Victorian Government Solicitors Office

My first official contract in Melbourne, Australia turned out to be working directly for the Department of Justice: Victorian Government Solicitors Office - pretty neat!

So what is the VGSO? The VGSO is the Victorian Government's law firm and handle high profile cases that involve state government organisations (eg the Police). I learnt pretty quickly working there that lawyers can be very picky about content they publish.

Roles: 
  • Drupal module development.
  • Drupal theming.
  • Linux web administration (including setting up SOLR, Varnish, Memcache and Apache vhosts).
  • Worked directly with the IT Team at the VGSO.
Challenges: 
  • Migrating content and users between Drupal 6 and Drupal 7.
  • Working within a sensitive environment (law) and still being adventurous with design and user experience.
  • Setting up SOLR instances for staging and live versions of the site.
  • Setting up and optimising Varnish.
  • Installing and configuring memcache to deliver a fast authenticated user experience.

A simple authoring experience

An example of the contextual links used throughout the site.

At the VGSO I got the chance off a lifetime, to work around a full-time web administrator! Generally at agencies I become so far removed from the client and their content management team that I begin to worry that my assumptions about what they know are either too patronising or the opposite. It was great to see that neither are true, and that Drupal being the beast that it is - has a lot of things that shouldn't make sense at all (but we've all got used to them) - that a good web admin is perfectly happy to accept. Contextual links almost always save the day and they were well used (you can never have enough contextual links!) on this site.

A little bit of server administration and optimisation

I tend to avoid server admin tasks. It's not that I don't like them, it's just that I don't like them. On this project I was given a box that could barely run Drupal, not because of hardware specs but because it was so bare bones on the software side. So I had to do something ... one thing went to another and before I knew it I loved spending my afternoons in SSH! I got GIT working on a staging and live environment so I could easily pull or revert changes between my development copy and the server. With the help of some awesome tutorials out there, I managed to get Varnish, Memcached, SOLR and SOLR TIKA (which indexes PDF files and Word documents) set up and playing nice with Drupal. Overall this is probably the fastest site I've ever made (for both anonymous and logged in users) and it was a real joy to be able to configure the server to meet my needs (instead of just playing with limitations set by agencies or web hosts).

Events events events

Having previous experience with events based websites (see http://interactivejunky.com/portfolio/cecile-park-conferences) the workflow and structure of the events system was pretty familiar to me. For the VGSO I used a combination of the 'Event Registration' module and custom views displays that show the most relevant events to the user depending on the current week, month and year. Registrations go through a workflow of being pending, approved and attended allowing organisers to easily keep track of numbers. I also wrote a small module that generates ICS calendar files and email them directly to users on registration approval (or event cancellation) to help remind users and raise attendance.

Yes, it's responsive!

Lately even corporates and governments are beginning to go responsive so I thought the site upgrade was a good chance to get the VGSO up with the times. The site employs a simple responsive layout with a dropdown menu (pretty similar to the way I did the Diner and Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen) to make browsing and signing up for events easy to do from mobile devices.

Apache SOLR
(you've probably heard of it)

Search results

There's a lot of hype going around about Apache SOLR and how it can improve the user experience of search in Drupal sites. This project was one of the few projects I've had to really explore the benefits of Apache SOLR and it's many submodules. One of the major requirements for the search engine on the VGSO site was that it be able to index PDF files and DOC files as many of the resources on the website were simply file uploads (law documents can be pretty huge). Using Apache SOLR (in Search API), Facet API and Views - I created high performance and well organised search result pages that delivers users exactly the content they're looking for.