Bye, Drupal

For many years, since version 4, I was an evangelist for the Drupal content management system. I built a lot of PHP modules for it and considered myself fairly expert with it.  One Drupal site I built ran 90% on a custom module I’d built called FeedBuddy. It was an RSS aggregator of third party web sites. I beta’d it on HomeOwnersLike.US where it was one-stop shopping for the DIY house renovation community. Users with home renovation blogs like my own Brooklyn Row House could auto-enroll their site’s RSS feeds and FeedBuddy would scrape them every day for fresh content.  You could upload custom art for your feed homepage, start a private Facebook-like “wall”, lotsa stuff. I was proud of my achievement.

A few people “got it” but most needed hand-holding through the byzantine sign-up form. There simply wasn’t an easy way to tell non-techie people how to find their RSS feed URL and type or even how to make a 200×60 image for their banner.  In the end, I was disappointed that nobody seemed to like it a tenth as much as me.  I got the message from the deafening silence and took down HomeOwnersLike.US five years ago. Nobody missed it.  Neither did I, for that matter.

Truth is, I spent probably twice as much time building that friggin’ Drupal module as I would have building it from scratch in PHP or Laravel.

I talked many clients and friends into adopting Drupal, including large organizations like the Childrens Health Fund. My first clue that something was wrong was that I was getting no gushing expressions of appreciation for my wisdom. If I was a customer service type I would have gotten the clue a lot sooner: people were overwhelmed by Drupal and its maintenance demands. It was hard finding junior techie types competent enough to administer it, let alone not crash it.  And then there were the core updates to Drupal itself. There is nothing in technology more painful than a major version upgrade of Drupal.  It took me so long to upgrade own Drupal 6 sites to Drupal 7 that Drupal 8 got released before I was two-thirds done!

My final foray into the Drupal world was in 2016 when I went to work for the Cybersecurity Office at the Department of Homeland Security for their cybersecurity education site, NICCS. There were four very sharp hands-on developers, a designer and a technically competent project manager… all to work on this one web site, which was basically just a Javascript-driven geo map of schools offering computer security training. That was kind of the final straw for me and Drupal. Nothing should be this complex.

The irony was that I was hired away from DHS by an old client to whom I’d recommended Drupal a few years earlier.  They wanted me to work on, among other things, migrating the data out of the corporate Drupal site I’d built for them into their new WordPress 4 CMS. I’m surprised they even called me.

A couple of months ago I got a call from a recruiter who was desperate for a developer to update the Broadway Tony Awards web site, which was running on Drupal 6. I felt bad for her because I was once a member of the Broadway community and knew she had to be at the end of her tether to offer the generous compensation she had for this six month contract. So I blew the dust off my Drupal contact list and made some calls on her behalf. Two developers were locked into long contracts but most had abandoned Drupal for other CMS’s, mostly WordPress.

The broad mission that CMSes are built for has a natural tendency to lead to unwieldy bloatware: Magento, Websphere, Contegro, ECM… all have suffered and died from complexity and from simply being overweight. Drupal and several others are heading there too, I think. WordPress will probably inevitably take the same road.  For now, it’s still pretty fun to work with.

This was a long way in announcing that this site was moved from Drupal 7 to WordPress this weekend.

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