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Drupal

Drupal Foundation

Drupal

Drupal is a long-standing, open source Content Management System (CMS) player whose growing complexity over the years has come to preclude it from all but the higher echelons of news publishing.

  • The platform excels at publishing high volumes of metadata-enriched, structured content; think of it as a vast database of intelligent content
  • Drupal can famously be extended by a plethora of third-party modules, but this adds substantial complexity (with attendant frustrations, delays, and costs) for news organizations, and therefore Drupal today is most apt for large news organizations with ample tech resources
  • As with WordPress, you'll want to work with a commercial managed service provider that can host, update, and secure your Drupal environment
  • Some named customers on the platform include The Economist, Crains, Patch, and The Cook Political Report

Likely fit

Today, Drupal best fits a mid-sized (or ideally larger) news organization, especially one with a high-volume of editorial throughput where content gets published to specific sections of a site via metadata in a less curated model. It also suits a news organization that wants to create highly customized experiences, both for readers and journalists. Of course in either case, this means managing a team of Drupal-proficient developers. Conversely, smaller news organizations should avoid this platform and seek more news-specific solutions.

At a glance

Primary Customer Fit

Large News Organization

Secondary Fit

Mid-Sized Independent News Organization

Most Active Geographies

Global

Official Support Hours

Depends on managed service provider

Officially Supported Languages for User Interface

EN

Third-party Language Support Available?

Yes

License Model

Core license is open source. Managed hosting and commercial add-on modules (e.g., from Acquia) cost extra

Scope Summary

Drupal is primarily a content production and site-management platform that heavily relies on third-party modules for news-specific capabilities and revenue-related features

Tech Base

PHP

Cloud Model

Managed Service (PaaS)

Headquarters

N/A

Head Count

N/A

What customers report

  • Designed explicitly for community-generated content, Drupal combines social interaction and web publishing into one platform
  • The platform is feature-rich, with thousands of add-on modules, some of which provide connector frameworks to integrate with other news systems like wire feeds
  • Drupal natively provides good support for "placeless" (as opposed to page-based) delivery and reuse of richly tagged content, as well as metadata-driven navigation and section-head pages
  • Drupal offers better multi-lingual support than most CMS platforms
  • You can find a diverse ecosystem of hosting and support offerings available in global marketplace
  • Large global developer community can help interpret the platform's complexity, especially for mid-market customers
  • News-oriented Drupal sites must rely on third-party modules for a complete solution, which creates complexity and can delay upgrades when module developers lag Drupal’s core release cycle
  • Consequently, Drupal is comparatively developer-heavy, while poor documentation aggravates this challenge
  • Drupal’s WYSIWYG editor provides a weak in-context experience, thus reducing its usefulness for page-level curation
  • More generally, journalists tend to criticize the usability of Drupal more than other platforms
  • Drupal's total cost of ownership (TCO) can escalate rapidly depending on the degree of customization and breadth of modules required

Background

  • One of the older platforms in this report, open-source Drupal has been around since 2001. Its origins as a combination CMS + Community platform made it immediately popular with some media firms trying to foster user-generated content and community services in the pre-social network era. Over time — particularly in the past decade — Drupal became much more complex as it modernized, and today its media footprint tends to fall mostly among larger news organizations that can afford to retain multiple Drupal-specific developers.
  • Much of Drupal's move up-market comes from Acquia, the major commercial firm in the ecosystem that drives the roadmap and sells higher-end modules not available elsewhere.
  • Unlike WordPress, Drupal excels at structured content and managing content components that "know where they are supposed to go," based on metadata. This makes it suitable for larger, information-rich sites, where, for example, managing topic and section-head pages becomes too manually intensive. It's like a smart database for content. For editors familiar with working in another CMS platform, however, changing to Drupal will become a considerable shift. Content and modules are not managed in pages, folders, and tree structures; instead the structure gets built "from the bottom up" based on metadata. This can prove challenging and indeed potentially unnecessary for news organizations that flow content in a more top-down way. Fortunately, Drupal's taxonomy management subsystem (which drives where content appears) is quite sophisticated.
  • Like WordPress, Drupal licensees benefit from an exceptionally wide ecosystem of consultancies, gurus, and module developers. Indeed Drupal's module ecosystem is broader than that of WordPress, and Drupal itself is explicitly designed to be heavily customized and extended. However, there seems to be a "Drupal way" of doing everything, and that makes it a kind of an opaque art, such that the platform consistently lies among the most dreaded in annual web developer surveys. Nevertheless, this flexibility has enabled some Drupal-powered news sites to create advanced applications like reader-generated recipes (with approval workflows) and exceptionally complicated video carousels.
  • In terms of what "comes out of the box," sometimes publishers express surprise about the lack of native Drupal features specifically targeting news organizations. For example, there's no formal Digital Asset Management (DAM) system and no native subscription or paywall services. Drupal gurus typically reply, "there's a module for that" — and that's almost always true. The trick is to find the right module and then often have a Drupal expert customize it to your needs. Many advanced features (DAM, multi-title management, personalization, packaged headless edition) must be licensed and hosted commercially from Acquia.
  • Various firms over the years have tried to package specific Drupal "distributions" targeted at news organizations, akin to Newspack for WordPress. None seem to have survived recent major Drupal platform upgrades.
  • On the plus side, in choosing Drupal you enter a vast ecosystem of independent developers and consultancies, whom you may meet at the almost unparalleled breadth of Drupal user groups (online and in-person) around the world.
  • Also, you can find a wide range of commercial Drupal hosting and support packages, ranging from exceptionally cheap for the basics, to exceptionally expensive for things like high availability and advanced security controls. As with WordPress, someone will need to keep the system consistently patched against the torrent of attacks this widely-deployed platform invites.

Package scope (as reported by vendor)

Core platform - i.e., bundled in product (yes/no/beta) Add-On (yes/custom/3rd party)
Content lifecycle: author / classify / edit / approve / publish / re-purpose / archive / dispose
Yes
Basic digital / voice / media asset management
Yes
3rd Party
Support print publishing
No
3rd Party
Simple social media re-publishing
Yes
3rd Party
Optional modules: forms / polls / social widgets / etc
Yes
3rd Party
Connector library (OOTB connectors, APIs, etc.)
No
3rd Party
Bundled CDN (with DDOS protection)
No
3rd Party
User registration
Yes
3rd Party
Subscription management and fulfillment - digital
No
Subscription or membership
No
Personalisation
Yes
3rd Party
Ad management - digital
No
3rd Party
Ad management - print
No
Content management
No
Research
Yes
3rd Party
Content management
No
Video management / OVP
No
3rd Party
Audio management / podcasting
No
3rd Party
Data journalism and visualisation
No
3rd Party
Classifieds
No
3rd Party
Commenting / community features/
Yes
Newsletter production and management
No
3rd Party
Notifications and alerts
Yes
A/B testing
No
3rd Party
SEO
No
3rd Party
Multi-title management with variable inheritance
No
3rd Party
Complex layout and subsite / subsection cloning
Yes
AR- / VR- enhanced services
No
Audience segmentation
Yes
Online user / partner forums
Yes
Regular user group meetings
Yes
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