The third guest blog in our CMS series.
I was asked by the folks at Bridge Technical Solutions if I’d be interested in contributing an article defending my choice of Drupal over WordPress and Joomla. While it’s taken longer than I’d hoped to find time to actually write it down, the reasons have been clear to me for over 4 years since I first made the decision to head in this direction. I’ve been involved in web design and development since about 1994 – having created Rhode Island College’s first official web site while I was in school there studying graphic design. Over the intervening years I’ve used just about every imaginable application, editor and development platform, have built countless Content Management Systems from scratch, and have put together sites in many more. So when I decided to move fully to a pre-existing CMS, I had a lot of ideas about what I wanted from an ideal candidate.
At the time I was working as Director of Web Services for North Sails, and we needed a CMS platform in which to develop a network of over 30 sites worldwide. The sites needed to share a design framework in addition to having the abilities to share content and control usage of media assets across the entire network. Given one limitation – it had to be a Microsoft-based solution – I ended up with Dot Net Nuke, and I hired Embolden Design here in Providence to do the development. I worked with them to define several key areas of functionality that were lacking at the time and had them build custom modules to support them. These included areas of media management and placement, tagging of content using predefined libraries of terms, and a bit more. The system did turn out well, and it presently drives many sites in many languages quite successfully. But I have to say that the development environment and feature set were not what I’d hoped for.
After leaving North for a position at (add)ventures as their Director of Interactive/Technology in 2007, I had the chance to revisit my exploration of Open Source CMSs in order to standardize our work on a single, more capable platform than what was in use when I started. I’d done a lot of research, and these three CMSs (WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal) were the only real candidates that got any amount of coverage in the enterprise IT press. WordPress at the time was still very blog-focused and not a comfortable fit as a general purpose CMS, but Joomla and Drupal were fairly evenly matched. Or so I thought. What I did find was that while the admin experience in Joomla was quite good, its core (and contributed) functionality was no match for what I found with Drupal. Within a week or two, I’d found and configured pre-existing functionality and modules that equaled or surpassed work that I’d contracted to have built for Dot Net Nuke at a seriously significant cost – all for free.
I’m not going to insinuate that there’s no learning curve with Drupal. Or say that the admin/site owner experience is natively great. But after a couple of weeks and an initial project or two, I haven’t looked back. The admin experience gets better all the time and with a little effort can be as good as anything out there. And capabilities? Well, project number two was CVS Caremark’s corporate site, which handled 6-7 million page views per month and had over 20,000 registered users getting automatic updates emailed out regularly, and it only needed one custom module. Since then I’ve worked on dozens of projects ranging from online ticketing for Newport Polo (with Rubic Design) to numerous client sites and have developed an entire platform for independent school sites for Schoolyard. The power and flexibility of the platform and the tremendously supportive nature of the community are unparalleled in my nearly 20 years of web experience. Need zip-code-based proximity searching? There’s a module for that – and I had it configured and running on a site with several thousand locations nationwide in about 3 hours. Need to import 3,000 news stories from an export of another CMS? Sure thing – check out the Feeds module and in about half an hour, you’re all done. Want to have a network of related websites that share a common theme with a style sheet override for individual needs? I did that for the nation’s largest healthcare company several years ago, and not only would you not know they’re in Drupal, but you’d never know they were sharing a code base. Common code or core features never get in the way of thoughtful, considered design.
The bottom line for me is that Drupal has made the best tool for creating web sites I’ve found. Having that solid foundation and about 10,000 modules in the community frees me to think about strategy and design challenges posed by my clients rather than spending endless hours and weeks writing the functionality or wrangling the system to do what I need it to do. I just get to do great work for great organizations. So that’s my story – and I’m sticking to it (I suppose I’d better be – I’m writing this while on a plane to London to present at DrupalCon!).
-Jason Pamental, Web Strategist, Designer, Technologist: http://thinkinginpencil.com
Platform Architect: Schoolyard http://schoolyard.com