What I Learned at CMS Expo 2010

By Justin Kerr
May 09, 2010

Table of Contents

The recently concluded 2010 CMS Expo in Evanston was a fantastic generator of insight and camaraderie that I found to be extremely valuable for answering questions, making connections with fellow Internet professionals and provoking new ideas for Internet business, development and marketing.  In particular, I came to the following conclusions thanks to the Expo:

The recently concluded 2010 CMS Expo in Evanston was a fantastic generator of insight and camaraderie.  Produced by John and Linda Coonen of the CMS Association,  the CMS Expo covered a variety of open source-based content management systems and related tools and support services. 

I found the Expo to be extremely valuable for answering questions, making connections with fellow Internet professionals and provoking new ideas for Internet business, development and marketing.  In particular, I came to the following conclusions thanks to the Expo:

Drupal isn't the right fit for my business.

Drupal (http://drupal.org) is an open source content management system in many ways similar to the Joomla (http://joomla.org) system with which I'm most familiar.  I had heard a lot about Drupal and its advantages, but I never had an opportunity to try it out or pick the brains of those who have deployed Web sites based on Drupal.

The CMS Expo allowed me to get my feet a little wet with Drupal and most importantly gain an understanding of the product and where it best fits into the market.  Drupal seems to be an extremely powerful and customizable CMS: Again and again I heard “you can do anything with Drupal” from the Drupal track presenters and experts, and indeed this seems to be true.

However, all of this control and customizability comes at some cost.  Drupal more closely resembles a framework upon which just about anything can be built than than an out-of-the-box solution like Wordpress or Joomla.  So, you can build exactly the content types you desire; give them the precise characteristics, fields and functionality you need; and deploy them exactly where, how and when you wish within your Web site.  As a matter of fact, this is something you have to do when deploying Drupal.

In comparison, a tool like Wordpress or Joomla has more standardized features ready to go immediately following installation.  For example, their default “Web page” content object will accommodate most basic Web publishing needs.  If something more specific is required, time must be spent tweaking the default setup of the CMS or installing extensions/plugins/enhancements which deliver the needed features and functionality. 

From the standpoint of an SMB (small- or medium-sized business) with more generalized Internet marketing needs, it is much less expensive to tweak an existing solution that will meet just about all requirements than to build a 100 percent precise solution from the ground up.  Through casual conversations and anecdotes at the CMS Expo, it became clear that Drupal's start-up development costs (what it takes to install and configure the software, build out the site's content types and structure, get the site published, etc.,) easily creep into the low-five figures – $15,000 was an indicative number bandied about.  Note that this doesn't include the content or creative costs of the Web site, or ongoing maintenance. 

In contrast, similar CMS implementation costs for Wordpress or Joomla could range from a couple to several thousand dollars, an order of magnitude less than Drupal.   These systems provide less exactitude and inflict an occasional need to compromise what may be precisely desired for functionality, layout, structure, etc.  However, a small- to medium-sized business's needs should be more than adequately met by these more generalized systems, in nearly all cases.

Note that many value-oriented Drupal solutions are available: One of the Drupal presenters runs a business where her primary offering is $1,500 for a custom Drupal site and a year of hosting.   Based on a side conversation at one of the CMS Expo sessions, she indicated that Drupal does have a very steep learning curve, and that she had spent a significant amount of time developing her particular method and business offering for rapid development and deployment of Drupal Web sites.   From what I can see, Joomla seems to not require the same degree of up-front investment in specialized learning and product development in order to offer the features most often desired for SMB Web sites.

Drupal is still a very capable tool that may be the best option for many Web site deployments, in particular those that have precise and rigid requirements, or those that must include features not yet supported by other platforms, such as granular permissions and multi-site capability.  However, given Drupal's higher cost of entry, the needs of my clientele and target markets, and my current investment in Joomla knowledge, I'm sticking with Joomla.