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Jan 17 2019
Jan 17

Promet and Drupal go way back. We were at some of the first DrupalCons. We were an Acquia partner back when nobody had heard of Acquia. Most of our work today is building large, complex Drupal sites. (We are branching out though. Feel free to talk to us about Wordpress or other web development needs!) We love Drupal, and we’ve used it to build everything from simple to very complex websites.

However, Drupal 8 has changed the Drupal ecosystem. Drupal 8 is designed for engaging digital experiences. What does that mean? Mostly it means complex or mission-critical web applications. You can be a 2-person company working out of a basement, but if your website is everything to the business, there may be a good argument to build that site on Drupal 8. 

Drupal 7 was a swiss army knife. You can effectively do anything from a small blog site to the largest most complex sites online with it. Drupal 8 is more like a finely sharpened carbon steel Chef’s knife. It still does a lot, but you really shouldn’t use it to peel an apple.

Was that analogy too tortured? Anyway, we are still a Drupal first agency. However, there are definitely use cases where Drupal 8 is not the answer. Compare your project to the examples below to get an idea if Drupal 8 may be the right CMS for your website.

A small 5-10 page “brochure” site that may be updated once a quarter, if that.

This should not be a Drupal 8 site. Wordpress is probably the most common recommendation in this situation, however, I would recommend a different route. If you truly won’t be doing more than the occasional quarterly update, I’d recommend a static site generator (SSG) such as Pelican or GatsbyJS. Wordpress still comes with the overhead of keeping a database-backed web application updated and secure. For a few pages updated a few times a year, I would generate that site with the SSG and push the resulting HTML pages to a web server. With just HTML exposed on the server, your only security concern is if somebody compromises your server account. There is no database or CMS to hack. Your hosting costs are minimized this way too.

A small 50-250 page website that is updated frequently.

On the small end of this spectrum, Wordpress is the most common recommendation. As you get to the 250-page end there starts to be an argument for Drupal 8, especially if you are dealing with some more complex content types. Be careful though. A cheaper Wordpress shop will buy a $30 theme and tweak it to fit your needs. This can work fine, as long as the theme they buy was well constructed based on Wordpress best practices. Often those purchased themes are kind of a mess at the code level. 

If the site is small with static content that is highly trafficked, you can do something really interesting by using the GatsyJS SSG as a front end to Drupal. You can manage the content via Drupal, but publish it as static HTML pages via Gatsby to minimize hosting overhead and improve performance.

A large site with hundreds or thousands of pages that are updated rarely.

Drupal 8 will be the normal recommendation here, and it’s a perfectly valid recommendation. Drupal will allow you to publish structured content across the entire site, plus use taxonomy to relate content. If you need to manage user permissions about who can do what with the content, Drupal 8 becomes a great answer.

But what if you are publishing documentation that will almost never change? Do you really need the overhead of an enterprise-grade CMS that will get used rarely once the site launches? I think the static site generators are a really interesting solution to this use case. Pelican, to reference the SSG I’m most familiar with, can implement tags to relate content, and can identify different authors if it is a multi-author scenario, It has no concept of user permissions though. I’m not aware of any major sites that have been done this way, but it seems like a very low overhead answer to the publish a lot of content once and then mostly forget about it scenario. If you have a project like this let’s talk!

You have a large complex site that has a variety of content types that integrate with 3rd party systems, and it’s crucial to your business that the site stays available and performant.

This is the Drupal 8 wheelhouse. This is what Drupal 8 does best. You can think of Drupal 8 as a box of standard Lego bricks. What you build with it is only limited by your imagination, time and resources. (How big is that box of Lego bricks?) A few of the scenarios that Drupal excels at include:

  • Multi-author websites where you need granular control of publishing and editing permissions by either individual users or groups. This extends to workflow issues where you need a publishing workflow for editorial oversight.
  • E-commerce applications where you are generating significant revenue from the website.
  • Integrated solutions where the website needs to share or sync data with other business systems such as a CRM or AMS.
  • Multi-site applications where you need to manage dozens to hundreds of websites that will all share common elements while allowing for localized control of specific content elements on specific websites.
  • Multi-output applications (decoupled Drupal!) where you need to deliver the same content to disparate devices such as web browsers, mobile apps, digital signage,  voice-activated devices such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home device; and future devices we might not have thought of yet. I can see us interacting with websites via voice activation in our cars in the not too distant future, if it's not already being done. 
  • Multi-lingual websites where you need to manage translated content.

Hey Chris, you didn’t mention SquareSpace, Wix and similar services for smaller sites.

That is correct, I didn’t. Promet is an open source consulting firm, and personally, I’m an open source advocate. I avoid proprietary solutions when an open source option exists. That said, if you need to publish a small static website and want to take the path of least resistance with SquareSpace or similar, I don’t think it’s a particularly bad idea.  If your content got locked up in one of those services the site is presumably small enough that starting over won’t be that painful. But I’m not going to recommend those services, at least not in writing ;)

If you have any questions about what to do with your website please get in touch.
 

Jun 15 2017
Jun 15

A recent prospect responded to my inquiry about the project budget with this:
 
"We can't release budget information as we need all vendors to bid their best price. If they know the budget they just bid right up to it."
 
I've always known that is the fear, but in the hundreds of  website projects I've pursued over the years, I think that is the first time a potential client was ever that forthright about it. However, it's an unfounded fear. In a competitive situation with 6-50 firms proposing, we all aren't going to peg our proposals at the top of the budget. Without a budget, those 6-50 vendors aren't even proposing on the same solution. They are proposing on their perception of what they think you want for a solution. That is why you'll get bids ranging from $25K - $250K from the same RFP.
 
If you want to receive a good mix of proposals, all proposing in the same budget neighborhood, so that you get to the no-lose situation of a short list with 3 or 4 vendors that will all do a great job on your website, you have to provide the budget in the RFP. If you truly don't have a budget, give us a ceiling, or what you consider a reasonable neighborhood. It’s 2017,research is easy. Nobody believes you are putting out an RFP without having done some basic research into what “this” should cost. If you truly want a partner (which is what every RFP claims), treat us like partners, from day 1. Share the important information so that we can craft a solution that will actually work for you.
 
Any competent web shop can scale a proposal to fit a budget. We can take the same basic set of requirements and design a $40K site, or a $140K site. The primary differences between a $40K site and a $140K are:

- Depth of the discovery consulting

- Amount or complexity of the interactivity in the site

-Integration with 3rd party apps

-Amount of customization in the site

Sure, we prefer to build the $140K sites. That kind of budget allows more time for creativity in the design, and more time to customize Drupal to do exactly what the client wants. However, if $40K is all you have that is fine. We can deliver a compelling website for $40K. What we can't do is read minds. Without some guidance on budget we have to guess at whether you want the $40K site, or the $140K site. Help us help you by sharing the information we need to give you the best site possible for your budget. The reason real estate agents on HGTV ask about the budget is that a 3 bedroom / 2 bath house can have a 300% or more variance in cost based on location, upgrades, quality of materials, etc. Web sites aren’t that different.
 
Budget is the most important information you can provide in an RFP. Given the choice of  responding to 30 pages of feature requests with no budget, and 2 pages with some very basic goals and a budget, I’d prefer to write the second proposal every time, because I know up front how to meet the customer’s expectations.
 
The client at the beginning of this post? They wanted the $40K site. I guessed wrong on that one.

May 31 2017
May 31

Managing the digital strategy for an organization interested in delivering ambitious digital experiences to its stakeholders is more than a full time job. The rate of change in digital shows no sign of slowing down soon. It’s all most of us can do to just keep up, let alone think ahead. To help with that, we’ve compiled a shortlist of some of the big issues that will be driving strategic digital decisions over the next year.
 
Very Responsive Design
Most organizations are happy to get their website looking good on desktop and mobile browsers. That’s not going to be good enough soon. The array of devices that want to connect with your web site for content is growing quickly. Amazon Alexa and Google Home  are both growing fast. Smart TVs want to talk to your web site too. The xBox can be a content channel, as can native apps on a phone, or a digital sign in a business. Your web site will need to support all these channels, and probably a couple we aren’t thinking about yet.
 
Decoupling Drupal
No, this does not have anything to do with the Brad and Angelina breakup last year. Decoupling is severing the tight connecting between the front end of your web site with the back end CMS. Drupal 8 enables us to build ambitious digital experiences that don’t rely on the Drupal theme layer. These means you can update the CMS without touching the UX, and vice versa. This is also related to the issue above in that a CMS that supports decoupling is the ideal platform for powering digital signs, voice activated home assistants, the Internet of Things, or whatever comes next.
 
Micro Interactions
Your smartphone is basically a collection of micro-interactions. Users can complete tasks such as set an alarm and then silence it when it rings without engaging with the bulk of the phone UI. How much easier would it be for your website users if they could interact with web site applications in much the same way they interact with iPhone or Android applications?
 
Continuous Delivery
Agile development and 99.99% uptime expectations demand that updating the website be done with no downtime. Modern hosting providers such as Acquia, Pantheon, and Blackmesh provide tools to help enable multi-tier dev/staging/production environments and logical workflows to ease pushing code to production. If you are still editing content on production sites it is past time to update your web management workflow to something more sustainable, and less risky.
 
Personalization
Personalization is not new. Yahoo and Excite were doing it on their search portals back in the late 1990s. The insights available about your web users, just based on their actions on your site, open up countless opportunities to improve conversion rates and build better digital experiences by presenting every user with a personalized view of your website.
 
Omni-channel Integration
Omni-channel integration is personalization on steroids. Just last week Google was in the news as they announced their ability to connect ads you have seen online with your physical presence in a store. For example, you see an ad for lawn mowers, and the next day Google connects that ad to the fact you entered a Home Depot shortly after seeing the ad. Mobile and web integration is another example. We are just starting to scratch the surface of what may be possible with cross channel integration.
 
The Internet of Things
IoT has security issues to deal with before it really takes off big, however the idea that everything from your light bulbs to refrigerator are online and able to talk to a server, and eventually each other, is a huge trend that is still in its infancy.
 
Open Source as a Service
What if you could acquire a fully featured Drupal website in much the same way you use Salesforce.com? You would have the power and convenience of SAAS, without the vendor lock in because you could always take your open source service, zip it up, download it, and install it anywhere you want.
 
Management & Governance
Governance may not be as sexy as a refrigerator that can tell you how much milk you have, while you sit on the couch. However, it is probably much more relevant to most digital managers today. If you have 10 or 100 people in your organization that can post content to a website, how do you manage that process for both efficiency and brand standards compliance?
 
Regulatory Accessibility Compliance

Can sight impaired visitors use your web site? How about somebody that is haas 20-20 vision, but is color impaired? Are your videos useful to both sight and hearing impaired people? The Federal government has defined a set of standards for web site accessibility. Not meeting the standards makes your web site less useful to potential customers, and puts you at risk for a lawsuit.

What are you waiting for? Let us help keep your business ahead of the curve.

Promet has been thinking about this stuff for a while. We’ve built digital sign systems powered by a Drupal website. We’ve built augmented reality apps for the Chicago Transit System, and we are experts at continuous integration. Get in touch if you want to take your digital experiences to the next level.
 

May 31 2017
May 31

Managing the digital strategy for an organization interested in delivering ambitious digital experiences to its stakeholders is more than a full time job. The rate of change in digital shows no sign of slowing down soon. It’s all most of us can do to just keep up, let alone think ahead. To help with that, we’ve compiled a shortlist of some of the big issues that will be driving strategic digital decisions over the next year.
 
Very Responsive Design
Most organizations are happy to get their website looking good on desktop and mobile browsers. That’s not going to be good enough soon. The array of devices that want to connect with your web site for content is growing quickly. Amazon Alexa and Google Home  are both growing fast. Smart TVs want to talk to your web site too. The xBox can be a content channel, as can native apps on a phone, or a digital sign in a business. Your web site will need to support all these channels, and probably a couple we aren’t thinking about yet.
 
Decoupling Drupal
No, this does not have anything to do with the Brad and Angelina breakup last year. Decoupling is severing the tight connecting between the front end of your web site with the back end CMS. Drupal 8 enables us to build ambitious digital experiences that don’t rely on the Drupal theme layer. These means you can update the CMS without touching the UX, and vice versa. This is also related to the issue above in that a CMS that supports decoupling is the ideal platform for powering digital signs, voice activated home assistants, the Internet of Things, or whatever comes next.
 
Micro Interactions
Your smartphone is basically a collection of micro-interactions. Users can complete tasks such as set an alarm and then silence it when it rings without engaging with the bulk of the phone UI. How much easier would it be for your website users if they could interact with web site applications in much the same way they interact with iPhone or Android applications?
 
Continuous Delivery
Agile development and 99.99% uptime expectations demand that updating the website be done with no downtime. Modern hosting providers such as Acquia, Pantheon, and Blackmesh provide tools to help enable multi-tier dev/staging/production environments and logical workflows to ease pushing code to production. If you are still editing content on production sites it is past time to update your web management workflow to something more sustainable, and less risky.
 
Personalization
Personalization is not new. Yahoo and Excite were doing it on their search portals back in the late 1990s. The insights available about your web users, just based on their actions on your site, open up countless opportunities to improve conversion rates and build better digital experiences by presenting every user with a personalized view of your website.
 
Omni-channel Integration
Omni-channel integration is personalization on steroids. Just last week Google was in the news as they announced their ability to connect ads you have seen online with your physical presence in a store. For example, you see an ad for lawn mowers, and the next day Google connects that ad to the fact you entered a Home Depot shortly after seeing the ad. Mobile and web integration is another example. We are just starting to scratch the surface of what may be possible with cross channel integration.
 
The Internet of Things
IoT has security issues to deal with before it really takes off big, however the idea that everything from your light bulbs to refrigerator are online and able to talk to a server, and eventually each other, is a huge trend that is still in its infancy.
 
Open Source as a Service
What if you could acquire a fully featured Drupal website in much the same way you use Salesforce.com? You would have the power and convenience of SAAS, without the vendor lock in because you could always take your open source service, zip it up, download it, and install it anywhere you want.
 
Management & Governance
Governance may not be as sexy as a refrigerator that can tell you how much milk you have, while you sit on the couch. However, it is probably much more relevant to most digital managers today. If you have 10 or 100 people in your organization that can post content to a website, how do you manage that process for both efficiency and brand standards compliance?
 
Regulatory Accessibility Compliance

Can sight impaired visitors use your web site? How about somebody that is haas 20-20 vision, but is color impaired? Are your videos useful to both sight and hearing impaired people? The Federal government has defined a set of standards for web site accessibility. Not meeting the standards makes your web site less useful to potential customers, and puts you at risk for a lawsuit.

What are you waiting for? Let us help keep your business ahead of the curve.

Promet has been thinking about this stuff for a while. We’ve built digital sign systems powered by a Drupal website. We’ve built augmented reality apps for the Chicago Transit System, and we are experts at continuous integration. Get in touch if you want to take your digital experiences to the next level.
 

About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
  • Flip through articles quickly (with j/k or arrow keys) to find what you're interested in
  • View the entire article text inline, or in the context of the site where it was created

See the blog post at Evolving Web

Evolving Web