Drupal is Legos for Websites

Maybe we’ve recommended building your website with Drupal, the content management system (CMS). Perhaps you’ve heard how the White House and Congress and Sony Music (and many, many others) use Drupal for their public websites.

Quite right for you to hesitate a bit about using Drupal the platform, and about working with small firms like ours to implement and support your site.

These are both good decisions, I think. Of course I’m biased about el-studio.com, so I’d like to talk a bit about your decision to go with Drupal. Let’s be clear about a couple of definitions first, shall we?

Drupal Themers

Open Source Software

Drupal is open source software. It has been built over the years by a community of thousands of programmers. (There were more than 3,000 of us in Chicago this month, planning the future of the platform.)

Open source means that the code that makes Drupal work is available to anyone, for free. Anyone can use it. Anyone can modify it to suit their needs. And, over Drupal’s 10 year life, many people have. Drupal now has more than 7,600 modules that extend the core functionality. Modules can replace the built-in search engine, add Google analytics, accept Facebook logins to your site – and everything in between.

Having so much software available for free changes the way we work. We become much more agile. It’s easy to try a module, or, with a bit of work, to modify it to suit a particular need.

It turns out that agile working suits web development very well. Websites are constantly changing, and no two are alike. Community building requires experimentation. And so the flexibility allowed by popular open-source software like Drupal is a great fit. This is why the White House and Congress (and thousands of others) use Drupal for their public sites.

Working with Drupal is like building with Legos. Drupal and its modules provide the building blocks – the basic rectangles, the windows. And someone with a bit of practice can do a very fine house.

House, schmouse, you say. You want an X-Wing fighter. In Lego that requires special pieces, and some instructions.

Free software costs more than $0

The challenge of Drupal, with all its modules, is understanding what you want to accomplish with the site, and finding the best solution. Many times, there’s a module that does just what you want. Other times, a module will need to be adapted to work the way you like.

Though the Drupal software and modules are free, building a site of your complexity requires expertise. Somebody’s got to keep the servers running. You’ll want to add new features as you work through the software, or as you get suggestions from your users. There’s testing. Somebody needs to fix bugs and apply the security patches that come out periodically.

I’ve seen organizations handle this a couple of different ways.

  • Hire a web developer with some Drupal experience. One hire gets you somebody to focus on your website challenges full time. I’d recommend that your job description emphasize web skills generally, and also communication. You want a quick-learning generalist. Someone super-specialized in Drupal is likely to get bored.
  • Hire a firm like ours to build and/or support your site. Of course this is your best choice :). Especially if you’re going for that X-Wing.

Photo by Gábor Hojtsy