Drupal for WordPress users ( 10 steps to understanding )

Note: this article does NOT cover integration between WordPress and Drupal.

Straight to the point: Drupal is the last CMS you will have to learn. Period. (This is only true if you want the freedom to poke around and at least fiddle with CSS and the PHP templates, if you allergic to computers you might want to try Joomla).

Many fine sites start as a WordPress installation, and grow rather complex, and start relying more and more on WordPress Pages and Widgets, and suddenly the site is not really just a blog anymore and it is really past the time to migrate. It’s time to consider Drupal. And then you go and do your homework, and spend some time at opensourcecms.com reading all the comments, and Drupal seems like the way to go (although you are still unsure why), and you go ahead and install it.

Now what?

Here is what you do next:

1) Accept this (on faith for now): WordPress and Drupal are extremely similar from the architectural point of view: they store pieces of text and data in numbered database records and offer you ways to present those pieces nicely. However, WordPress has a razor sharp focus: it is a blog. This focus makes it easier to grasp – we all love our single-purpose appliances after all. If WordPress decided to add a few features and become a generic CMS, it would inevitably become Drupal (which is why Drupal people have not come up with a WP integration – they just do not see the point of integrating with a blog that’s almost indistinguishably similar to the one already built in (let’s not start an argument about this here).

2) The first difference: WordPress is “ready to go” out of the box (Ok, you may want to change the theme and add a couple of widgets, but that’s just frosting on the cake). Drupal is overwhelming out of the box, and still not ready to go (for most purposes). You will have to spend at least a few hours (if your needs are simple or if you know what you are doing), or a few days (it it’s your first time) getting it to dance to your tune. Budget the time.

3) Ready to go? Ok, Log in and disable as many modules as you dare. Now poke around and get comfy. Spend some time with Access Controls – they are hauntingly similar to WP Roles. You will be using them a lot.

4) Now you are ready for the truth: what you are seeing is mostly a piece of infrastructure, an engine, and you will have to learn to drive it (and probably add a few modules) before you get somewhere nice.

5) The most important concept: Drupal is a bucket for content. WordPress tends to arrange its content along a timeline (pages are an exception, and tags change the rules altogether, but timeline is what our feebly minds cling to). Drupal is more like a wiki (which is a classic pile of disoderly linked and somewhat searchable pages), but with some hierarchy imposed on it (I really should write an extra post on this subject), and with more kinds of pages. Think of it for now as a collection of pages where every page page has an author and a date. How is it different from a blog? – Not really… It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

6) In Drupal every content piece is a “node” (in WP it’s a “Post” or a “Page”). You can define nodes as belonging to various content types: Pages (sound familiar?), Blog posts, Stories (sort of like stand-alone blog posts without a blog), Book Pages (a book is a collection of pages with consistent hierarchical structure) and so on. You can create your own content types or you can download modules that will do that for you. To list just a few options, there are:

  • Survey
  • Poll
  • FAQ
  • Glossary
  • Gallery
  • Link collection (blogroll)
  • Quiz
  • Question

As you enable modules., more content types become available.

7) Now read the Drupal Cookbook. Do the exercises – it will help.

8 ) By now you are feeling all-powerful yet mightily confused. Good. At least you are honest with yourself. The biggest source of confusion is navigation (and that “taxonomy” thing that keeps popping up here and there). Here is what I recommend:

  1. Hide the “Navigation” menu from the visitors, but keep it for the admin.
  2. All books, forums, and blogs are listed at the top of Navigation menu, but they do not have to be! You can link to them from anywhere!
  3. Read Choices in Navigation – An Overview. Read it again.
  4. Go play with the site structure. See if you can make it work for you. Still not perfect? It’s Ok, you will change it later. Oh yes, you will!

9) Now is the time to check out all the available plugins. Drupal calls them “modules”. Spend a leisury afternoon with a laptop on a beach, making frantic notes of the small group of the things you just have to install right away (you will end up with a list of just about a hundred of top-priority ones).

10) Now you are ready.

Your head is about to burst from all the wonderful possibilities, the universe is your filesystem, you can do anything. Go forth and build your site!

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