Drupal suffers from a lack of standardisation

Drupal LogoOne of my biggest problems with Drupal is that it doesn’t have common solutions for standard problems: Image handling and WYSIWYG editing are just two areas where Drupal fails users.

Newcomers to Drupal will be aware of the hours of research needed to choose an Image management strategy. And for WYSIWYG editors, you have a fairly broad choice: TinyMCE, FCKEditor and many more.

Doesn’t standardisation = better user experience?

One of the main reasons cited for Microsoft gaining dominance of the Office suite world was the consistency of its interface. You could go from Word to Excel to Outlook and have the same menu structure and icon sets. This easy familiarity led to people being able to get productive because they could find their way around the software intuitively.

Not so with Drupal. I recently made a point of signing up to a number of Drupal communities to research how their interfaces were built. Did they use WYSIWYG? Do they allow uploads? What content types to they allow? Do they have any funky features that I haven’t thought of in my own communities?

Each one differed enormously. Which was frustrating. Abduzeedo, an excellent design community has a clunky, ugly WYSIWYG editor, and none of the standard content types are in use. The Grateful Dead community simply allows fan photos to be uploaded, has no WYSIWYG at all, but has a forum enabled.

The problem – as I see it –  is that the lack of standardisation doesn’t lend itself to making Drupal intuitive. Look to WordPress: standard text entry with the ability to disable TinyMCE if needed. A unified media uploader that is also searchable, so you can retrieve anything you’ve previously uploaded.

Drupal versus WordPress

I’ve heard the argument that Drupal wants to offer flexibility to developers. And that’s fine, I’ve got no problem with that.

However, you can flit from one install of WordPress to another, and be in familiar territory. In my book, that’s a benefit, because if you’re opening up a community, you want your users to be able to use it easily and without problems.

WordPress, with its standard interface means that users can write tutorials on how to use it and those instructions are consistent for the vast majority of sites. And yes, I know Drupal isn’t trying to be WordPress, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned from it.

Now, surely it can be possible to offer a core Drupal with preferred modules to enable certain functions? Why not? Ship it with TinyMCE and Image module (or Imagefield/CCK) and allow developers to override those if they so desire.

What are the potential benefits of this?

Well, I’m just speculating, but my theory is that creating a better default Drupal setup will be good for the platform.

  1. Better for new users – the confusion of what modules to choose for simple functionality is reduced.
  2. Better documentation – recommended modules will have a naturally higher user base, therefore more reliable and generic documentation will cater to the bulks of users.
  3. More focussed development – I think more development effort will flow naturally to the recommended modules, making them an even better default option. The fragmented development going towards different modules/same functionality is really wasted time and expertise.
  4. Higher Drupal adoption? – Why not? A better out-of-the-box Drupal experience would mean faster implementation times and less frustrated developers and end users. More word-of-mouth that Drupal really is an easy to set up/easy to use CMS. More people considering it, more people using it.

In some respects, Drupal is getting closer. Its installation profiles are certainly an interesting concept.

I’ve mentioned image handling and WYSIWYG editing for a reason. I see a need to integrate functionality between these, and possibly other multimedia modules for video and audio. Integrated media/WYSIWYG would be a major leap forward for Drupal. In my humble opinion.

I’d love to hear the thoughts of other Drupal users. Am I off-base, or do other people crave the day when Drupal comes with recommended modules for basic functionality?

3 comments

  1. wysiwyg and image handling are definitely two of the most obvious areas in which drupal needs a clear direction. Even switching wysiwyg editors on a site can lead to configuration issues.I would actually like to see a standardised interface for users posting content much like wordpress has. This can be created by the site developer, though it detracts from the consistency you refer to.I foresee that until image handling and wysiwyg are standardised, things will continue much as they have…  

  2. Amen, brother.  I am going through this right now.  It sucks.I’m trying to migrate a bunch of WordPress blogs to Drupal, and despite the existence of a wordpress migration module (which seems to munge formatting something hilarious and doesn’t include images) it is a pain.  I’ve taken to manually copy/pasting content.I installed TinyMCE under WYSIWYG and am currently fighting image handling, which is a joy in wordpress (alas, WP does not support multiple blogs that are totally separate very nicely.)  Image uploading and formatting is something that is seriously making me consider ditching drupal for now and going back to wordpress just to see if I can hack something up 😦

    • Sad to say, but those are the pitfalls of migrating to Drupal. Even though the platform is moving in giant steps forward, it still falls down when it comes to stuff that WordPress makes watertight.If WordPress had built the migration module, you could be sure it would be both flexible and functional.As I said in this article, there’s no standard approach to building sites with Drupal. The problem is, many web designers are faced with common problems – rather than concentrating on one standard solution to image management, video handling, file management, etc. The developers behind Drupal seem reluctant to sacrifice flexibility for a more web-ready, standard solution.

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