Moving to WordPress – Why I switched



So, I consider myself a Drupal guy.  I’ve been working with Drupal in Las Cruces for over 7 years now, starting with version 6.  I love Drupal.  I like to think of it as the CMS for real developers.  It’s not terribly easy to use and it’s not pretty out of the box, but man can it cook if you know how to use it.  If you can write modules and themes for it then there isn’t anything Drupal can’t do.  NMSU Research uses Drupal in several of our sites, and even has two or three web apps written using Drupal – including RePete.  The flexibility is amazing, and I’ve been a strong advocate for Drupal since I learned how to use it years ago.

But Drupal can be hard to use, starts out looking pretty ugly, and can break really ugly.

Why WordPress?

New Mexico State University used to encourage sub units to use a locally written CMS they called ‘Mango’.  No disrespect to the creators and the few strong advocates of Mango who still hold out, but it was pretty terrible.  It might’ve made editing sites easy and it did force folks to follow the NMSU theme, but there was no customization to speak of and no way to add even simple features.  For this reason, NMSU made the decision a few years ago to standardize and start asking sub units to use a campus maintained WordPress installation for everything.

Adoption is slow going, as it always is at a University.  I found myself fighting the choice as well.  We at NMSU Research had already dumped Mango and went with Drupal, and we encouraged NMSU to do the same universally.  It felt a bit like a slap in the face when they chose WordPress.  My thought was, “Why would they choose a clearly inferior CMS to Drupal?”  When you compare the two, Drupal does win out with features, extensibility, and configuration options.  I felt like WordPress was going to shackle us and, honestly, I did the developer equivalent of folding my arms and making a pouty face.

It’s not so bad…

Reluctantly, I forced myself to work with WordPress as more and more University units, including Research, began to switch.  It felt so constrained at first, like I was wearing a straight jacket.  It felt kinda nice though… easy.  More like a fluffy straight jacket or a pair of fancy designer handcuffs.  I didn’t have the freedom of movement I usually enjoyed with Drupal, but it felt nice and what little I could do was very simple and straightforward.  I slowly began to understand the reasoning behind choosing WordPress over Drupal; not everyone is a developer.

In fact, most folks aren’t.  Most folks would never even realize they’re in a straight jacket, and hey… it keeps them out of trouble.  The University could install a WordPress site for a unit (a college or department), give someone technical there a login, and tell them to go to town.  WordPress would enforce the layout, colors, and branding while allowing a somewhat savvy end-user to update the content.  Drupal can do that too, but it’s far more daunting.  After working with WordPress myself, I began to warm up to it.

When I installed my own version at home, just to see what it could do, the handcuffs came off.  The University only allows a small subset of plugins to be used.  At home, however, I could install any plugins I wanted and even write my own.  My admiration for WordPress grew.

The Catalyst

I said before that Drupal can break ugly. I suppose anything can break ugly if you don’t do your upkeep.  A few weeks ago, the Duskrider Design Drupal site got hacked and filled with garbage.  Luckily for me I keep good backups and nothing was lost, but I took the opportunity to do some back-end cleanup of my site and evaluate my options for a potential rebuild.  The thought of starting over with a new Drupal theme and building everything back up to my standards was tiresome.  I’m a busy guy, and don’t have a lot of time to spend on my own website when I’m busy building sites for work and other people.

The Competition

I evaluated my options and installed the latest copy of Drupal 8 and WordPress 4.9.  I ran a sort of competition with myself to see which CMS would win out.  It took me far less time and effort to get a workable website with a nice looking theme from WordPress.  Sure, Drupal can do more, but so what?  I don’t need more.  I need a simple website with a few pages, a contact form, and a blog.  That’s WordPress’s bread and butter.  Honestly, that’s almost certainly all my clients will need too.  Ease of use is a side effect and huge benefit, especially for my clients going forward.  As for Drupal, I actually put a halt to the exercise.  I spent so much time trying to adapt a theme I liked that I ran out of gumption.  Keep in mind I’m doing this for myself, not a client, so I’m allowed to run out of gumption.

The Conclusion

So, here we are.  Duskrider Design now uses WordPress, and I’ll almost certainly use it for all my clients going forward.  It’s just quicker, easier to use, and any features it lacks can either be written in via plugin or worked around.  If I find that WordPress doesn’t fill the need or I need a more complex solution, I can either pull Drupal back out of my bag of tricks or I can do it the old fashioned way… write it up myself.