We like to preach that a website is a living and breathing thing, meant to change often. Our clients agree and take an active interest in editing content by themselves. So we set up content management systems (CMSs) that make updating a site as simple as updating Facebook.
There are hundreds (if not thousands) of CMSs in the wild. After years of trying different software (and even writing our own), we’ve settled on two options: WordPress and Drupal. Here’s what makes them special and most appropriate for the companies that hire us.
Free, open-source software
As a small company, we of course love the “free” (as in beer) part. But it’s not just about cost. Free, open-source software is also free (as in speech) to modify, redistribute, even resell. That means that we and our clients are “free” from worry about licensing costs or artificial limitations. We can customize and deploy free, open-source software how ever makes the most sense, which is crucial for a company’s ever-changing needs and unique online identity.
Older software has been more thoroughly tested and improved over time. That also means its documentation is more thorough and easier to follow. If a bug pops up, a solution is usually a Google search away. And certainly in the case of CMSs, older software has a richer ecosystem of freely reusable, expertly developed add-ons that significantly reduce development time (and cost).
Running somewhat counter to maturity is development activity. Developers often gravitate to new software, while older software tends to stagnate. We’ve found that WordPress and Drupal strike a perfect balance between maturity and ongoing improvement. In fact, WordPress was released in 2003 and has been regularly updated since 2001, while Drupal has been around since 1999, exploded in popularity in 2005, and has more than 17,000 registered developers worldwide.
Popularity among developers
Core developers aside, it’s important that a CMS is popular among third-party developers and web companies (like us). We respect that clients can always choose new vendors to work with. So the technical work we do should be usable by as many other developers as possible. In other words, picking popular software (with plenty of qualified developers) prevents clients from feeling locked-in with us or anyone else. It’s the responsible thing to do.
Support among web hosts
Similarly, we don’t want to lock clients into a particular web host. WordPress and Drupal run on the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) platform, which is by far the most popular and well-supported platform among hosting providers. That makes client sites most portable, should a hosting change ever become necessary.
So, WordPress or Drupal?
Given that WordPress and Drupal both satisfy all of the above, how do we choose one over the other? Well, it’s getting more difficult. In the past, Drupal was a harder-to-use, but much more flexible CMS that accommodated any type of content. And WordPress was a simpler, more limited blog platform that wasn’t really designed for types of content besides blog posts and basic pages.
Within the past year however, huge usability improvements have been made to the Drupal 7 backend. And WordPress 3 has added support for custom types of content. So in a way, the built-in capabilities of both CMSs are converging. But in general, our larger sites with lots of image handling, geographical data, and different user privileges are better suited for Drupal. And simpler sites with regular pages, blog posts, and public commenting are easier to manage on WordPress.