Technically Speaking: Drupal

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Hundreds of different platforms exist today to help developers manage content online. Of them, WordPress, Joomla, and Plone have amassed significant followings in the past few years – WordPress 3.3 alone has been downloaded 16 million times since its release in December 2011. But today in Assembled Basics we hone in on Drupal, which, if not the forefather of these newer platforms, has been deeply influential in building the infrastructure of the web over the last 6-7 years.

Originally written by Dutch programmer Dries Buytaert as a message board, Drupal became an open source project in 2001. Its popularity peaked in 2008-9 when it was (somewhat controversially) adopted by the Obama Administration as the management software for WhiteHouse.gov. The White House, which still employs the platform, even released custom modules they developed for Drupal to the greater Drupal community. Today, Drupal is used by people in 228 countries, and supports 182 languages. Elements of Drupal are used in the back-end system for almost 2% of websites worldwide, including media (CNN, Digg), internal corporate sites (Yahoo Research), universities (Stanford, Duke), non-profits (Human Rights Watch) and some of the largest companies in the world (McDonalds, FedEx).

Drupal includes all the standard features of a Content Management System (CMS): user account maintenance, menu management, RSS-feeds, page layout customization, and system administration. There are also over 11,000 free add-ons (known as Modules), built by the Drupal community over the years. These include all kinds of tools for custom designs, custom content types, private messaging, and modules for third-party integrations.

Why Drupal (Still) Endures

  • You hardly ever have to start from scratch. There are pre-existing templates for hundreds of different functionalities, and the active Drupal open source community is great at adding in the latest tools.
  • Once you master Drupal, the administration interface is arguably more powerful and customizable than its competitors.
  • Drupal scales. The platform can be expanded to build and maintain very complex sites that employ video, e-commerce, and tons of other features.

Shortcomings

  • Drupal’s learning curve is much steeper. While WordPress and Joomla! are more accessible out of the box, navigating Drupal at first can be daunting unless you have prior PHP knowledge and basic server configuration skills.
  • It costs more to set up and maintain. If you’re hiring a programmer, Drupal gurus are harder to find and often more expensive than developers who use simpler CMS systems.
  • Lastly, its design themes are not as sophisticated, or tasteful, as WordPress. As a result, it can take a lot of effort to make a Drupal site look professional.