Museum websites typically host a variety of content, from exhibition information to online collections, all of which needs to be updated regularly. This can be an issue when the initial website design was custom-built: the content can’t always be modified without making changes to the underlying code. Often, only specialized staff can make additions or changes to the content. It also makes content migration difficult, and updating, modifying or modernising the site’s layout time-consuming.
Content management systems (CMS) present a solution for such websites, especially those that are maintained by a team of regular contributors. Non-technical users can make changes because the website design is separate from the content and the basic functions of creating and publishing pages are usually no more complicated than using word processing software. Multiple users can also be granted different permissions in creating and modifying content.
Content is easily scheduled, published, edited and removed, and maintenance updates and design changes are simpler and quicker. Using a non-proprietary system also removes the need to rely exclusively on external contractors or IT staff, allowing more control and flexibility for the heritage institution. Therefore, these organisations are less likely to become technologically dependent.
Drupal usage is widespread
The most popular content management systems are WordPress, Joomla and Drupal (this infographic from Udemy compares the three open-source systems). While WordPress is more suited for blogs, it does have the ability to host entire websites, particularly for smaller organizations. Joomla is a good option for small and mid-sized websites; however, for larger websites with extensive amounts of content, Drupal is more powerful and capable.
Drupal is a free, open-source content management system first released in 2001. Originally developed by Dries Buytaert as a message board, the platform now hosts everything from personal blogs to WhiteHouse.gov and data.gov.uk. Many museums use Drupal as their content management system, such as the Museum of Vancouver, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Canadian Museum of Nature, and international museums such as the Louvre, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Like WordPress, Drupal is developed and maintained through the collaborative effort of a team of programmers throughout the world. As of 2015, there are approximately 38,000 developers contributing to Drupal. Drupal’s advantages over other lighter content management systems such as WordPress and Joomla are that it is highly customizable, developer-friendly, and capable of handling and organizing large volumes of complex content. This may make it a good option for larger organizations or museums hosting digitized collections on their website.
Its main disadvantage is a steep learning curve: compared to WordPress and Joomla, which can be fairly intuitive and easy to customize for someone with a basic understanding of HTML and CSS, Drupal is more complex and requires a greater level of technical expertise and training.
A better option for larger organizations
Drupal has over 30,000 modules or “plug-ins” which are developed and managed by the Drupal community. These modules can be used to integrate Drupal with collection management systems such as CollectiveAccess, museum database software such as Adlib, ticketing systems such as Eventbrite, and even tour software such as TAP which uses Drupal in the creation of mobile tours.
Although also capable of handling smaller and simpler websites, Drupal is likely the best option for enterprise-scale websites due to its ability to manage vast amounts of content and users as well as organize content using a hierarchical taxonomy system. Using the taxonomy, content can be organized and cataloged through the use of categories, tags, and metadata. It has strong version controls, which helps track and manage changes to information, documents, and pages, as well as access control list (ACL) capabilities, which specify which users and system processes are given access to objects; this makes it a more secure option for websites maintained and contributed to by a larger team.
All features included in the Drupal core (the core files and features that come bundled with each Drupal installation) conform to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines (WCAG 2.0 and ATAG 2.0). Developer-created modules use an accessibility tag to indicate that they comply with accessibility standards, and Drupal provides resources to help its community make their content more accessible.
Drupal 8, which is currently released in Beta and being developed, has added extensive support for accessibility technologies such as WAI-ARIA. In addition to enhanced accessibility, Drupal 8 will have enhanced compatibility with mobile devices, as all of its built-in themes will be responsive. It will also have improved markup with HTML5, and many more features that make it appealing to web designers aiming to keep their websites up-to-date with current Web standards.
Drupal has strong search engine optimization (SEO) capabilities, having been developed to be search engine friendly. While most content management systems are developed with search engines in mind, Drupal’s ability to host more and better content presents an advantage when it comes to content-focused SEO strategies.
Drupal is regarded as one of the most secure content management systems. Because Drupal’s team of developers are constantly testing the software and modules for vulnerabilities and making updates accordingly, its security is well monitored and advanced. In fact, security was cited in a Huffington Post article as one of the reasons that the White House chose the open-source platform for their website: “Having the public write code may seem like a security risk, but it’s just the opposite, experts inside and outside the government argued. Because programmers collaborate to find errors or opportunities to exploit Web code, the final product is therefore more secure.”
Because of the learning curve associated with Drupal, as well as the relative difficulty involved in customizing themes, museums and other organizations who choose Drupal as their CMS are often required to hire Drupal developers or web designers familiar with Drupal to help get their website started. It can take more time and money to set up a website using Drupal, compared to a simpler CMS such as WordPress. But for large projects where power, stability and scalability are prioritized over ease of use, Drupal is the obvious choice.