Drupal gains ground down under

Computerworld speaks with Drupal's lead developer and several Drupal shops about the open source CMS used in a growing number of organisations around the world, including the Prime Minister’s office.

Agileware's Justin Freeman

Agileware's Justin Freeman

The open source content management system (CMS), Drupal, continues to gain popularity both locally and internationally. The CMS powers several new high profile websites including the Prime Minister's site, launched last month and designed by Canberra-based company OPC IT and ABC's three digital radio websites – Dig Music, ABC Jazz and ABC Country. Internationally, it is used by organisations as diverse as Obama's administration in the US to Greenpeace to McDonalds.

Two years ago, Drupal's lead developer, Dries Buytaert, told Computerworld that his five-year goal was to see many more people using Drupal in many more places to build increasingly complex websites. With a number of attention-gaining Drupal sites launched around the world since then, it seems that Buytaert is on his way to achieving that goal.

Buytaert is predicting that, as has been the case in other countries, the recent launch of large government websites like the Prime Minister's and the ABC sites will trigger further Drupal adoption in Australia.

“This is certainly the pattern that I've seen throughout the rest of the world. First, there are many small sites and eventually a few higher profile Drupal sites launch. This generates a great deal of enthusiasm in local Drupal communities because it validates the work that so many people do, generating momentum for new Drupal opportunities,” he said.

“The most recent example of this phenomenon was in the US when the Obama administration launched the www.recovery.gov site. It gave Drupal tremendous visibility in web development communities in the US and around the globe, resulting in new interest in Drupal in the public sector at the federal, state and local levels.”

Buytaert sees Drupal as not just a CMS, but more as a “social publishing system [that] enables site owners to seamlessly integrate content and community on a site. Depending on the site, visitors can become content contributors as well as share interesting information with their own network of friends”.

The Prime Minister's site and blog and also the ABC sites, he said, are both good demonstrations of how Drupal provides a technology platform to encourage audience engagement and participation.

“What is unique about Drupal is that it plays in so many different markets. It's great to see people use Drupal to provide transparency in government, to express themselves online in their personal blog, to run a non-profit for a greater good, to enable groups of people to collaborate online, to run a company's intranet, or to run a high-traffic media site,” he said.

Buytaert is pleased with where Drupal is positioned today.

“The combination of content and community capabilities in a single technology platform that appeals to both application developers as well as traditional end users is a great place to be and Drupal is paving the way in this technology area, disrupting many proprietary web content management technologies in the process,” he said.

“It is a great time for open source technologies and Drupal is thriving in this environment.” There are now more than 400,000 Drupal sites around the world, and drupal.org has a million unique visitors per month.

“[It is] not the prettiest Drupal site, but it is the very heart of the Drupal community - the enthusiasm and passion that Drupal generates among developers around the world – it’s amazing to watch,” said Buytaert.

Drupal verus Joomla, TYPO3 and other Content Management Systems.

Simon Hobbs and his Melbourne-based company, Em Space, is responsible for establishing about about 20 Drupal sites, including one for Lonely Planet. The company's sole business is in building Drupal-based websites for government, not-for-profit organisations and enterprise clients. Hobbs reviewed several systems when setting up his business about five years ago. These included Joomla (then called Mambo) and TYPO3.

“They all try to do the same thing: enable you to create websites out of the box. But at the end of the day you are also looking for something that is a framework that you can build upon as well as something you can design how ever you want and make it look how you need it,” he said.

Hobbs also briefly looked at WordPress as an option, but its focus was on being a blog application and it did not have the breadth that Drupal offered.

“If people come to us and say they would like to have a simple site or a blog, we will often recommend that they go with something like WordPress, but Drupal is definitely the choice for the more complex sites.” When reviewing systems, the main thing that Hobbs was looking for was a clean separation between the functionality and the design.

“I eliminated Joomla at the time because it did not have the same clean structure as Drupal. There were a few key features that Drupal also did a lot better out of the box. The best one being the URL alias [which enables you to] have a clean URL eternally pointed to a page,” he said.

Hobbs admitted that Joomla has a better reputation for corporate-style websites that are clean and tight-looking and that Drupal for a long time has had a reputation of looking really ugly out of the box. He also said that Drupal had a steeper learning curve than Joomla, but it was a worthwhile one for the additional features you gain.

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