Don’t drop Drupal

Apples and Oranges

Image: Suvro Datta / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Drupal was created in 2000 by the then-University of Antwerp student Dries Buytaert. Over the last 11 years, it has grown into a huge community of open-source web developers, providing a stable, flexible content management system for a multitude of websites developed by the White House, the World Food Programme, Pearl Jam, and many more.

There have, however, often been debates about the usability of the back-end in comparison to blogging CMS’ such as WordPress, particularly for the uninitiated user. As most functioning groups or organizations require a website but most don’t have the resources to hire an expert developer, there are many uninitiated users in the workplace.

Having personally migrated two research sites from Drupal to WordPress in the last year, I am currently working on a Drupal project and am enjoying the enormous breadth and flexibility that it offers.

I will echo many developers in saying this: whether Drupal or WordPress is more appropriate depends entirely on the project requirements and available resources. Drupal’s modular build offers the developer nearly unlimited options and opportunities, from social media integration, languages, custom themes and subthemes, users registration, permission sets, forums… the list goes on. However, a Drupal website needs someone to manage it. I’ve seen many untended Drupal websites fall into disrepair, and it’s not a pretty sight.

In the past, I recommended a Drupal to WordPress migration because WordPress is so much more simple and lightweight. For university research project websites, managed by a handful of students each year who have at most 10 hours per week to dedicate to the project, Drupal is just too complicated. In the quick rotation of experimenting research assistants, knowledge is lost, security systems don’t get updated, the public forum gets spammed, and suddenly, the site is obsolete and no longer supported by the university.  With a simple framework like WordPress, this is less likely to happen.

On the other hand, any company or organization with the resources to invest in a more complex site should consider Drupal. In a team meeting, a Drupal developer has the luxury of almost always saying “yes” when asked: “is this possible?”. After merely a few days of Drupal on a large scale, I am tempted to buy a t-shirt and spend my weekends buried in manuals. Or perhaps watching the excellent tutorials created by what seems to be a very young Drupal wiz with a knack for simplifying complicated concepts: tomrogers123.

My recommendation? If you have the resources, don’t drop Drupal.

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Active Circle website

The Active Circle website was created for Motivate Canada in June 2009. Its aim was to provide sports and project management resources for Aboriginal community leaders working with youth in Canada. I began the production process by consulting with an advisory committee made up of leaders from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. They explained their aesthetic, content and functionality requirements for the website. This consultation was supplemented by a literature review about symbols and the use of colours in Canadian Aboriginal cultures, as well as about the spread of Internet technologies in Aboriginal communities. From this, a document was created for the graphic design firm, which included background information, narrative user profiles, wireframes, database requirements and navigation flow charts. During the development process, new elements were added, such as a user poll, photo gallery and Google Earth and Twitter widgets.

The website was designed and developed, then tested by the advisory committee before launch.

The link to the live website, which I no longer manager, can be found here.

Motivate Canada website

In 2010, I re-architected and re-branded Motivate Canada’s website. The process was initiated by online surveys with target users, followed-up with several in-depth interviews. Questions examined with the users included pros and cons of current website, requirements of new website, and favorite website designs.

Simple static wireframes were then created on Google Docs and shared with the graphic designer, as can be seen below. These wireframes were included in a proposal that was approved by the Board of Directors before the website was produced with the graphic designer and developer.

From this, a website look and architecture was created.

The live webpage, which I no longer manage, can be found at the following link: www.motivatecanada.ca/en/home.