Jake Bell, Solutions Architect

For those who aren’t already familiar with Drupal (since you clicked the link, we’re assuming you’re at least a little familiar), it’s a popular and powerful out-of-the-box content management tool that allows for a high level of customization when creating websites of all shapes and sizes.

For that reason, we’ve had plenty of chances to put Drupal to the test here at Primacy. Recently, we relied heavily on Drupal for sites we created for Yale Law School and MIT’s Division of Student Life.

With Yale Law School, we were able to use a variety of Drupal modules to:

  • Handle complex permissions to allow a large number of content authors to manage their own content without affecting other areas of the site.
  • Allow each department to customize sections of the site using a predefined set of page modules.
  • Integrate with Yale Law School’s CAS system to create a Single-Sign On (SSO) for content authors and students.
  • Consolidate the latest news, events, videos and other information into a single Yale Law School Today view—and allow that content to be distributed seamlessly to other areas of the site.
  • Create a more efficient method of searching their Faculty and Lecturer Directory.
  • Bring Yale Law School’s Twitter and Instagram feeds onto the site.

When we tackled the MIT site, we were facing a slightly different set of challenges, but we found Drupal to be just as effective at allowing us to:

  • Unify 9 distinct departments under a single, consistent brand and website architecture, while still allowing some individuality to shine through.
  • Create smart News and FAQs modules with the ability to pull in relevant content based on which area of the site they’re being used in.
  • Integrate the dining schedule into the site and create an API that makes it easy to pull the dining schedule into their mobile apps.
  • Make it easier to find the contacts and forms used most often by students.
  • Allow clients to apply colored filters (as shown below) to images as they’re rendered, instead of having to do it in Photoshop before uploading them.

As you can see, there’s plenty to like about Drupal and plenty of reasons we continue to use it for site builds. Perhaps the biggest benefit is that it’s free! But it also has a large collection of modules available—making it much more time- and cost-efficient to create client-specific functionality. It’s also much more customizable than most other free CMSs out there. And it’s large, active community of users is also a huge benefit.

That said…no solution is perfect. If dedicated tech support is something that’s important to you, Drupal doesn’t provide it, so you’d need to contract with a 3rd party. Also, Drupal’s permissions capabilities and workflows could pose a challenge for larger organizations, because they’re definitely geared toward smaller groups. Drupal does follow a much more agile release schedule then more established enterprise CMS providers, which may be a problem for larger corporations that take longer to get approvals to apply updates to their sites. If a Drupal install gets too far behind in updates, it could open security vulnerabilities. And finally, because Drupal’s modules are designed by different users, they don’t always play well together.

That final concern may be alleviated a bit with the release of Drupal 8, because now many of the top modules are built right into its core—no need to install them separately. Drupal 8 also allows for true in-line page editing, so you can update content without needing to work with forms or other admin views. Its new theming engine is also much quicker to work with, and its out-of-the-box web-services make it easier to integrate custom or third party apps into Drupal sites.

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