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Senior Developer

Saving the web with responsible websites

TL;DR: If the internet reflects society, what does your content say about you? Having flexible and accessible content will allow you to adapt to how people consume your content.


"I miss when people took time to be exposed to different opinions, and bothered to read more than a paragraph or 140 characters. I miss the days when I could write something on my own blog, publish on my own domain, without taking an equal time to promote it on numerous social networks; when nobody cared about likes and reshares.

That’s the web I remember before jail. That’s the web we have to save."

I recently read the trending article The Web We Have to Save, by blogger Hossein Derakhshan ('Hoder'), who had been imprisoned in Iran for six years. In the article, he talks about how the internet had changed over that time. Content on the internet has been consumed and discovered in different ways over time, from directory listings, to search, to blogs, and social media. The writer had been an influential blogger (credited with starting the blogging revolution in Iran), but on coming out of jail, he found that quality blogs no longer had the position they once did. Instead, content is largely discovered and read by people in 'streams' on social media apps. Quality can be drowned out; what is important is diluted in amongst the trivial.

Personally, I believe any expression of culture will reflect the society it flows from. The internet is a global society, so incorporates so many different aspects of humanity - different, good, and bad. We see how cultural expressions can reveal something about a society in the news all the time. Music is a creative expression that will inevitably present the good and bad of a culture. Each genre of music often goes together with a subculture, so certain themes come up, often telling the stories of the society that the subculture represents. Football fan culture around the world is another classic case. In one country, it might be dominated by middle-class, sanitised and highly commercialised. In another, it is raw, dangerous and associated with criminal activity. The internet has become one of the biggest and most global cultural expressions ever known. While it is diverse, the way we consume it is perhaps becoming less so - which Derakhshan has been in a unique vantage point to spot.

What does the internet say about our global society? If you contribute to the internet with websites and social media activity, what do your contributions say about your place in the world and how you relate to it? I believe that we should all take responsibility to some extent -- especially those of us in the business of websites and content on the internet! Can we contribute to a more responsible internet? Are we equipped to do so?

A responsible internet should be diverse and inclusive. I believe a responsible internet could be positive and encouraging, with negative and destructive aspects present but drowned out by the good that the world has to offer. Maybe that's utopian, but it really does come down to decisions made that shape our content and the way we present it. Content should be accessible to any user, on any device. That means thinking of users with accessibility needs, thinking of users that do not speak English as their first language, and building solutions that will be future-proof to some extent.

Drupal, with its community-driven ecosystem of modules, can cater for accessibility and internationalization needs. Drupal 8 will be the most translatable product yet, and will also have responsive design for any screen included 'out of the box'. At ComputerMinds, we have experience in getting the most out of Drupal, and going well beyond its core capabilities, to maximise how 'responsible' our websites are in each of these areas.

Part of being responsible is being prepared to constantly improve and yet to also have the foundations to aim to cope with potential change. ComputerMinds' bespoke Drupal websites are built with future-proofing in mind - user needs change over time, as does the infrastructure of the internet (servers, browsers, connections) - so we have to think ahead. A site built exclusively for the conditions of the current time may not last long, and will not be able to serve future visitors. We improve as individuals and as a team with every project we work on. Best practises are identified and developed, we work with the best tools & modules as they mature. We help move projects in the Drupal community along with support, fixes and improvements. We won't stand still, and we'll ensure that the websites we build will last despite the inevitable change of the internet.

As a content management system (CMS), Drupal is well placed to be equipped for a responsible internet. Content will always be the core of what users consume, in whatever form or wherever it appears, so it's essential to have a flexible & powerful CMS for highly manageable content. The Drupal CMS framework, paired with our own depth of experience in modelling content and giving power to editors, enables successful, and responsible, websites. An example of this, where we are also constantly improving, is our use of the new 'Paragraphs' system to make responsive rich content that works for site visitors and site editors. The raft of SEO and social media integration modules for Drupal helps the content of a site to succeed outside of its own domain, whether it appears in users' social media 'Streams', or search engine results. We have plenty of experience in fine-tuning these modules and creating custom solutions to make content work for its intended audience.

So whether web needs saving or not, whilst the way we all consume content on the internet changes, the real key is to work towards a responsible internet. We (if you're reading this, I'm including you in!) are key contributors to that. Are you equipped to add to a responsible internet which is inclusive, diverse and high in quality? What tools and methods (technical or not!) do you use that help build towards that? Let us know in the comments below!