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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Metal Toad Media also develops WordPress sites, but turned to Drupal this time around. "Once we get into the 200-hour-and-up range, it starts to make sense to go with Drupal," Edgarton says. For this project, which was three times the size of a typical engagement, he adds, Drupal was a perfect fit for the task.

Raffel also wanted a "responsive design," a feature supported in Drupal 7 that allows a single instance of the site to adapt to tablet, smartphone or desktop screens. "We built three versions of the site without building three versions of the site. It's been amazing for us," says Raffel.

Drupal's HTML5-based boilerplate got the ball rolling. "There's still a lot of coding needed to align all of the elements, but it gave us a good start," Edgarton says.

Fearnet also has a member area where approximately 300,000 fans can maintain personal profiles, publish reviews, post to blogs and embed videos within them. Metal Toad created a set of content types for the community pages, making use of an existing Drupal model that enables the embedding of videos from specific sites (to avoid potential malware problems).

While the new Fearnet community site works fine, the user experience differs significantly from the old one. As a result, the redesign generated some complaints when it was launched. "The community is a very vocal group and they weren't happy," Raffel says.

While the new Fearnet community site works fine, the user experience differs significantly from the old one -- and as a result, it generated some complaints when it changed.

While he doesn't regret rebuilding the community portion of the site, "I do regret trying to rebuild it at the same time as the rest of the site," he says.

For Raffel, choosing Drupal came down to finding an open source CMS that could handle the design and implementation challenges of a complex project. "We just felt more comfortable with Drupal in general as the platform of choice," he says. "Open source meant that we not only had the developers we hired working for us, but thousands of Drupal coders creating modules that we could use.... Drupal to us was the most flexible, cost efficient answer without having to sacrifice quality."

Intially, Raffel was also concerned about feedback that Drupal can be difficult to use. But the new system is in fact easier to use than the previous one, he says. "The tools we have are very intuitive."

Raffel and senior site producer Chris Connors now manage the technical aspects of the site on a day-to-day basis, while two Fearnet staffers regularly update the video and editorial content. Media Toad trained the staff and a few freelancers on the new CMS, which Raffel says is "very intuitive."

"When we train someone new on the CMS it usually takes about 20 minutes for them to get the hang of it and start using it on their own. It's very easy," he says.

Today site traffic is up, and performance is better. "We hit all of the numbers we expected," Raffel says. "Now we can do really cool things online. If we need a new section on zombies or vampires we can build it quickly."

Robert L. Mitchell is a national correspondent for Computerworld. Follow him on Twitter at  @rmitch, or email him at

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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