I've planned to write this article for quite a while, not to profess my love for Drupal, the open source PHP-based web content management system, but to discuss some of Drupal's weaknesses and scenarios where Drupal isn't the best fit. Many of these ideas are relevant to other open source and vendor web content solutions as well.

Because there's a lot to talk about, this is the first in a 3-part series.

Most of my colleagues know that I'm a big proponent of open source software and particularly of Drupal. I started freelancing and building sites with Drupal during the early days of Drupal 5 and have found it to be a great platform for building content-managed sites in many cases. Fast forward 4 years and we at CapTech are running large scale, enterprise projects implementing Drupal.

Also exciting, over the past year or so, Drupal has started to gain more popularity among the "independent" analysts, seeing frequent mentions from Gartnerand Forrester.

With all this hype, there's got to be a down side. So, let's get into it; where might Drupal be a bad option for your content management needs?

1. When Drupal isn't good at the problem you need to solve.

The first question to ask is: what problem are we trying to solve?

Drupal is a great web content management system, but there are other kinds of CMS:

  • Document management systems
  • Digital asset management systems
  • Enterprise Portals
  • Records and claim management systems
  • Collaboration solutions

(As a side note, I agree with the school of thought Laurence Hart describes well - that CMS is a broad category of products, of which web content management is one subset in the CMS space. I've used the graphic above to illustrate this concept to clients).

Drupal is, first and foremost, a strong WCM solution; it has very strong capabilities for theming a web site, managing menus, designing structured content types, building display templates, and other feature sets critical to managing web sites. That said, as with any technology, you can build anything with enough time and money (well, nearly anything).

As an example, even with specialized distributions like Open Atrium, Drupal is not as strong an enterprise collaboration solution as products focused on project and team coordination and document sharing (ie: Sharepoint, Alfresco Share, etc.).

If you're starting a content management project, it's critical that you understand and prioritize the requirements for your effort and map them to the features of the various types of CMS products. I don't intend to trivialize this task; it's not easy - particularly when there is feature overlap between the types of CMS products. For example, I often see questions where a Portal makes sense vs. a Web Content Management system.

So, if you're trying to solve a problem outside of Web Content Management or light Social Software capabilities, there may be better options for you than Drupal.

More to come in the 2nd article in this series: "When you're not in Drupal's sweet spot".