Today, we discussed the potential for Drupal to serve as the back-end of a public-facing school web site. Only a few examples exist out there, yet Drupal continues to gain acceptance as an extremely capable system that is ready for prime-time. Twelve of us shared frustrations with commercial school web site companies who were difficult to work with or insufficiently responsive with new features. To my pleasure, I found that many of my colleagues at this meeting were thinking along the same lines. We know how to evaluate and adopt commercial software. How does one evaluate and adopt open-source software?
We have created a series of tests to determine the potential of Drupal to serve as the platform for the next version of Catlin Gabel’s public-facing web site. Drupal continues to pass each one. This month, I had two successful meetings with Kitty, our web site content editor, and James, the creator of the current web site and thoughtful strategist on school web site design and implementation. I have found to my pleasure that this group working together is far wiser than I could ever be on my own. Now, we are working together to move this project forward.
We held two meetings in the last month to consider next steps for the public-facing web site and think about the strengths and weaknesses of Drupal to meet these needs. We need to move to a new web site platform in order to meet demand for features such as electronic newsletters and podcasts and to better manage the burgeoning volume of content that we would like to display on the site. The Drupal founders, from the early on, appear to have understood the exponentially increasing nature of information. All content units (nodes) are functionally equivalent, flowing through the site like water as the site administrator sets up guides to expose them in particular ways. You classify — not compartmentalize — content, which enables people to find items much more easily.
I am also trying out a conceptual model to seek buy-in from critical stakeholders for this project. One may summarize the model as follows.
Solicit Expert: We plan to invite a Drupal consultant to give us feedback on the proposed plan and potentially serve as an “on-call” expert when we need help with the tricker components. We trust in our ability to find a Drupal consultant willing to do this, considering that we contract for time & materials for other pieces of our infrastructure, and open-source consultants may be friendlier than most to being collaborators on a site rather than building the whole thing.
Buy-In: I have built a Drupal clone of some parts of our current web site. Many people judge a web site first by its looks, and this helps take the graphic design out of the consideration of the back-end platform. It helps gain valuable feedback on the viability of the new platform. It also includes the most frequent contributors in the process at an early point.
Which one is the Drupal site?
Design: Assuming that the site passes the other tests, we will then undertake the design in earnest. We will need to spend much time thinking about how best to replicate current site functionality in Drupal. Trying to keep project scope within manageable limits, we will defer considerations of changing the site architecture or graphic design to next year. This will require a much broader consultation within the school community.
Develop: actual configuration of Drupal and additional programming if needed.
Train: Properly prepare site editors for the new editing interface and assist regular users with any aspects that may work differently than before.
Launch: Off with the old, on with the new! I’m unsure whether this will require much external publicity, since we are not changing the look and feel at this time. Internally, we will want to make the transition to the new editing platform as easy as possible especially for those users who only post occasionally.
Your thoughts on this plan?