Drupal for Women Who Just Googled It

This is a guest post from Nikki Bailey. Nikki is a queer feminist lady: barista by day, web developer and feminist bookworm by night. She’s just launched a website for crowdsourcing knowledge about science fiction/fantasy books by women, and things she enjoys while that’s not taking up all her free time include gardening, aikido and Minecraft; you can reach her on Twitter at @kwerey.

Update by Mary, May 24: the site Nikki discusses in this post is at kwerey.com: Kwery, genre fiction by women.

About a month into the new year, during the winter lull at the cafe I work for, I decided to make a website.

Well, no, that wasn’t quite how it worked. I decided I wanted to learn about programming, and when CodeAcademy didn’t really hold my attention, I figured I might have more fun making something myself. Something small but practical: I’d make a site to keep track of books I’d read. That sounded like it’d be simple but useful, and I’d probably be done in a week and I’d be able to put “knows HTML” on my CV.

That plan changed pretty quick. I asked some techy friends on Facebook: One of them recommended WordPress, and then a couple of people mentioned that Drupal was cool at the moment. It’s probably a bit more versatile as a CMS overall, someone reckoned, but it’s difficult to get into – you might want to start with something a bit more simple.

I’ve been hacking stuff into working in Linux for more or less a decade now: the words “it’s not user friendly” lost all effect on me a while back. I took a look at Drupal and found a tool someone had written for it that looked up any ISBN in an open database and populated a form with the results automatically. That was me sold then and there: I went straight to the Very Basic Tutorials page on the Drupal site and started putting together some mysterious thing called a LAMP stack…

Three weeks later I’d got pretty carried away. I moved from learning my way around Drupal to learning about CSS and HTML and version control and PHP arrays. I learned to troubleshoot. I fixed problems – I even nervously published a few patches.

I hadn’t worked this hard since final year exams, or been so excited about what I was learning. I cycled to work daydreaming about UX and faceted searches, came home and filled my Firefox bookmarks with tutorials.

Eventually, I got there. My finished project is this: an online catalogue that stores books with all kinds of metadata: reviews users have added, publication date, genre, and the kind of questions things like the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign asks: there’s a field for ‘are there LGBT characters?’ and ‘is there a person of colour as a central character?’. In the end, I made it a catalogue of just books by women, because that’s an axe I’ve got to grind with the science fiction & fantasy community: hardly anyone ever recommends me books by female writers.

The site went live a few weeks ago, and last time I checked in on it, there were all kinds of cool sounding books on it I hadn’t ever heard of: I’ve made a way to find to provide myself with infinite new books to read, and put a resource out there I think could be really useful to people: I was over twenty by the time I read a book about a lesbian character that wasn’t totally depressing, and I’m pretty proud and excited about putting something out there to help marginalised people find themselves in fiction.

I always thought of the phrase ‘web development’ as referring to some kind of very structured skill, with a budget of thousands and probably more than one Gantt chart involved. That changed pretty much as soon as I started googling. Thanks to open source technology and the generosity of geeks with their secrets, it’s taken me under 2 months and £20 to put together a website that’s getting 1000~ unique visitors a day in its first few weeks of life: it’s been an act of creativity and collaboration, and it’s left me really excited about all the cool stuff the internet makes possible.

Thanks for everything, geeks of the internet. I hope this is gonna be the first of many projects you’ll see from me.

21 thoughts on “Drupal for Women Who Just Googled It

    1. Nikki

      Haha sorry, I’m a shy creature not used to showing off even the things I’m proud of! My site’s at Kwerey.com – I’d be really happy to hear any feedback you or other geek feminist readers have! :)

    1. Nikki

      Thanks! I’m posting on issue threads right this minute, I feel very at home here :p

      Seriously, though, I like the atmosphere here – whether it’s because everyone posting on the forums has the same goal – use Drupal, make a cool thing! – I’ve been much happier posting feedback and offering fixes I’ve found than I have in any Linuxy forums, there just feels like a much lower chance of someone being snide and asking why I didn’t do XYZDF instead. Yay, Drupal!

  1. webchickenator

    Hey, congratulations on your website, as well as all the various learning cliffs you’ve scaled in the past few weeks! :) Glad to hear of your positive experiences using Drupal! Welcome to the community! :D

  2. cecilykane

    I’ve got the same axe to grind re: SF/F recommendations and lady authors. This geek is exclusively right-brained, so my response was to create a blog for it; even now that I’m quite vocal about it, I’ll get unsolicited recommendations for dude authors I simply must read!

    Very cool project. Already registered, and I’ll be putting it on my blogroll as soon as I remember how (*very* right-brained) and adding books to that database of yours. :D

    1. Nikki

      Hee, thanks! It’s been a really cool project, it’s already found me LOADS of cool SF/F books I’d never heard of, and that’s in the first few weeks.

      (Your blog has the best name!! :D)

    1. Nikki

      Thanks! I’ve read so many cool & inspiring things on GeekFeminism, it was fun to write up my adventures in web dev stuff in return. And hopefully it’s a useful datapoint: someone motivated can write a pretty complex Drupal site in three months from a baseline of literally zero web design knowledge. There’ll be bugs there, but it’ll work :D

  3. chris

    This is so cool! I blog on a WP platform but have been thinking about learning Drupal on the side for a different project. While I’m not code-savvy at all, your post gives me some inspiration and encouragement to try it out myself! I’m bookmarking your site – I intentionally read and look for fiction/UF books by women, about 99% of the time. Good luck with the site and I’m sure you’ll get a ton more visitors very soon!

    1. Nikki

      Thankyou! I hope you find some good books to read there, I’ve found a whole bunch of cool new stuff :)

      Drupal’s awesome! Literally all the things I needed for Kwerey.com were already out there in the community, even really complicated stuff like “how to make a tiny little review snippet show up at the bottom of this book entry” was totally achievable within the existing body of code. Fuckyeah, Open Source :)

      The warning I’d give ya is that the error log is gonna be a pain in the backside if you want to use community-contributed modules but don’t like parsing code. You get a lot of Really Helpful Errors like: “PDOException: SQLSTATE[HY000]: General error: 1366 Incorrect integer value: ” for column ‘isbn2node_cover_width’ at row 1 […]”

      And you totally CAN figure out “okay that’s an error writing to the database when you trying and add this field, I wonder if the PHP handler isn’t screening out illegal characters in” or whatever, but I definitely found it baffling and a bit stressful to start with. It does teach you a lot about the mechanics of a website, though!

  4. Pingback: New database for finding diverse speculative fiction. | Manic Pixie Dream Worlds

  5. Pingback: Leading Lady Links: Night Elfs, Bombshells, and Shieldmaidens – Oh My! | Feminism/geekery

Comments are closed.