Skip to Content

The New Drupal Ecological Information Management System

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version
Issue: 
Spring 2013

Inigo San Gil (MCM)

The overarching goal for Drupal Ecological Information Management System (DEIMS) is to make information management simpler. In other Databits articles the DEIMS working group explained why we choose Drupal, the same platform that the White House and US House of Representatives currently use to manage their information streams: it is free, widely adopted, forward-looking, and open for easy customization. In a nutshell, it is a platform candidate for "IM-in-a-box", a Swiss Army knife for information managers. Right now the most active members in the DEIMS working group in the US-LTER network range from pole to pole, including the nothern-most Arctic LTER, the torrid Jornada, tropical Luquillo Experimental Forest, the tranquil North Temperate Lakes, the south polar deserts near McMurdo, the Plum Island Ecosystem north of Boston, the north end of the Chiuahuan deserts at the Sevilleta LTER, and the headquarters in Albuquerque, NM. The DEIMS project also benefits from contributions from our international partners at ILTER and the University of Michigan Biological Station.

In this article, I would like to brief you about what to expect in the upcoming DEIMS release, which should hit the shelves Summer 2013. DEIMS has been progressing though various stages of development through our working group for about four years, and we are now in the midst of work on the next release of this system that we use to manage data and information to produce the best site-based knowledge we can foster. Over the best part of last year, the DEIMS working group labored at securing a contract with one of the top development shops in the Drupal community. That process was not pretty; we had to coordinate a multi-institutional effort, create a public RFP competition, engage lawyers from four universities, and conduct diligent reviews of the proposals submitted. In the end we had to pick one proposal, which was not easy as we had five very strong candidates. After counting votes and validating reviews, we are proud to announced that Palantir.net came in at the top. We secured a contract with Palantir after another grueling round of paperwork and deciphering legalese. NSF supplment contributions from NTL, SEV, and LUQ, with support from the Network Office, made this contract possible. Kudos to all supporters. This is the first time DEIMS has had some non-negligible level of network financial support for development, certainly a sign of progress.

But if Drupal is free and open, why hire a contractor? Although the DEIMS working group members have gained in-depth Drupal expertise, we thought that it would be good to get a specialized, professional review of the early DEIMS work adopted by the SEV, LUQ, NTL, UMichigan Bio Station, and Europe-LTER. Several Drupal professionals gave the current DEIMS product thumbs up. While we were at it, we also decided to ask the Drupal professionals "what Information Management Package would they develop if they had to do this again, with a given set of requisites and requirements". Our team took the challenge, and here we added their ideas and suggested improvements --read a brief list of what you can expect.

Network Compliance

  • DOI retrieval, PASTA compliance mark
  • Integration of the LTER Unit dictionary services
  • Controlled Vocabularies from diverse authorities

Easy Searching

  • Faceted Search
  • Contextualized Data Search
  • SEO engineering

Services

  • Offer a service for EML and PASTA compliant metadata
  • Other export services, including RSS and flat text

User Interface

  • Browser-based information management
  • Dynamic database-driven forms
  • Mobile-friendly website
  • Role based webflows for data and metadata chain of custody

Detailing all these points is beyond the scope of this article, but we will touch on three of the above.

Mobile-friendly. We selected the pixture-reloaded theme, which provides an adaptive interface out of the box. All the default configuration settings fit your web pages to any display used to render them, whether small smartphones, tablets, or big screens.

The figure below is a partial screenshot of the look and feel of configuration options; what you see is the selection for the "Table Layout"

Note that we do not use device detection (a futile exercise in my opinion). Instead we use display detection for adaptation strategies.

Like in the DEIMS product we currently use, we are bundling a slider (a carrousel, slide show: cycling slides w/ news noteworthy stories), the difference, is that this one is adaptive, and resizes itself nicely to the contour conditions (screen or browse size).

Network Services: DEIMS will leverage DOI retrieval, PASTA compliance status, EML service, controlled vocabularies and the LTER Unit Vocabulary. In addition to using the Unit Services to make value added descriptions of units using the STMML format, in this new DEIMS version we provide a form connected to the Unit Service that suggests the appropriate units, while preserving the ability to manually enter a new unit. In addition, DEIMS will cache the unit dictionary results, in case the service or the connection is interrupted. Below is a relevant screenshot, which shows the form field for units with the Unit Dictionary lookup.

 

Faceted Search. The ability to narrow down result search sets is paramount for specialized searches. Google-like searches that retrieve relevant results that often miss the target of the desired search, e.g, a specialized ecological keyword, such as "primary productivity" may retrieve results from the site bibliography, the photo gallery, the datasets, the research projects, even personal profiles. DEIMS will offer the ability to refine the search results with a series of contextual filters. In addition, the default native database search engine can be swapped with the powerful Apache Solr search with an easy pull-down menu from the configuration pages.

Chances are you have used the Faceted Search functionality on many e-commerce sites, including Google shopping, Amazon, and about any serious retailer. The Facets process enables you to restrict or refine your results to specific brands, price ranges, or even customer feedback or rating. In DEIMS, we can restrict the searches by date of publication, date of study, location, type of information (dataset, publication, etc.), or even the keywords assigned to tag the content.

Where and when can I try the new DEIMS? The new release of DEIMS will be available for download at drupal.org as well as at GitHub.  Come see a demo at the next Watercooler or next meeting. If you cannot attend, you only need to request any DEIMS team member for a demo, or access to any site. We are plaaning new exciting trainings and features to further this work.  For example, we are working hard to bridge ecology with molecular genomics (microbial and fungi overwhelming biodiversity). We set our aims on killer data visualization apps.