Drupal 7 - a true 'multi-scenario' best fit?

James H's picture

Drupal Commerce in action (click for larger view)

Before I go offline for the summer months to enjoy the UK sun (yeah right ;) ), here is a summary of my findings from spending the last 9 months immersed in Drupal - and particularly the new Drupal 7 offering.

Since becoming involved with web development in the mid 90's and spending most of the last decade working on CMS orientated projects, I have become a great supporter of the Real Story Group and their excellent approach to CMS evaluation.

The terms 'scenario' and 'best fit' are synonymous with its analysis and I have always found its commentary insightful and bang on the money.

For my latest wave of professional and personal web projects, I have become drawn increasingly to the Drupal community and with the excellent support of a former colleague Simon at Holistic Drupal now have a range of commercial and social sites running on the platform - each of which has provided some different learning experiences.

During this process, I have been cross-referencing the experiences with those gained from evaluating and deploying a range of proprietary/commercial solutions over the years - from heavyweight systems like Vignette, Oracle Portal and Documentum to mid market offerings like Alterian/Immediacy, SharePoint and EPiServer and also experiences with open source solutions like Joomla, Typepad and Wordpress .

Proprietary providers like EPiServer are building an increasing positioning around the idea of content management, e-commerce and the social web converging and this is a potential sweet spot I have been exploring in recent years on previous projects for high street consumer brands such as Le Creuset and Kenwood.

So... my assessment of Drupal 7 is very much based against this type of multi-scenario deployment as well as the B2B extranet and internal intranet capabilities to support these scenarios.

  • My first experiences with Drupal were on an experimental version 6 based social media orientated deployment that incorporated blogging, forum and 'wiki-like' communal documentation capabilities, as well as things like integrated Twitter support. These core social publishing elements were essentially what Drupal was designed for originally and that heritage continues to shine through in the version 7 release. This is where Drupal has an immediate advantage over many longer established proprietary/commercial CMS offerings as they have often had to bend and stretch their 'broadcast' mode architectures to incorporate blogging and forum features. This comes at the expense of a seamless publishing and management experience where such attempts to retro-fit these social tools can be clumsy and lack good usability.
  • Drupal 7 - well designed, intuitive and productive usability (click for larger view)

    On basic content management capabilities, Drupal 7 provides one of the most consistent and user-friendly interfaces I have yet used in website development and management. In contrast to a frustrating array of pop-up dialog boxes and inconsistent design elements that can plague proprietary/commercial CMS tools after a few versions, it would appear that time and attention has been lavished on the latest Drupal release to improve the user experience immensely. In my personal opinion this has been time well spent as the propensity for commercial software organisations to add features without spending sufficient time on the user experience undoubtedly degrades the solutions over time. The overall impression is of a very professional looking solution that has been designed to offer flexibility for the community to extend it but within a framework that looks far more substantial than alternative Open Source solutions such as Joomla and Wordpress.

  • Going a few steps deeper, page typing, taxonomy management and content 'views' provide a very powerful set of capabilities that have become simpler and more intuitive to use with version 7. This starts to separate Drupal from the majority of the FOSS pack and opens up the scenario fits considerably.Having used these capabilities to build up product catalogues and personalise content views for registered users I can see how Drupal can address many of the scenarios I've encountered in the past for easy to maintain Extranet and Intranet environments.
  • Then we come to E-Commerce. Long standing Drupal implementors may well be familiar with Ubercart which has been the main shopping cart solution within the community for a number of years. Since 2009, former Ubercart contributors have been creating a revolution with the development of the Drupal Commerce framework. First impressions are good and there is a lot of excellent thinking about how e-commerce is evolving and better ways to integrate it with the community and core content management capabilities of a website. As several of my previous projects have been global in nature and intensely multi-lingual, I have been particularly interested to see this recent case study about Eurocentres and their deployment of Drupal Commerce on the recently relaunched www.eurocentres.com . This shows the potential sophistication of the framework even in its early stages of development.

Suffice it to say I have been extremely impressed with Drupal 7 (and as you may gather from my posts, I'm not easily impressed) and believe organisations wouldn't go far wrong in using it across a broad range of scenarios. A summary of the scenarios I have explored so far is listed below and I'm sure I will be adding to them again soon...

Blogging and community site
  • Wiki-like document collaboration
  • Forums
  • Image galleries
Basic corporate information site
  • Registered areas
  • RSS news feeds
  • Promotional banner
  • Blog support
Sub-brand information site
  • Standard template
  • Bespoke styles
  • Product taxonomy
Sub-brand promotional microsites
  • Consumer facing
  • Search optimised
  • Promotional banners
  • User contribution
  • Dealer locator
Small B2B Product Manufacturer Site
  • Taxonomy driven product catalogue
  • Attribute tagging
  • Image resizing
Large B2B and B2C Product Manufacturer Site
  • Taxonomy driven product catalogue
  • Underlying e-commerce enablement
  • Dealer locator
SMB Consumer E-commerce Site
  • Drupal Commerce framework
  • Configurable banners
  • Corporate account extranet