Choosing an open-source CMS, part 1: Why we use Drupal

Two companies decide that Drupal, a powerful but complex content management system, works best for them.

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Ease of use was a big deal for Luchsinger. He wanted the new site to be easy for everyone -- especially nontechnical people -- who needed to administer the site, even when they were editing complex data structures. That was a tall order, given that ease of use is one area where Drupal hasn't exactly been considered a leader. "Coming into Drupal cold, the user interface can be overwhelming," Mosher says.

To address this issue, IDT had Mediacurrent customize the interface. "We've been able to do much of this by hiding areas of the interface that aren't required for our users and by altering other forms to reduce confusion," Mosher says. The power of Drupal lies in its flexibility, he adds: Everything can be extended and customized, right down to the look and organization of the administration user interface.

Both Luchsinger and Mosher agree that Drupal was the right fit for IDT and they'd choose Drupal again were they to do it all over again. But both advise others to avoid jumping to any conclusions based on that experience. Drupal, WordPress and Joomla are all enterprise-class CMSs, Luchsinger says. While some projects will have specific requirements that result in a clear-cut decision, in many cases any of the three will probably do just fine.

All things being equal, says Mosher, the decision could come down to whether existing staff already have a proficiency in, say, WordPress over Drupal. Adds Luchsinger, "My advice is don't stress over the decision too much and don't feel like you need to spend a lot of money to make it work."

But that doesn't mean users don't need training. "While the back-end interface is straightforward, we sometimes have to provide additional training to our non-technical admins who manage the site," Luchsinger says. With a little training, however, all of them have been able to use the system.

Fearnet: Eliminating one-off coding jobs

Imagine the horror: Every time Fearnet wanted to launch a new mini website to promote a new show on its cable channel, fans would have to wait up to three months for the new show page to appear. Everything had to be custom-built on a proprietary content management system provided by Comcast, one of Fearnet's parent companies.

Now Fearnet's two-person staff doesn't have to keep fans in suspense: With the new site, built in Drupal, they can knock out new "mini-sites" -- sections within the main site structure -- in 15 to 20 minutes.

Fearnet, a venture jointly owned by Sony, Comcast and Lions Gate, offers an on-demand and traditional cable channel as well as a website.

Fearnet, a venture jointly owned by Sony, Comcast and Lions Gate, offers an on-demand and traditional cable channel as well as a website. "For us, it's all about doing fun, fan-based promotions because the horror genre has a strong, passionate fan base," says Lawrence Raffel, vice president of digital content for Fearnet. "It's a dream come true to be able to do things so quickly with this site."

According to Raffel, the company looked at other options, but in the end, "we were really drawn to Drupal because of the idea that it was an open source platform.... We heard complaints that Drupal would be hard to work with, but by finding the right partner to build out our site, we were able to construct a CMS that was similar to what we had prior but that worked better for us."

Fearnet's site, with 15 different content types to manage and huge amounts of continuously updated video and other content, presented a challenge for Metal Toad Media, which Raffel hired to dismember the old site and rebuild it from the ground up. (Although just coming up with a template structure helped to speed up the site creation and publishing process.)

Content types include marquee images, rotating slides, movies, clips, episodes, characters, blogs, forum topics, articles and so on. It took Metal Toad three months to design the new site and lay out the taxonomies and another three to launch it on the Drupal 7 platform using three full-time developers and two to three part-time contributors.

"The data structure was one of the most complex we've built because all of the content can relate to all of the other content," says Adam Edgarton, director of project management at Metal Toad Media. Drupal helps with this, because its content types include individual content items, which the Drupal community calls nodes. Edgarton's team used the CMS' ability to create node references to, for example, associate a movie with a video clip or character.

In one part of the project they built a module that inputs XML-formatted TV schedule updates and automatically assigns content types to each part of the schedule. "If a movie appears multiple times per month, the CMS links each of the references in the schedule with the appropriate nodes for that movie, including such things as artwork," Edgarton says.

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