How does Drupal rate as a Web 2.0 blog software tool?

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Drupal banner image by cocoate.com @ Flickr

Opening Drupal out of the box is like opening a model kit of an airplane minus the instructions. Reviews of Drupal have warned that it takes a little more time and tech knowledge to get it going in the ways that you want it to, but it seems from my test drive that the investment would be worth it in the long run. Unfortunately, this review only takes into account my experience of the software right out of the box with no prior training, from the eyes of a Drupal newbie.

 Drupal Dashboard

Drupal’s Dashboard
Drupal’s Configuration Screen

The dashboard seems complicated at first, as you have to navigate a few links to be able to start adding features that you would like to see when you log in. Where Drupal lacks in aesthetics it gains in simplicity of layout and the ability to make the dashboard totally personalized. Not only can you choose what you want to see, but you can configure each block the way you want it. Instead of links on the side, like in WordPress, the menu is along the top. The configuration screen in Drupal is a second area that would be clumped in with the dashboard in WordPress. Likewise, this screen is simple and configurable.

Dashboard rating: 10

Drupal Themes

Drupal’s Theme Selector

Drupal’s theme area is good, but only average. It is simple, and can be used to select a theme that you must upload from outside the software. That is probably where it is not as good as the WordPress theme area, as you cannot search right from the dashboard. You would need a zip file of the theme or the URL to a theme stored online. Thankfully, you can adjust a theme’s settings from here, but you cannot make any changes to the theme’s PHP code. I feel like it is lacking in functionality somehow.

Theme rating: 7

 Drupal Blocks (Widgets)

Drupal’s Block (Widget) Page

The blocks functionality of Drupal is where it shines. You can really customize the look and feel of your Drupal site with the concept of blocks. Themes will have different block regions, whether it is a header, featured area, sidebar or content area, but each block is configurable. A drop-down list reveals the type of content to include in the block. Everything is customizable.

Drupal’s blocks are contained within a larger group of modules called “Structure.” Some of these types of modules, such as discussion forums, are not packaged in the core WordPress software. It becomes clear that Drupal has a lot more under the hood than WordPress: which makes sense since WordPress is designed mainly for creating simple blogs, whereas Drupal is a full-fledged “social publishing” software. WordPress can therefore create a blog quickly, whereas Drupal offers more potential for expanding and growing the site at the cost of development time and money. This score reflects simply functionality.

Blocks (Widget) rating: 10

Drupal Modules (Plugins)

Drupal Modules (Plugins) Area

The Drupal modules section is excellent, with a list of all the enabled modules that have been uploaded to the site. What makes me excited here is that the core Drupal software contains a large number of modules that can be activated, whereas WordPress only has “Hello Dolly!” Modules can be configured right here on this page, instead of hunted for elsewhere. The only drawback is that, like the themes section, there is no search tool for finding new modules in the admin area, so the blogger has to find a URL or a zipped file and upload it.

Modules (Plugins/extensions) rating: 9

Drupal Edit Post Tool

Posting an Article or Page in Drupal

Drupal has many great features and the ability for total customization. Perhaps this is why I was so dismayed by the post creation and editing tool. Where simplicity is important for layouts and gathering information, here it definitely works against the user. It is a little confusing which style to write in as they are not intuitive: filtered html, full html, plain text, or php code anyone? The definitions are a bit confusing and would require some sample posts to get it right… not having a WYSIWYG is a deal breaker for me, as I like to be able to move my pictures around and see how it all looks before publishing. Perhaps there is a plugin module that can be added to give Drupal this functionality, but I would have to search first before committing to Drupal as my CMS. How unfair! (A quick search did find a few WYSIWYG modules, but it would take time to test them and decide which is the best to use.)

Post editor rating: 5

Drupal total score: 41/50

Bonus: Taking a look at Drupal Gardens!

Since my post mentioning Drupal Gardens earlier this week, I thought I would set up a test account and see if this service was worth a serious consideration. There is a pricing structure to consider (from free to $79.95/mo.), but this is a cost analysis for a later discussion. One feature that’s extremely important is that the user’s files at Drupal Gardens can be downloaded if the user wants to self-host a Drupal core site.

At a simple glance, I looked at the Drupal Gardens sample list of sites using the service, and the majority were music and film artists with informational sites, but not necessarily blogs. Can the Drupal Gardens service add more to the conversational mix than the Drupal core software? What areas can Drupal Gardens improve upon? Let’s check it out…*
 *note that back-end admin images will not be used due to possible copyright restrictions as Drupal Gardens is a paid service and not open source or creative commons.

Drupal Gardens Dashboard

The Drupal Gardens dashboard is identical to the Drupal core software reviewed above, and receives no change in score.

Dashboard rating: 10

Drupal Gardens Themes

Drupal Gardens sites are centered entirely around theme templates, such as one for a political campaign, a product, a blog, or a new creation by the user. When starting a site, the user selects features they would like to have, such as comments, social sharing, rotating banners, and forums. Then the site is created for the user. And who needs third-party themes? The Theme Builder allows users to change the look and layout of the site using a WYSIWYG interface. The biggest improvement on this design editor is the ability to change styles in Drupal Gardens using WYSIWYG. For instance, if you click a secondary link, then ALL secondary links are highlighted and change to your specifications! This is a time saver and a game changer.

Themes rating: 10

Drupal Gardens Blocks

The Drupal Gardens blocks function is identical to the Drupal core software reviewed above, and receives no change in score.

Blocks rating: 10

Drupal Gardens Modules

Drupal Gardens sites have a number of pre-installed modules that can be activated, however new modules or third-party modules cannot be added. This is a huge disappointment, as there are thousands of third-party modules that can improve a blog’s functionality. For a blog beta launch, this may not be devastating as Drupal Gardens allows for transferring your site to a self-hosted Drupal core installation in the event the site moves past beta and into a more professional company structure. Still, Drupal Gardens limits a blog’s functionality with this policy.

Modules rating: 6

Drupal Gardens Post Editor

DrupalGardens has a WYSIWYG interface in the post editor. Brilliant! ‘Nuff said!

Post Editor rating: 10

Drupal Gardens total score: 46/50

Scores so far: WordPress 46, Drupal 41, Drupal Gardens 46.

Next up: Test flight of Joomla!

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Mickel is an MLIS and the creator of Library Currents. His inspiration for the blog was the SJSU course "The Hyperlinked Library" taught by Dr. Michael Stephens, a course that is also a worldwide MOOC. If you wish to contact him, feel free to write to Mickel Paris at librarycurrents1@aol.com.

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