Everything’s coming up Drupal

A company that owns a slew of radio stations across Canada is now dialed in to an open source content management solution for its 40-plus Web sites.

Standard Interactive, a division of the privately-owned Standard Broadcasting Inc., is using Drupal as a means to manage Web sites for stations like EZRock 1340 AM in Southern B.C. and 97.7 HTZ FM in St. Catharines, Ont.

Standard has rolled out 45 Web sites using Drupal as a backbone over the last six months. The project started in 2004, when the company sought a replacement for the homegrown content management system it had been using. After evaluating various commercially-available tools, “Drupal kind of emerged as the one that had the best architecture and allowed us to do what we needed to do in the limited time frame that we had,” said Rowan Kerr, senior Web programmer for Standard Interactive.

“We started using Drupal because of the module system and APIs it has, letting you add features with very minimal effort. It also has a very flexible themeing system, allowing you to make it look like pretty much anything we want,” he added.

Kerr said he opted for Drupal partly for budgetary reasons – there are no licensing issues to worry about – but also because of the community spirit behind open source. Kerr is active in the Drupal User Group Toronto chapter, an organization that meets once a month to discuss new uses for the software.

The group is planning a “Drupal camp” this Friday – a series of sessions designed to educate new users. “The main focus of it is to get more developers comfortable with using Drupal effectively,” said Jason Diceman, one of the camp’s organizers. Diceman runs his own Web consulting business called Co-op Tools. “There’s a high demand for Drupal developers. Right now everyone in our community is maxed out in terms of our availability,” he said.

There’s little to indicate that an open source tool like Drupal is a threat to established proprietary content management software like EMC’s Documentum, said Waterloo, Ont-based Info-Tech Research Group analyst, Carmi Levy, but it is finding its niche.

“It is a very specifically-focused product,” he said. “This really is targeted at enterprises that wouldn’t otherwise be allocating the budget for something like this.”

Companies that haven’t already substantially invested in a content management solution might consider Drupal as a low-cost alternative. “That’s where an open source product like this comes into play,” said Levy.

Currently on version 4.7, Drupal was originally conceived in 2000 as a community-based bulletin board system by Belgian open source programmer Dries Buytaert. It subsequently evolved into a content management system and became the basis for “Deanspace,” which was used to support Howard Dean’s U.S. presidential bid in 2004.

Deanspace has since became Civicspace and is probably the best-known variant of Drupal, said Diceman. Developers may patch or hack aspects of Drupal to meet their own needs, he said, but there haven’t been too many instances of code fragmentation, or “forking,” within Drupal community.

“From what I can tell, because of the sensibility and good will of the core developers. I think forking often happens when some of the core developers are not open to new people’s ideas.”

Using Drupal, Kerr and his team of three IT staff have built standard templates and a common code set, which makes it possible to roll out Web sites at the rate of seven a month. Separate style sheets are used to differentiate the sites. Once a new feature has been built – like charting modules, listener feedback and polls, and content from third-party news feeds – it is immediately available to each of Standard’s radio stations.

While Kerr is responsible for maintaining the overall system, stations will determine the actual content that appears on their individual sites. “We wanted them to have ownership,” said Kerr. “There are only four of us, so we would like to have as little involvement as possible in the actual content and day-to-day operation of the sites.”

All new sites that are launched by Standard Interactive will be built entirely on Drupal, said Kerr. But an acquisitive company like Standard Broadcasting may buy more radio stations and find itself with Web sites that are built an on entirely different infrastructure. In that case, “I would imagine we would try to move them over, but it won’t be instant. We’ll have to evaluate what they have,” said Kerr. “But I think the ultimate goal will be to have everything on Drupal.”

DUG TO’s Drupal Camp runs all-day Friday at the Centre for Social Innovation at 215 Spadina in downtown Toronto.

Comment: [email protected]

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