4 minute read

Dakar. It’s hot. Lots of goats. In 2-5 years, it could be a major tech hub – sooner with some policy and infrastructure changes, but the core is there, from VC4Africa hosting meetups at co-working/social change hubs like <a href=”https://www.jokkolabs.net/”</a>JokkoLabs</a> to a budding online community of drupal hackers. The infrastructure seems to remain a daunting challenge, with mobile internet lagging behind, banks not being innovative, and a fragile power system reliant on imported oil.

I spent just under two weeks working with Ashoka fellow Hamadou Tidiane SY, who was elected in 2009 to the News and Knowledge program of the fellowship. He has grown Ouestaf, a small independent news site to almost a household word in francophone Africa through amazing dedication to professionalism in journalistic standards and solid coverage of core issues, avoiding sensationalism. News and Knowledge director Keith Hammonds has a blog post on the model.

How to Build a News Website in Seven Days

He has been struggling with the technical boundaries of his current hosting platform, and I volunteered to work with his technology team and help re-architect the site. His core need was to be able to manage multiple streams of news and cross-post stories among different sections as well as showing them as relevant to multiple countries. After reviewing his current system and a proposed Joomla site, I ended up suggesting Drupal to best support the features he was looking for. Further, we went ahead and developed the site in Drupal 7 to avoid the eventual sunsetting of D6, as well as the architectual and dashboarding benefits built into D7. The D7 site is still under active development, training with his tech team, and transition work - we’re hoping to launch the new site in early 2012.

It was an accelerated process, to be sure. The first few days were spent exploring the current site and discussing the needs of the platform - from the editorial/content creation side to the outreach/marketing needs as well as creating a sustainable architecture to support additional user interaction and content generation. Luckily, Drupal excels at the features the website needed, through a combination of user permission roles, content types and the news built-in Fields, and extensive use of taxonomies (categories) and the Views module to display filtered content. Building the core of the site was relatively easy after I got used to the new features of Drupal 7, and then it was just a matter of making sure the content and interactions were all displaying and functional. The part that was most thwarted by power cuts and calendar constraints was the training aspect - naturally the most important. I was able to rush through the core pieces on battery power, and we’ll have to rely on skype and email for the rest. D7 has a wonderful admin dashboard function, however, so at least the main settings and components are easy to access.