This site operates using WordPress, which is an amazing system for personal blogging. I’ve been messing around with it for a few years now, helping friends or clients build relatively basic web sites on top of it. I’m so impressed at the work the community has put into it, and how polished it has become. I recently needed to do an upgrade and was blown away by how easy it was. With the right plug ins in place, backing the system up takes one click and doing the upgrade is another. That’s it. For anyone interested in building a blog for teaching purposes, or looking for a straight-forward CMS, it is a very good choice. With every version there are significant improvements, many of them which just make me shake my head and smile at what the “crowd” can accomplish.
I also work a lot with the Drupal content management system. Both the reSearcher and PKP web sites run on Drupal, as does the SFU Library’s site. I’ve also installed it on my own test server and played around with it quite a bit. One of the best things about Drupal is the committed community of users and developers. I don’t think I’ve come across a problem yet that wasn’t solved by a quick google search and an answer on a support forum or someone’s personal web site. The fact that libraries in particular have picked up on Drupal is great to see, too. Sites like my colleague Mark Jordan’s Drupalib and the drupal4lib listserv have resulted in a tremendously useful community of users with knowledge of specific library needs. I’m not a software developer, but I know from working closely with them that Drupal is robust enough to meet pretty much all of their needs. Follow the threads on the listserv and you’ll quickly see what I mean.
One of the downsides that you often hear about Drupal, however, is that it has a steep learning curve and a less-than-ideal user interface. It is an incredibly powerful, complex program, but it isn’t always the easiest for end-users to work with. For example, a typical library web site will be administered by a systems tech, who more often than not is thrilled to be working with Drupal. For the librarians or library staff tasked with adding content, however, they are not always quite so enthusiastic. I’ve been working with my local library association over the past few years, helping them improve their web presence. We first decided to go with Drupal, based on its known robustness. What was interesting to see, though, was that their needs were very basic and none of the power of Drupal was really required. On the other hand, many of the end users who needed to add content found it too difficult to work with. We recently switched it over to WordPress, and everyone now seems quite happy. It turned out to be a great example of the importance of doing a careful needs assessment with the community that will be using the software. Sometimes simpler is better.