Leaving Drupal is Hard to Do

Leaving Drupal is Hard to Do

Two years ago I began a process to consider how best to evolve CMSReport.com beyond where it is today. I've known for some time that I needed to take some risks, get out of my comfort zone, and perhaps change how I maintain and run the site. Given the opportunity and in the spirit of taking risks I've decided to no longer run CMS Report on Drupal. That's right, after running this site on Drupal for more than six years on Drupal I've decided to use another content management system.

For those that don't want to be left hanging, I mention the CMS I've chosen to run the upgraded site on toward the end of this article. In a separate article I'll get into the specifics for why I decided on this other CMS and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both information systems.

My primary objective with this post isn't to talk about another CMS, but instead to focus on Drupal and reflect on how much I owe a debt of gratitude to the Drupal community. I also want to make it clear that my decision to use another CMS is not a reflection of my opinions regarding Drupal. On the contrary, I have a number of past and future projects where Drupal remains the solution for my content management needs. 

My History with the Drupal CMS 

Six years ago I wisely picked Drupal as the CMS to run my site. Not only was this open source software a perfect solution for me to manage my content, Drupal also gave me the freedom and control I needed to run the site the way I saw fit. Over the years Drupal allowed me to pick and modify my own themes, choose my own modules, and host my site on servers of my own choosing all under the banner of the glorious GPL. Excluding my time and skills, I've never had to spend more than $50 a month to run this site and there were times I even gambled on the budget shared hosting plans and paid as little as $10 a month. Drupal's power and affordability is why I have and will continue to recommend Drupal for a number of projects. 

Drupal's Druplicon

My introduction to Drupal was in the era of Drupal 4.X which was a time when point versions really mattered. I started CMS Report on a development version of Drupal 4.7 and for a few years I was on the cutting edge of using new versions of Drupal in production sooner rather than later. I think Drupal developers visited my site not just for the content but because they could see how well their new code was performing on a production server. For awhile, CMS Report became a guinea pig and testing bed for various Drupal projects. In 2007, Dries asked me to beta test his "secret Drupal project" on my site which later became known as Mollom. In 2008 and 2009, Acquia invited me to test and run this site on Acquia Drupal, Acquia Network, and Acquia Search. My enthusiasm with popular Drupal modules such as Views, Search Lucene, XML Sitemap also spurred mutual respect and some great conversations with the project leads of those modules.

Eventually, my site became too popular to take the risks of running the site on unproven upgrades and somewhere between Drupal 6 and Drupal 7 I played it more safe. Not installing the latest and greatest version of Drupal without fully testing was the responsible choice to make but I miss those geeky fun years of running the site. As I write this article, I've been running the site on Drupal 7 since June 2011 and have had almost no problems with the CMS after resolving my the initial issues after the upgrade from Drupal 6.   

It's a Drupal Community Lovefest

When I look back I am in awe of the people that invited me to the table and grateful when being served I was still shown great respect when I didn't know how to properly hold my fork and knife.  Despite my lack of active participation in the Drupal community, wherever I go the Drupal folks have almost always given me their ear to listen to my opinions, their voice to guide me along the way, and their time to lend me a hand to solve issues I've uncovered. I know of no other open source community in the business of content management that has been more welcoming, more helpful, and more professional than those in the Drupal community.

Not all of us are capable of being Drupal rock stars, but we're all capable of contributing by giving a simple thanks for all those that work so hard to make Drupal as good as it is. I've always understood the value of Drupal and the Drupal community which is also why in 2007 I became one of the very first members to join the Drupal Association. If you haven't yet contributed time and effort to making Drupal better, perhaps the Drupal Association may be the option for you to give at least a little something back to the community as a whole? If for nothing else, your membership entitles you every year to knowing the exchange rate between the U.S. Dollar and the Euro :-) .

The Drupal community feels like family to me. Some will argue I'm overdoing it by calling an open source community family but consider for a moment the examples for why I make this claim. Earlier this year I lost the address to a VIP dinner invite at CMS Expo in Chicago, but I think I ended up at a better place. As luck would have it there was also a Drupal meet-up that night hosted by local Chicago Drupalers and I was more than welcomed to join their party. Then there is the fact that I smile everytime I hear word of Drupalers getting married, having kids, or starting for their own Drupal business. Nothing made me happer knowing the day my son learned one of his very first songs, the "Drupal song". Over time I've also shed tears when sad news arrives of a Drupal member struggling with unexpected challenges or unwelcomed heartache. I've been haunted most of this summer with the news of Aaaron Winborn's battles with ALS and wish I could do more for him and his own family. I don't know how better way to describe the Drupal community other than family, do you? Drupal is the tie that binds us all.

Why leave Drupal?

As I indicated before, I'm not abandoning my bias opinion that Drupal is still the best open source CMS on the market. However, because CMS Report is in the business of reviewing content management solutions, my enthusiasm for Drupal has also become a distraction for others that would like to take the site more seriously. The truth is that in order for my opinions regarding Drupal to have any credibility I also have to show a willingness to publicly work with other CMSs out there. I know, that sounds strange but that is the way this market often works.

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post indicating that I yearned to partner with others to build a bigger and better CMSReport.com. Since that post, I received a number of offers but many of the inquiries didn't understand Drupal well enough nor the magnitude of what they were proposing to migrating my content to another Drupal site or another CMS. Finally, I received a call from Michael Assad, Co-founder and CEO of Agility Inc. It was obvious to me from the start that Mike and I had the opportunity to challenge each other on this project in ways that would be beneficial to both of us. Over time, Mike convinced me that he was the person I should collaborate with in order to evolve my site to something better than it is today.

When someone tells you they are a consultant, analyst, or reviewer of content management systems what they don't tell you is that there are relatively few CMSs they actually work with themselves on a day to day basis. Despite the hundreds of CMSs I've talked about over the years, I've only worked hand-on with a dozen or so on actual projects. I was impressed that Mike had the balls to propose moving my site away from Drupal to Agility CMS, a semi-proprietary content management solution, while remaining confident that once the migration was complete I would be happy that I made such a move. When it was all said and done, I ran out of excuses to not take the risk in trying out and learning something new. If I'm going to leave Drupal behind then I definitely want someone like Mike with the vision and the means to making it happen.

Migration of the site from Drupal to Agility is almost complete and I expect the new site to be online the second half of September.

Once a Drupaler, Always a Drupaler

Although I may no longer be using Drupal for CMSReport.com I continue to work with Drupal on a number of additional projects, especially behind the firewalls of my primary employer. However it is the future and knowing that 2013 will bring us Drupal 8 that excites me most. I've owned an unused Internet domain for a couple years that I've held very close to my chest knowing that the domain name alone has great value. The idea of building a completely new site on Drupal 8 around this domain with no legacy content obligations is a rare opportunity and something I want to make happen.

In the meantime, I still have to find a new Drupal home to host my contribution on Drupal Planet. I'm a big believer that if you're going to have your content aggregated on Drupal.org then the very least you can do is use a Drupal CMS. I haven't decided whether I'll host my new personal site on my own or use a Drupal SaaS provider.  I'm leaning toward Drupal Gardens but as always, I'm open to hearing other options.

This article first appeared at CMS Report.