WordPress Vs. Drupal – The CMS Gloves Are Off!!!

A quick translation for those lucky people who don’t spend their free time obsessing about content management systems. WordPress is an open source weblogging platform. It’s the platform I use to manage this blog and the platform – with some modifications – that Global Voices runs on. It has a reputation for being very user friendly, but for having some underlying architectural problems that make it hard to scale. Drupal is an open source multi-purpose content management system designed for the support of complex websites with multiple authors. It has a reputation for being ludicriously flexible, ungodly powerful and far too complex for mere mortals to use.

This quote from the brilliant Ethan Zuckerman on his blog in August 2005, and for the longest time, I have sympathised with him. The tables are turning…

wordpress logoWhen I started blogging in 2005 Blogger.com, the free hosted Google-owned solution was the most prominent, user-friendly option available. Second to that was TypePad, slightly more extensible but not free. As I graduated from various strata of code-and-geek-aversion, I eventually found my way to WordPress. WordPress at that time did not offer a free hosted option which they currently do at WordPress.com – I suggest this as the best option to people wanting to start up a blog right now with no technical expertise.

I evolved into a relatively capable WordPress user – relative that is for someone who thought HTML stood for Hot Teachers Make Livings. Somewhere during this journey, as I started to do work for corporates, MacGeek Roger suggested I take a look at Drupal. I asked him to set up a site for me, which he kindly did. It took me two seconds on the site to realise I had absolutely no idea where to start. He assured me of it’s capabilities, and we took a leap of faith. Let’s just say my first few dabbles into Drupal were dismal.

Present day. At Cerebra we employ two of the smartest Drupal guys in the country – Carl and Andre. I’ve just sent one of them to DrupalCon in Barcelona. He will make coffee for me forever. The WordPress vs. Drupal argument has raged in our office on more than one occasion. I have lambasted Carl because he seems to think that Drupal will save the planet. I have chastised Andre because he seems to think that working with Drupal should come as naturally to everyone as breathing does.

Still, despite my frustrations, they have been patient with me and have pointed me to really useful Drupal resources like Lullabot. In spending more time with Drupal on numerous client projects and checking out online resources, I have come to the following conclusions:

  1. Drupal is far more powerful, stable and extensible than WordPress is
  2. Drupal is not nearly as accessible or user-friendly to install and learn as WordPress (from the perspective of a non-techie)
  3. Drupal improves drastically with every version – if you’ve tried it before and been turned off give it another go
  4. The Drupal dev community needs to work hard on making Drupal easier to theme
  5. Drupal’s problem is that the community behind it – genius’s that they are – simply don’t get marketing – they need more people like the gang at Lullabot, and I daresay you and I to help them ‘humanise’ Drupal
  6. Honestly, working with Drupal makes me feel like a geek god. It’s amazing what you can achieve with it

So in the interest of giving back to the community that has offered us so much in a platform that we use to drive almost all of our client projects we’re going to host some Drupal workshops next year for those of you who want to learn and feel like geek gods too. As a teaser to these check out this video from a week ago by one of Lullabot’s genius’s.

  • deshanta

    Here’s another user’s perspective on the two content management systems : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9Gw8W4ED64

    I’m actually using one of the ‘ugly themes’ Chris speaks about so if any good designers are reading this, please contact me for a consult :-)

  • I’ve been using WordPress for a couple years now, and I love it. I tried Drupal out, but it was dog ugly and restricted in terms of themes etc.

    I loaded it on a test server the other day and to my surprise, found that it had grown up to be quite a powerful and good looking piece of software.

    Awesome stuff, and a tight battle.

  • gmk

    WordPress is great, but its performance leaves a lot to be desired especially on a busy site. I have never given Drupal the time of day it probably deserves.

    I enjoy WP just becasue i am well versed in it and i can knock out a site in about three hours. From installation to a final theme – not to many CMS can say that.

    So it remains the choice for smaller clients.

    That said i think i will make Drupal the CMS of the summer and see what i can learn.

  • Two words:

    Expression Engine

  • Sure, WP is easy to use. Drupal not so much.
    Question could be from a techie side, which is better, but from a consumer side, it takes the following tone “which is easier?”

    So, Drupal might be so much better, but perhaps, from a client side (SME clients anyway), it is still more beneficial to implement a system which they are able to use? Thus, leaving the option in their hands whether they want powerful functionality, or are willing to settle for a little less, but be able to manage their own site?

  • agree, Drupal is not easy to style which is why the blue pixie’s face and garamond (theme name?) leers at you from so many sites.

    WP is ridiculously easy to style, take a good theme and you can make it jump through flaming rings o’ fire. I’ve also hacked WP’s innards to make a “email to comments” workaround, and I’m not a PHP cowboy.

    Having said that, heard some negative things about WP MU. which makes Drupal a safer bet for larger enterprises.

  • Thanks for the kind words, Mike! You’ve got some great points here. Several of your points seem to overlap with an article that I wrote a while back. This ‘humanizing’ process is no small feat and there truly aren’t enough people working on this aspect of Drupal. However I’m sure any work in this area will be accepted into the project with open arms. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you organize it! ;-)

  • Interesting article, Mike. Thanks for writing it up. The bits about the difficulty of theming and skinning are also touched on in an article I wrote and a a recent blog post about some of the changes to the theming engine in Drupal 6. With that version around the corner there are a lot of potential paths for folks interested in designing original new themes, and the learning curve has been smoothed considerably.

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  • I’ve spent the last 2 months learning Drupal for my new startup, and I must say I agree with several of your observations – it’s an incredibly powerful beast that continues to amaze me every time I gaze deeper into the source.

    And this is coming from a ‘techie’ Comp Sci background, so I can’t imagine how everyone else must be feeling about it!

    The biggest problem I find is that there are no clear “best” ways to do things. You can scour the contributed modules with an idea of what you want to achieve, and find 10 different ways of doing it, with no way to decide which is the correct one besides trying every approach.

    Some modules adhere to correct standards, like the correct place to apply HTML tags and theme content, whereas others don’t. But there’s no warning on that module saying “THIS MODULE IS A HACK” so if you’re still a beginner you may end up copying lots of “bad” code… for example, code that doesn’t correctly use the Forms API.

    However, I feel it is one of the most exciting projects available to work on, and skills in Drupal will hopefully be highly sought after in SA! :)

  • sameh

    by the way what is dupel

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  • drew

    Drupal and WordPress provide solutions to related, but quite different, web needs. They both have their strengths, although claims about Drupal’s performance and stability are meaningless without sound benchmark comparisons. (As a Drupaller, I’m rooting for it, but recognize that it has a long way to go to reach WordPress’ adoption rate.)

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  • Maxwell

    Nice post guys!! While I’m CONVINCED about the merits on Drupal’s abilities, I think perhaps it’s best suited for the more experienced coder/web developer until Hell freezes over, and things get simpler for newbies. But different strokes for different folks, right?? Heck, I just recently ditched Windoze for Mac OS/X.
    Perhaps the masses will flock to Drupal – some day. :-)

    BTW, how does it compare to Expression Engine? I’m curious.

    – Max (aka MaxTheITpro)
    blogs: http://MaxTheITpro.BlogSpot.com

  • re: your #6 –
    ” Honestly, working with Drupal makes me feel like a geek god. It’s amazing what you can achieve with it”

    I’m embarrassed to admit that I feel the same way about something as “simple” as WordPress. I’ve learned far more about code than any end user should have to.

    I love (and live) WordPress, but it has a few frustrations –

    Jumping ahead 10 full months from this post, what’s changed for Drupal?

    I admit it’s been 2 years since we’ve visited Drupal and had to abandon it, and figuring things out for WP was just far simpler with the larger and as you point out, “marketing minded” community.

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  • One needs to make a clear separation between aesthetics and a professional, safe system when it comes to server side applications such as content management systems.

    I like wordpress and drupal alot, they are very nice products when it comes to simple hobby sites, family sites and blogs. But if one requires something more serious, I would recommend you to take a look at http://www.perl.org for the Perl language and http://www.cpan.org for all the addons it offers. My choice always been webapp perl cms from http://www.web-app.net because it is safer, faster and much more stable then any PHP cms out there.


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