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TECHWR-L and Technical Editing SIG Implement Drupal and WordPress

by Tom Johnson on Mar 14, 2007
categories: blogging technical-writing

TECHWR-L, one of the most popular listservs for technical writers, recently switched their site toTechwr-l Drupal. I was excited to see it. I haven't worked with Drupal before, but I've heard good things about it. Drupal offers more content management features than WordPress. I was also delighted to see that my blog feed had been aggregated to their Community "News Feeds from the Web" section.

I explored the TECHWR-L Drupal site for a while. It's pretty classy, and offers some features WordPress doesn't. For example, anyone can register and start posting to the blog, and then your posts are attributed to your own TECHWR-L blog. So Drupal offers multi-user blogs, allowing a community of writers to have blogs on a central site. (WordPress MU also offers multi-user blogs, but the implementation is different.)

For those who have blogs on other sites, Drupal clearly has the ability to pull in syndicated content from feeds. You can read my posts on the site as if I had posted there myself. I'm wondering how many feeds the site can aggregate before it slows down. I once implemented a Quick PHP plugin along with a Feedreader Chaitgear plugin on the site, and then pulled in about 20 feeds. But the page took almost 30 seconds to load, so I finally scrapped it.

One area for improvement for the TECHWR-L blog is with comments — you have to register and log in to post. Few have the patience to do log in to make comments. You can use Akismet for Drupal to stop comment spam, but I'm not sure if TECHWR-L is using it.

One Drupal feature I'm impressed with is the live e-mail feed. Actually, any e-mail listserv can be converted to a feed, so it's just a matter of converting it and then displaying the latest feed posts. However, the TECHWR-L site helps appease users who want both formats — who prefer the e-mail, or who prefer the web-based blog. It's more difficult to read threads via the email feed, but at least it's there, integrated into one site.

Drupal is impressive (I've noticed the Puget Sound Chapter also uses Drupal for their site), and it got me wondering more about the differences between WordPress and Drupal. After researching a bit, I think it can be summed up as follows: if you are looking for a sophisticated, configurable content management site that includes a blog, go for Drupal. If you mostly want a blog, go for WordPress.

The best comparison I've seen between the two is this post from RD2:

On initial review, the core technologies appear to be very similar. Both WordPress and Drupal are open source and both have similar requirements to run in a production environment. As we continued with our review of these two products, it became more and more clear that we were reviewing two great products that were, in the final analysis, going to end up in different categories.

The author says both offer CMS features, although Drupal's CMS features are more robust. The author adds that, in regards to installation, Drupal has a "more intricate configuration process" than WordPress, but they didn't experience problems with either.

The core difference is in functionality. Here's an excerpt from RD2's post:

While the WordPress community provides an extensive supply of plugins to extend its functionality, Drupal seems to come very well equipped on the initial installation. Much of the functionality available with WordPress is available on the installation of Drupal. Drupal takes it a step further in how it allows for a more dynamic structure and categorization of content based on a seemingly infinite level of configuration. This is perhaps where administrators tend to complain about the setup process of Drupal as being more cumbersome. The level of sophistication that Drupal offers regarding its taxonomy and categorization system is configurable without the need for custom coding. This is not necessarily a function that WordPress is made to handle on base installation and we have not seen a third party plugin that allows for this level of customization. Drupal also seems to go further in the area of workflow as it more naturally handles workflow through its extension modules.

WordPress has an interesting approach with its plugins. The core functionality of WordPress is basic; then you activate plugins to add the functionality you want. You can do almost anything with WordPress if you search for a plugin to do it. If all of WordPress's plugins were pre-installed with the initial installation, it might be too cumbersome, bulky, and complicated for users. Plugins allow flexibility while retaining simplicity of the core code.

The plugins and theme development of the WordPress user community is astounding. I was just looking at the Weblog Tools Collection site, which posts new themes and plugins for WordPress. It seems like several new plugins and themes appear each day, offering new functionality and design for WordPress. I don't know if Drupal has the same rate of development. (If you are a Drupal user, I'd love to hear your feedback on this post.)

The RD2 post finishes their comparison with a recommendation for users:

Both Drupal and WordPress are excellent products. They are widely supported and both have highly regarded sites that are utilizing their technologies. It is difficult to say if one is better than another since they both fall into different categories.

For the hard core blog where simple installation and administration is needed, WordPress is a clear favorite for most. WordPress also offers a core system that allows for simple content management and workflow management. Used as a blog/CMS, WordPress is a great choice for environments where few users will be the everyday administrators.

For those who wish to implement a more complex and further reaching social networking tool, Drupal is a clear candidate. Drupal has a more robust framework and allows social networking applictions to be elegantly integrated. For a more integrated and complex content managed and social networking application with extended user control, Drupal appears to be a clear candidate.

So if you want a "complex and further reaching social networking tool," go for Drupal. If you mostly want a blog, go for WordPress. It will be interesting to watch TECHWR-L's site to see if it's social networking tools allow it to go places that other sites can't. To learn more about Drupal, here's a list of their features.

The Technical Editing SIG also converted to a blog, but they used WordPress, specifically the K2 theme. Their reasoning for the blog:

The Technical Editing SIG is trying something different for our newsletter and Web site. Instead of waiting for a monthly or quarterly distribution, we are posting news items to our blog on our new Web site as we receive them. If you're a member of the SIG, you'll be receiving a regular electronic newsletter that provides a rollup of all the articles. But if you want to read the articles as they are posted, all you have to do is subscribe to the RSS feed of the SIG's blog.

Their site isn't as cool as the TECHWR-L Drupal site, but they also aren't looking to create a complex social networking community with it. They're mostly providing a real-time news site.

Their reasoning for moving away from a static newsletter reminds me about a previous post I made regarding the death of the static newsletters. Overall I'm excited to see these resources turn to syndicated feed models, because it means I can subscribe to hundreds of tech writing feeds and look through the material in a short amount of time, rather than visiting each site individually. The material also remains archived on the site in an easily searchable way. Congratulations on both groups for the innovative new sites.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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