When we began researching our options for a new association management system several years ago, we knew that such a change would sever the link between our Websites and the member data. With all the changes we already had planned, it made sense to review our options for website content management systems (CMSs) as part of the process - ensuring that all of our technology services provided best-of-breed solutions and were well-aligned with each other. The final selection was nearly discounted as an unlikely candidate early on, but a little unbiased research made for a surprisingly easy choice in the end - Drupal.
A long-time staple in the open source software arena, Drupal has demonstrated that community-driven software can not only survive, but actually become a world-class solution for businesses, institutions, and associations alike. Because of this widespread adoption, healthy development and hosting communities, and an array of pre-existing modules to integrate all manners of add-on functionality (including integration with our association data), Drupal was a natural choice for AJJ and our clients.
The list of Drupal adopters to date is impressive, ranging from businesses such as ING and Forrester Research, to government agencies such as the FCC and the Department of Education, and educational institutions that include Harvard, Yale, and M.I.T. And, as far as associations go, being on Drupal puts you in the company of the American Library Association and Mensa – need we say more?
Historically, Drupal’s adoption rate in higher education has been fairly high for some time - with nearly 30% of all U.S. colleges and universities making extensive use of the software. The other markets, though, have really just begun to pick up steam in the last two years or so. Some would argue that the extensive use of open-source solutions in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, and the subsequent adoption of Drupal for the recovery.gov and whitehouse.gov Websites, is what really propelled Drupal into the mainstream.
The truth to that isn’t as important as understanding the type of people involved, because they are the glue that holds Drupal together as an open-source community in ways few others have managed. The people responsible for adopting Drupal in the White House are the same type of people who have embraced Drupal both as users and ongoing caretakers of the software itself. These are people who are passionate about the exchange of human ideas in a social forum, and the process of growth that comes out of that exchange - people from all different countries and political affiliations. They know how to define and engage communities in social and political causes, and they bring their strengths with them to the Drupal community - giving it both the momentum to drive it forward, and the cohesiveness to keep it from tearing apart in the process.
Bearing that in mind, along with the fact that a major update to Drupal was released at the beginning of 2008, it’s fair to say that Drupal doesn’t owe its growth to any one event or circumstance. One thing Drupal’s adoption within U.S government did do, rather, is put a very public spotlight on Drupal. And with publicity, of course, comes scrutiny.
The good news for Drupal is that it is now in its tenth year as an open source platform and has already been subject to public scrutiny from the very beginning, as that’s what open source is all about. More than two years later, Drupal has clearly demonstrated that it has the technical brawn to back up its pretty face.
In fact, from a technical standpoint, Drupal is about as close to a Jack-of-all-trades as you can get in a CMS. Because it began life as an online community platform, Drupal’s built-in features for developing a community-based Web site (like an association) are significant and powerful. With the ability to add new functionality through custom modules, and the availability of over 11,000 existing modules, the sky’s the limit in terms of what can be accomplished.
There are add-on modules available to do everything from integrating a Web site with netForum, to making editing site content more user-friendly, to creating user discussion areas, and so much more. This diverse pool of add-on abilities means that there is very likely something out there to accommodate almost any need, which translates to less time spent re-inventing the wheel.
Such a wealth of modules available highlights the healthy state of the developer community supporting Drupal, both those on the “inside” and those in the Web community at large. Nearly constant effort goes into the core of Drupal and many of the available modules, both updating the existing versions and developing entirely new ones. For instance, the entire Drupal platform just completed another major revision this year (one that will expand its appeal to an even broader developer and user base by improving performance and ease of use), and development of the next major version is moving forward at full steam.
We’re excited to embrace a technology platform so well suited to our needs and the needs of our clients. We launched the MSNCB website (msncb.org) in Drupal in the Spring, and the new site was met with praise from both MSNCB and users of the site. The rest of AJJ's client sites will be going live in the next three to six months - starting with AAACN in October - and we expect everyone to be equally pleased with the end results.
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