What is Drupal? (without the geek speak, please)

The very simple answer is: Drupal is a content management system (CMS.) Ie, Drupal lets you manage the content on your website. But Drupal is way more than just a CMS. Drupal is really a platform for web application development. By itself, it doesn’t do much, but it’s the foundation on which all the other functions and features are built.

Let’s consider a common Drupal analogy: A restaurant.

In our analogy, Drupal is the kitchen. You can’t eat the kitchen, nor does the kitchen provide for any of the actual ingredients to make a meal, but it does provide for the workplace to assemble the ingredients into a meal. In our analogy, the meal is the resulting website. The raw food ingredients (meat, mushrooms, salt, etc.) are the bits of code that come together to make the meal.

To get more granular, bits of code (or, raw ingredients) go together to make more complex portions of the meal. For example, one could combine eggs and oil and get mayo. Mayo is a module. You can further combine modules to make some of the more final-use features and functions. For example, you can combine mayo with bread with ground beef, and you get a hamburger. In the Drupal world, you may combine a login module, a registration module, and a calendar module to get an event management system.

A hamburger by itself isn’t a full meal. You need to combine other multi-food components to round it out. So we add fries, a shake, maybe a salad, and a side of slaw, and now we have a meal. Just as you might combine an event management system, a content management system, an ecommerce shopping cart, and a social media system, to end up with a full-featured website that’s ready for the world. And again, Drupal is the kitchen in which all these food components are made. By itself, it doesn’t get you a meal. But when supplied with good ingredients and a skilled chef, it’s the set of tools and workplaces that an excellent meal can be crafted.

Hungry yet? Let’s keep going…

To extend our Drupal analogy, Taoti’s roll is that of a commercial restaurant—a 5-star restaurant, of course ;-). Taoti employs chefs (programmers) who skillfully select the best ingredients and cook them up into high-end websites. And just as there are difference in the quality of chefs and restaurants, there are differences in the quality of web shops and programmers. True, that while the raw ingredients are basically freely available to anyone, that doesn’t mean that just anyone can transform simple ingredients into a gourmet meal!

And if we further the Drupal analogy just a bit more… Not all restaurants cook anything for anyone. Most restaurants specialize so that they can focus on one type of cuisine and master it. Taoti’s cuisine is centered around association and organization-based web sites (basically, any website in which there are members or groups of users/chapters/etc.) That’s not to say that we can’t cook-to-order just about any meal that you might request, but if you want our house specialty, it’s in member/user-centric web applications.

I get it–you like Drupal. But what are the other options if not Drupal?

Drupal isn’t the only game in town. You can either custom-build your web project, or you can use some sort of existing platform (such as Drupal.) Drupal has some competitors. You may have heard of Joomla, WordPress, Dot Net Nuke, SiteWorks, etc. (we don’t name these things.) In the world of platforms, there are proprietary (you pay for and buy the code), and “open-source” (the code is built and maintained by a world-wide community of developers who basically give it away for free for the common good. Really. It used to be that the open-source stuff wasn’t fully baked and not ready for the big time. But modern open-source CMS platforms (including Drupal) have matured into very stable and secure systems. 71 out of 100 of the top universities in the US use Drupal. The White House uses Drupal. The US District Courts and the FCC use Drupal. And the Drupal adopters are growing by leaps and bounds (which is one of the reason Taoti has firmly planted our flag in the Drupal camp.)

Proprietary systems mean that you’re stuck with the features and functions of that software. And they are usually FAR less tested and vetted when compared to open-source systems (because one company has far fewer resources and clients than the entire universe of open-source developers.) And with proprietary systems, you’re usually stuck with the people who created them. If things don’t work out, it’s tough to just hire someone else to pick up where they left off. Many times, they have “black box” components that intentionally make it nearly impossible for anyone else to work on their code. Open-source is the opposite. It’s all about transparency and community and sharing. Developers go through great lengths to document code for each other and to make it easy to share and collaborate with. And get this: it’s all free! Drupal itself is free, are the tens of thousands of modules that developers have contributed to the Drupal movement.

Speaking of modules, that’s really where we can make the case for Drupal. Drupal has a community of tens of thousands of programmers who build modules (features and functions) that basically ‘plug in’ to the Drupal “core.” These modules are what really bring web sites to life and make them useful. Again, they’re free! Granted, they’re not all created equally—some of them are contributed by big companies with teams of developers, and others by kids in study hall. (So one of the marks of a good Drupal consultant is being able to tell which modules are ready for public consumption, versus those that should be kept for private collections.) And if you need something that there isn’t a Drupal module for, we can build that module to any specification that you want. So you get the advantage of a website that is 100% customizable, but with the economy and stability that come with re-using recycled code for common functions (like logging in, registering users, sending newsletters, etc.)

Clearly, we’ve got a crush on Drupal. Of all the open source platforms, it’s the most extensible, scalable, secure, and flexible. And we think that open-source over proprietary system is almost always a no-brainer. That said, some of our biggest and best projects are actually totally-custom builds, so it’s not that we’re biased. And Taoti is very much up to the task when it comes to truly custom development. In fact, our forte starting with open source platforms and then really extending them by adding custom features and functions that make the websites earn their keep.