For little while now I have been dabbling in the open source content management framework Drupal . Drupal promises ( in time) to allow practically anyone to be able to set up and mange complex social web sites with more features than a swiss army knife.
Today a friend of mine Darius asked me for my thoughts on my recent participation in the DrupalCampLA BarCamp. This gathering of self proclaimed Drupal geeks was one of the better events I have been to. The thing that makes all gatherings worthwhile are the people that you interact with.
On this level DrupalCampLA far exceeded my expectation because I came in contact with some real pioneers that are genuine and working hard to bring the platform up to a usable level for everyone including big business. Much credit to Crystal Williams who with AOL and a group of volunteers put together a great event.
The efforts of WorkHabit and Bryght to get this platform usable and maintainable go above and beyond. By using their consulting as a way to fold resources back into the development of Drupal, they not only moves the platform forward, but in the end give their clients better value in a platform that grows with them.
That said there is also a lot of money being spent by the likes Ethan Kaplan over at Warner Brothers Records who have put themselves out on the beading edge by using and pushing the platform for real commercial sites. This is a big risk in many ways since they and a few others really are blazing a trail.
Before you run off and start using Drupal be aware that although it is definitely suitable for many small to medium web sites, configuring and using it is significantly more difficult than WordPress and it does not yet scale to the level of MySpace or Facebook. Drupal is also potentially a real performance hog if you don’t pay attention to how modules interact.
My takeaway from DrupalCampLA is that Drupal is a good content management platform with a alot of features and a thriving community of developers. It has a long way to go, but it is the developers and people like Jonathan Lambert at Workhabit that will eventually evolve Drupal into a scalable and maintainable enterprise grade solution for real development. If your development curve and needs matches that of Drupal you should give it a try.
Another side observation is that for many applications Drupal is a better solution than Rails. The reason is that the development community is much more open about sharing modules that you can build on. Starting with a content management system as its core means that CMS is core to any module created. This is a big benefit for anyone that uses it and instantly increases the value.
The velocity of exposed and usable community development outstrips the difficulty of developing in PHP. At this point, while I dislike PHP, it is already scalable (with work) and I believe will through Drupal and some Rails like frameworks be the only logical choice for social web development in the next few years.