible with previous Pythons — beware) then Django is a neat system. Where’s the room for yet another CMS-wannabe that is simply a nightmare to work with?

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  • milk

    i know wordpress has some fairly good support for data portability with openid in the core and microformats through extensions. worth checking out is DiSo – – who are looking to use wordpress as a framework platform to build data portability functionability upon. also, the apache shindig project is looking to implement the google opensocial data portability system –

    p.s. on the subject of data portability, how about openid login for :)

  • moserw

    Interesting. Going to check out Drupal.

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  • @ Key1316 – thanks for the update; good to know. :)

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