Home / Why are people building social apps in PHP without Drupal?

Why are people building social apps in PHP without Drupal?

Check out this chart of job trends in the number of job postings that mention the words "social" and "php" or "social" and "Drupal". It comes from Indeed.com.

social php, social drupal Job Trends graph

social php jobs - social drupal jobs

There are currently 816 social app building jobs mentioning PHP skills and only 89 mentioning Drupal skills. As you page through the actual job postings (see links below the chart), you see evidence of lots of social publishing application development going on out there, but a lot of it appears to be heading down a path of custom PHP development.

So what's up with this? Drupal is the killer social publishing system. It's built on PHP. It saves a ton of time over building a custom system from scratch. Why are so many people who are friendly to LAMP in general and to PHP in particular deciding to reinventing the wheel? Which of the following do you think it is?

  1. They've never heard of Drupal
  2. They're vaguely aware, but not sure why it might be relevant to their projects
  3. They've actively evaluated it in the past, but rejected it.
  4. They know Drupal and like it in general, but it's just a poor fit for the current project for some reason

Without real market research, it's anybody's guess. My personal guess is that # 1 and #2 are the primary reasons. We have a lot of work to get the word about Drupal as a social publishing system. If they think Drupal is just another CMS, why would they consider it for a social publishing project or any web site that includes social aspects? It's not obvious.

The space between the blue Drupal line and the orange PHP line represents untapped potential for the Drupals professionals everywhere.

Here's a version of the chart that includes additional technologies for comparison.

The good news is that PHP dominates the market for web dev jobs that mention the word "social" both absolutely and in terms of growth. But Rails and JSP are definitely strong and growing in this area. Joomla is... not so much.


Posted on by yaph (not verified).

Additionally to the 4 reasons you mention, there are people who are reluctant to use open source systems. A typical argument is that sites built with open source software are less secure, because everyone can access the underlying code. Apart from that, I think the major reason is that people don't know Drupal or have no idea about Drupal's powerful features for building web apps.

Posted on by Frost (not verified).

Thanks to Acquia, I was able to convince my employer to consider Drupal as a framework for a B2C app!

Posted on by mindless123 (not verified).

Drupal appears quite relevant if our motto is to build a sophisticated php based web application, while simultaneously maintaining the simplicity of the product. Customized php based products cannot offer the same advanced functionality which drupal, being a highly popular open source product can provide at zero initial cost. However the open source products often require the implementation of additional addons like customized templates & other modules. Same is the case with the second most popular open source blogging tool wordpress. Wordpress is also a complete unit in itself but you often will feel the need of premium wordpress themes if you aim to monetize your wordpress site.

Posted on by eigentor (not verified).

It is also a question how to market Drupal (well, up to now it has not been marketed at all, am I wrong?): Should it be a framework to do anything? Or rather a ready-to-use-system for a special task? Like install profiles like hope-to-be Gnomepal will be.

I know it is rather the first, which puts it close to Rails or PHP itself as a flexible and handy programming language. So e.G. Gnomepal is not Drupal - but building on Drupal. This could save the day.

But it cannot be everything, this makes a blurred image. Up to now no decision has been made. One does not want to exclude anything but ends up in having no shape.

Personally I believe it would help a lot to have a "powered by Drupal" Logo on every Drupal Site, especially major site like Sony BMG or This is the best marketing I think: you see something great and you ask how it is built. Until Drupal 6, we did not even have this by default. So not even the tiny sites would have an automatic backlink on the starting page.

So my number 1 reason is: they don't know what it is - and we even don't know ourselves.
So this is a task to work on.

Posted on by Erich Beyrent (not verified).

I also think that until recently, there hasn't been much publicity surrounding social networks sites that HAVE been built in Drupal.

Greenopolis.com is one example of a social network built with Drupal, but what some others?

Other frameworks talk about "killer apps" - perhaps Drupal needs to showcase all the various killer apps that can be built with the platform.

Posted on by Lee (not verified).

The following website is quite good for showcasing Drupal sites http://www.drupalsites.net/. I often check it out, it lets me see what others have achived and gives me ideas!

Posted on by Anonymous (not verified).

I know that at some point Drupal plans to drop PHP 4 support. When it does, I think it will be better positioned in the "roll our own vs. adopt a framework" discussions.

Posted on by Rob Knight (not verified).

The usablity work being done right now will also healp Drupal move up the ranks in this particular survey. Many people I've worked with are intimidated by their first experience with Drupal and without seeking help, they simply walk away. As the act of using Drupal becomes an easier experience for new programmers, adoption for custom social apps will increase.

I love Drupal as an all-purpose, carve-it-into-what-you-want framework. I remember the first glance though. It was scary and if I weren't coming from Joomla (not trying to start a flame war here) I would have probably looked for another CMS.

Posted on by Shai Gluskin (not verified).

I think that there are a lot of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who see "development" as a kind of inert capital cost.

Drupal is not inert. It's a living, breathing thing, populated by thoughtful, creative developers and other community members who understand the value-added of people-to-people collaboration.

In the Drupal community, we take Drupal's internal APIs for granted. We get it. These APIs make it possible for thousands of people to "scratch-their-own-itch" in a way that becomes a part of something much bigger that so many can use -- all without crashing Drupal! The internal APIs make the magic possible.

To many non-Drupal developers, and certainly to many entrepreneurs, all these Drupal APIs are "a hassle", "arcane" -- part of some secret handshake that Drupal developers do in a cave." To many entrepreneurs, why would you want your "capital" to be a moving target?

Yes, yes, more marketing will help. But one way to target the marketing is by focusing on case studies of businesses that do get it. The Ed Sussman Fast Company interview on Lullabot is a fantastic showcase of a for-profit venture that understands the people and process of Drupal, and wants Drupal even more because of that.

In summary, most entrepreneurs see software as a product and not a process. That rules out Drupal out of the gate. I do think there are plenty of entrepreneurs who will really "get it" when they understand what Drupal is and how it works. It will never be the majority, and I think that is okay.

Posted on by Matt Vance (not verified).

A couple of factors that come to mind are the do-it-yourself mentality and the fact that Drupal tends to get lumped in with content management systems rather than frameworks. Drupal has won the CMS competition but its framework capabilities receive less focus. Drupal is pigeonholed by all the comparisons to WordPress and Joomla. I haven't seen much comparing (or contrasting) Drupal with the likes of Zend Framework, CakePHP, or Symphony.

There are still a lot of people that think they need to reinvent the software wheel. Using most other frameworks, programmers are more free to start from a blank slate and focus on doing what they do best — program. With Drupal, there is a lot of pre-built functionality that you need to learn and integrate with. A lot of that functionality comes in the form of contributed modules where the documentation is somewhat inconsistent. I think that to thrive with Drupal, it helps to be good at research, communication, collaboration, learning, sharing, keeping an open mind, AND programming. Not everyone has a blend of those skills, but Drupal is a boon to those who do.

Posted on by andre molnar (not verified).

As unpopular as this opinion might be, I'll come out and say that Drupal is sometimes a little 'overweight' when you want to build a 'lightweight' application. The added pounds come from overhead that Drupal requires, but is not required by the application developer.

Drupal can perform very well under load. Drupal performs very well considering all the code and queries that are executed during a page load or other http request (thanks in large part to things like caching and a solid architecture). But, sometimes people just don't need all that Drupal offers. No matter how fast or developer friendly Drupal is for all that it does - without hacking drupal core you have to take on some extra baggage.

There is always a sort of tug of war in Drupal land. Where some feel that Drupal 'core' requires more features to attract new adopters. And other feel that Drupal 'core' should be stripped down to the... err.. well... the core (to attract new application developers).

And this all comes back to Drupal's split personalities. Is it a CMS, or is it what Jeff likes to call an SPS, or is it a development framework or is it an application platform. It is actually all those things, but more of one than the others depending on your perspective.

So if, depending on someone's perspective, its not enough of one and too much of the other (for their needs), they may just choose a different way of doing things.


Posted on by miche (not verified).

Did you see this graph?

http://www.indeed.com/jobtrends?q=social+php%2C+social+d rupal&relative=1

It shows percent growth between social:php and social:drupal searches over the same time period.

Posted on by jwhatcott Whatcott.

Thanks for pointing that out. It's great to see Drupal has growth, but to some degree it's the law of small numbers at work since it starts with a smaller base. But at least Drupal is moving up the radar screen.

Posted on by Shayne (not verified).

Having just developed such a social site based on Drupal I gotta say that it sure wasn't easy. Their appears to be a serious disconnect between the developers of Drupal and the module maintainers. With 6.2 being released and 6.x being heavily endorsed as the version people should be using its very tough for that to be the case when a large number of "popular" or "interesting" modules have not been updated or are in perpetual state of "beta" as far as 6.x support is concerned.

That was by far my biggest roadblock in development of this site. I suppose one could forge out on their own and develop fancy new modules themselves but that work will be in vain when 7.x comes out because their is no thought given to backwards compatibility.

I just don't see it being a stable enough platform for long term dependability. The future is so uncertain. If the primary developers of Drupal were to take over some of the more important modules (calendar comes to mind) and have them at the core with the same polish that is seen through out the actual core it might have a chance.

Posted on by jwhatcott Whatcott.

Helping draw (and advance) the line between what's "ready for prime time" and what's "kinda working" is one of the reasons that Acquia exists. It's our hope that by defining and offering a commercially supported distribution, we can cut through the haze that holds many companies back from adopting Drupal.

So bear with us while we help take Drupal to new heights. We're hard at work on Carbon and our network services right now. Be sure to register and check out the Projects area for more information.

Posted on by Olivier (not verified).

Some may be using Drupal in the end while it isn't mentionned into the original job post... You see that Joomla isn't as popular as Drupal there...

Posted on by Glenn Hilton (not verified).

When I was in college I used to go treeplanting during the summer to earn my way thru the next year of school and every year the recruiters would tell us the statistic that 1/3 of the people who signed up would quit within 2 weeks. Once you got out there you'd see why... 12-14 hr days, 6-7 days a week, working in extreme cold, rainy or sometimes scortching conditions... it just wasn't fun. It would really mess with your mind and most people who would quit would just seem to hit a mental wall and would decide they couldn't do it as they'd figure that there had to be an easier way to make the money the needed. Over the last few years we've found the same phenomenon when looking to hire new Drupal developers with a similar ratio failure. Many of them claimed to have extensive PHP and MySQL experience but somehow couldn't seem to be able to master Drupal. As a dedicatedDrupal shop, we found this to be very tough on our business, because unless we were able to extensively hand hold them thru the process (which can be very costly) they could not pick up Drupal on their own. The training resources were just not good enough and the platform was too difficult to master. So in my opinion, if you're wanting to see more people embrace Drupal to use in building social apps then we definitely need some better training resources and support systems to help newbies get up and going with a more successful experience with Drupal. Drupal meetups and Drupal camps are very helpful and the community is very willing to help out new people but that only goes so far as people can only give so much. Anyways, I'm sure there are many reasons why Drupal isn't being embraced by the masses for creating social apps, but from my observations, the steep learning curve and lack of good training resources (or the challenge of being able to find them) could be creating a wall that just seems like it's too hard to deal with for many developers.

Posted on by jwhatcott Whatcott.

Good comment. Totally agree that quality training is a key bottleneck to Drupal growth. Check out the Yellow Jersey project for what we're doing about it.

Posted on by tjholowaychuk (not verified).

Great comments, and I really do agree as this is a problem we have faced as well. I find that on the plus side it really does 'weed' out potential 'bad' developers. Either way I plan on shortly launching a Drupal subscription service which would allow for free theme downloads, web/Drupal tools, access to our training videos and much more, for roughly $100-150 a month ( cost yet to be decided ).

Posted on by Jeremy (not verified).

I would assume it is number one and two. I am a business owner, former programmer and have a part time web developer that creates social projects for me, and we have never used Drupal. My sense is that some programmers simply do not understand the value of Drupal. I know that our programmer uses Zend and creates most projects using his own php modules.

Posted on by Mehmet Onatli (not verified).

I have never really heard of Drupal. I have always used PHP with some of the
projects I worked on. Would Drupal be easier and more beneficial to use? Maybe this is something I could consider somewhere down the road. Perhaps this is something I should consider using.

Posted on by FAQ (not verified).

A typical argument is that sites built with open source software are less secure, because everyone can access the underlying code. Apart from that, I think the major reason is that people don't know Drupal or have no idea about Drupal's powerful features for building web apps.

Posted on by International I... (not verified).

That argument is exactly wrong, and exactly what makes open source more secure. Once an open source project is mature it's typically more secure than closed source projects. Marketing is the problem. Open source has no marketing. Closed source is looking for a profit and therefore spends a lot of money marketing.

Posted on by Owen Byrne (not verified).

There's elance listings in there. I don't know if that invalidates your point, but to me at least it casts some doubt on it.

Posted on by Jed (not verified).

We built our php app using the Zend system for our used buses website, partly because Drupal was not as prevalent at the time, but in retrospect, it would have been nice to use Drupal for the CMS and we will likely go with that one next time.

I find that the number of pre-built modules and features in Drupal make it a no brainer now for developers.

Posted on by Anonymous (not verified).

I've been using Drupal for a few months now and it's very frustrating. I'm also new to both PHP and MySQL (less than one year experience in both) but often I find it's easier to bypass Drupal's modules and use PHP/MySQL directly. The time and energy spent on working around bugs in e.g. Views is better spent on writing my own code.

Maybe six months down the line I'll feel differently about Drupal. I do know that learning how to use tools such as PHP was a joy; learning Drupal at this point is far from it.

Posted on by Shauntel Mayo (not verified).

Drupal is a great platform and is very SEO friendly. There are many ways to skin a cat, and everyone needs to find their perfect way to conduct business.

Posted on by George (not verified).

I dont know...I think it just might be a result of the fact that not that many people are familiar with Drupal.

Posted on by kelly (not verified).

I think that familiarity plays a part. You do need to know what you are doing with drupal, and I've seen many posts where people are frustrated by it.

Posted on by Matt Serwin (not verified).

I think that Drupal is one of the biggest PHP Social apps but there are so many other great ones out there. My favorite thing about Drupal is it gets a lot of comments and is very SEO friendly, which is important for any site.

Posted on by Fondui (not verified).

I agree, Drupal is the way to go when it comes to php based social apps. They are very community oriented and all drupal sites kind of feed on each other by leaving do follow comments on each other sites, which helps a lot for getting ranked.

Posted on by online agency (not verified).

I think Drupal has to be introduced at the undergrad level in the educational institutions for it to infiltrate the online agencies who may not have ever heard of Drupal. In a similar what that client server ended up infiltrating corporations who were traditionally using mainframes.

Posted on by Hund (not verified).

I have been using Joomla since It's first beta and really like this CMS, but lately I have been thinking about trying Drupal because of all the positive comments around the globe :-)

Best regards,

Posted on by Don (not verified).

I agree completely with comment number one. We started developing custom php applications for clients and quickly realized it was not a very efficient process and started looking for an open source solution. We then stumbled upon Joomla, started working with Joomla and heard about Drupal from there.

What we have found out with a lot of open source apps is that once you get them you find you spend a lot of time trouble shooting bugs throughout the apps. Some lack quality control.

Posted on by Dueces (not verified).

I would like to say "They've never heard of Drupal" because I am listening it for the first time too. Will google it more to find what it is. Found the article interesting!

Posted on by C. Laeuse (not verified).

I hate Drupal. PHP is much faster and flexible for me.

Posted on by Richard (not verified).

It is obvious from your comment you do not know what you are talking about.

Posted on by Bookmark (not verified).

I'm new to Drupal but if you're saying that it has a lot of the social publishing functions that people are looking for then it might not be such a bad thing to keep it under wraps. Get hired for your php skills but introduce Drupal for stuff that's already built in. Both parties are happy... the company gets stuff that is easy to support because no customization required and you look like a genius for being up to date on technology.

Posted on by Sunil Ram (not verified).

Prefer to stay on WP instead of the unstable Drupal!

Posted on by J.Ryan (not verified).

I like Drupal myself and the blog post is really informative. Thanks!

Posted on by Dawn (not verified).

Drupal always amaze me:)

Posted on by Tyrone (not verified).

Drupal is gr8 cms

Posted on by Helen (not verified).

I believe that people are building social applications without drupal just because not that many people know about Drupal yet. People who are introduced to social networking and bookmarking get an idea of the concept from an outsiders perspective. It takes time.

Posted on by Niron (not verified).

It seems to me is connected in difficulties of development Drupal. But when you will understand you understand huge possibilities Drupal.

Posted on by Jason (not verified).

Well I must be a weirdo according to your charts since I'm using Joomla for my social apps.

Posted on by Don Jones (not verified).

I know this probably sounds like a stupid question but is there anything that anyone can suggest as a place to start for learning all about Drupal. I have begun to learn PHP but I am lost from that point forward. I just need a solid beginning point please. Thanks in advance.

Posted on by Henry Michaels (not verified).

Dupral is like Joomla to me. It has some of the greatest features in social site building for those who don't know how to hard code, but "for me", it's limited. It has to be tweeked a lot after building. However, for those who need to have a site built quickly, I would have to say, Dupral does a fantastic job for anyone who does not mind learning a piece of software that will do it all for you.

Posted on by WTM (not verified).

As mentioned above, I think the lack of branding on Drupal sites has really effected its lack of expansion as a popular tool/cms. Look at Wordpress, the automatic "powered by wordpress" in the footer must have had some contribution to it becoming so popular.

Where are the premium, and really kick-butt Drupal themes and templates? I see ads for wordpress, and ads for joomla theme sites that are very high quality. Joomla has some great sites, and wordpress is about to take over with its CMS functionality ever increasing, and premium themes market booming. If this site ever has a competition of some kind, although not Drupal, let me know, I'd be interested in donating a premium wordpress theme.

Posted on by Mark (not verified).

To be very true, if someone will compare wordpress with Drupal, it would be the biggest mistake. There is noting easy than wordpress to start blogging but there is nothing better than Drupal to start blogging. If you are serious about your business and need some serious development then go for Drupal. I like to see your comparison charts, I think it is none of Drupal fault but we are responsible.

Posted on by Dave (not verified).

I think that Drupal biggest issue is that despite being a fantastic system it has a very high learning curve.