Standard web pages have ceased to be the only data delivery medium available! And there's no way around it. You either respond to users' “pressing” expectations to be delivered up to the moment data, context-based data only, or, well, you'll be left behind! In this respect Drupal-powered digital signage systems might just be the best solution to meet your customers' “new” needs and to remain relevant in your business!
There's no reason to “act surprised” or be skeptical about Drupal being the right technology to go for! You have:
- data rich APIs
- outstanding content management functionalities
… so collecting data, turning it into “relevant”, contextual data, detecting a whole network of devices and sending out that data following a certain content model already looks like a plan.
A solid plan for you to build your first digital signage system on!
But let us dive into more details, (hopefully) answer all your legitimate questions and deliver you some of the key information you need for getting started with your digital signs project:
Digital Signage Systems: A Few Examples
What forms do these new types of digital experiences take? Where do we interact with digital signage in our day-to-day lives?
Here are some representative examples:
- mall kiosks
- touch screens placed in various means of transportation (planes, cars, trains)
- voice interfaces
These are all real-data delivery means! Digital signage solutions that we interact with daily (even if only visually) and which have already become indispensable to us.
But Why Drupal? Why a Drupal-Powered Digital Signage System?
… when you have Angular, Node, Amber React and the whole “suite” of cutting-edge, modern technologies at your disposal?
The answer lies in Drupal's whole “culture” of empowering the end-user!
In other words: Drupal provides an improved user experience compared to other modern technologies focusing mostly on enhancing exclusively the developer's experience instead.
As simple as that! You need to build your signage system with your client (his team of content editors) in mind! It's them who will need to be able to grow independent once you pass them over the device; to be able to edit everything about it with the utmost ease.
And Drupal excels at empowering the non-developer, the non-technical user!
Real-Time Data Streaming = Managing Content With Great Ease
And Drupal's well reputed for its capabilities as a content management system.
It empowers those “in charge” with content with a whole structure of features and functionalities aimed at better organizing the editorial team, at handling and “refining” the delivered content (making it context-sensitive, as well).
Now, let us point out some of its “star” capabilities:
- its whole “infrastructure of roles and permissions
- its revisioning feature
- its translation functionality
- its content types building tool
How Does Drupal Handle External Data?
Having data “flooding in” from “outside” providers is something to consider when you decide to develop your Drupal-powered digital signage system! This data can range from:
- social media
- to weather data
- to stock data
- to news
- to all kinds of crucial (for the passengers) public transportation-related data
And the way Drupal 8 copes with this “flood” of data goes like this: the provider API is sent out to collect this data, then Drupal gets it processed according to the content model.
Note: If content is king, then context is queen!
Make sure you contextualize the data you deliver via your digital signs, that you perfectly adjust it to the given context (you don't want to send out information about a train's schedule on the “wrong” platform or data news from Baltimore to people living in L.A. etc.)
Getting Started: How to Use Drupal for Powering Your Digital Signs
Here are the very basic steps to take:
- enter the right command in Drush for collecting your data
- next store your credentials in Drupal 8
- “trigger” caching (yet, be cleverly selective about what you cach, since you can't, obviously, cach everything when it's real-time data that you need to deliver)
- parse your collected data, using Drupal 8 to “spread” it to all the right devices, following the right content model path
Getting Data from Drupal to Your Digital Signs: How Does It Work?
Before you go ahead and pick the obvious answers to this question, “pull” or “push”, you'd better consider all the “pieces of the puzzle”:
- you can't really rely on the pull method since that would put a tremendous pressure on your server's shoulders (and heat up your devices)
- you can't rely on a “multiple APIs” method either, since real-time data restricts you to a to a highly selective caching (unlike on web pages)
- you can't reload as many times as needed, like on the web
- there's limited or no user interactivity involved (the huge blue screen can be viewed by thousands of people and the only thing they can do is just... stare at it)
“Can't do this, can't do that: but what is it that I CAN do to make this data transfer work?”
“You use websockets!” It's this solution that will provide you with an almost instantaneous, two-way type of communication for a longer time!
It's One of Those Perfect Contexts of Use for “Exploiting” Drupal's Scalability
Apart from being incredibly flexible, Drupal's highly scalable, too! We all know it, even those that don't use Drupal know it!
A Drupal-powered digital signage system is the perfect “context” for leveraging this scalability. And it's going to be of a great help when you think of the whole network of devices involved here!
Drupal's powerful enough to send out the collected data via one of the websocket channels that you'll use for transferring your data to your devices.
Moreover, it can multiple that data for as many devices as your network has. Unlimited scalability!
Think Beyond Content Model: Think “Device Model”, Too!
… for Drupal has the right capabilities for collecting, processing data and following the content model, yet you need to “give it some hints” regarding the devices, too. The devices that those digital signs will get displayed on.
Let it know what is it that these devices can do, which messages get “triggered” by which one of the digital signs.
In short: a well structured, crucial information-stuffed device model's needed, too!
Overall: What Does Drupal Need to Know?
If you want your Drupal-powered digital signage system to work at its full potential, then you need to “empower” Drupal 8 with all the key information:
1. what data goes to which one of your interconnected digital signage devices
2. the format that Drupal needs to display that data in (along with language, size screen, and other related key data)
And now in order to “proof” your data, to ensure that it's just your own devices that have access to it, you can:
- whitelist your digital signage system (leveraging the metadata that Drupal can collect for you)
- establish TFA for all the involved users
- ensure that your services of choice (whether it's Google, Amazon or another one) ask devices for authentication
How Does a Drupal-Powered Digital Signage System Handle Security?
And this is, indeed, a “sore point” when dealing with digital signs! They're particularly vulnerable in case of cyber attacks.
Now that we've pointed out the “problem”, let's jump to the possible solutions that you have:
1. this is a no-brainer and yet, we feel like adding this “rule of thumb”, too: always change the passwords that your devices ship with!
2. consider a restricted access to them
3. ensure that the software you're using comes along with a patch/updates schedule, too, and that you remember to run those updates, periodically
4. secure your source data: get it validated and audited before you “release it out into the wild”
5. use SSL
And now all there's left for us to add is: good luck with your first Drupal-powered digital signage system!