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Thoughts on content management

October 4th, 2008

Many Oregon State Web communicators use software called Drupal to manage their content. Content management is an efficient way to distribute editorial responsibilities. Also, by placing your content into a database-driven system like Drupal, it becomes easier to search, update, categorize, reuse and syndicate.

But this doesn’t mean that moving to a content mangement system from a static HTML-based site is easy. It’s challenging and also a lot of work. These facts often result in what I’ll call “content management backlash.” In some circles, Drupal is used like a four-letter word. But in truth, any content management system, with its array of advantages and disadvantages, would earn a similar level of abuse.

I have my own challenges in working with Drupal. I’ve worked with a number of CMSs over the years, including WordPress, Cascade Server, Microsoft CMS, TextPattern and Joomla, as well as some home-made options. Drupal is easier than some, and more challenging than others. The features it provides are, however, very similar. But a couple of factors make me feel good about working with Drupal.

First off, it’s an open source project. That means it’s free to use. It is developed by a worldwide collective of intrepid programmers all working for free. It isn’t completely selfless…many of these developers turn around and use Drupal on client projects and sell their services for support and maintenance. But as a Drupal user,you aren’t required to pay a dime. In higher education, where we’re always seeking creative ways to stretch our thin budgets, that’s a huge advantage. It always hurts in our field to sign those dwindling budget resources over to Adobe, Microsoft, Apple and the rest.

The next reason I feel good about working with Drupal is that our university plays a large role in keeping the Drupal project running. Drupal.org, the worldwide community of Drupal users and developers, is hosted right here in the basement of Kerr at Open Source Labs. OSL has played a role in a number of highly regarded open source projects, including Mozilla Firefox. With many Drupal users on campus, we also have a number of users who can serve as resources. There is also extensive Drupal training on campus.

So whenever I grow frustrated using our main content management tool, I try to recall all of those problems I’ve had using other systems. They’re all capable of giving you fits. Then I also try to remember that by using Drupal, I’m investing in a project in which OSU has a very large stake. But none of this means I’m a Drupal purist. In fact, this blog is running on another open source content management system that plays a significant role in higher education, WordPress.

2 Responses to “Thoughts on content management”

  1. John A says:

    I’m evaluating Drupal as a CMS system for one of my clients. I’m curious why some people consider it a “four-letter word.” All CMS systems have a few negatives, but is there a common denominator to people’s complaints about Drupal?

  2. Dave Baker says:

    Hi John…Drupal has similar pluses and minuses to other content management systems. Much of the complaints come from having to make a change…any change…in the first place. Then there’s also an issue with design for Drupal. It is different from other systems. Its approach to templating is distinct from similar tools…so there is a learning curve for the designer. A savvy CSS designer with strong HTML might be thrown by having to move into Drupal. For them it will be easier to design a static site. But Drupal isn’t for them…its for the end users and content contributors. If a designer is going to have to do only one Drupal project, it will be frustrating. If that designer will be working with many Drupal sites, they will find it easier and easier with every site.

    From an end-user perspective, it’s very nice. It has a lot of features.

    For small sites, or for blog-style applications or magazine-style layouts, WordPress is tough to beat.

    But for massive sites, Drupal is a good tool.

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