Building enterprise social communities with Drupal
by Jay Batson
Lately we've heard from a growing number of enterprises looking to build community sites. These companies are asking:
- Can I build a community site with Drupal?
- How does Drupal compare to other options?
- What modules should I use?
- Are there examples of Drupal being used like this?
If you ask a Drupalist, they will say "Of course, Drupal can do it", and will point to http://groups.drupal.org as proof. But if you're a VP of Marketing or someone working to build a community, that site doesn't make it obvious how you can build community sites for
- Discreet projects & collaboration, like Basecamp (providing simple discussion areas, shared documents, tasklists & milestone calendars) either behind or outside the enterprise firewall
- Pure social interaction around a theme, topic, or activity, like Facebook or discussion forums
- Customers or partners to talk both with you and with each other to help enhance your products and your brand
Of course, the answer is that Drupal can do all of these things. It's an amazing platform. There are already plenty of examples of successful community sites built using Drupal:
- Novell Communities. Here, the company combines WCMS & community interaction into one site, providing topical interaction areas for its developers, end users, business partners, and openSUSE advocates, as well as blogs for its management, and outbound solutions messaging. A terrific example of a holistic enterprise social publishing site.
- Intel Atom Developer Community. Intel's Atom processor powers new netbook devices, and Intel is using this site to grow a community of developers creating applications for these new devices. Like Novell's site, this contains both Intel-provided content as well as a complete community section with blogs, articles, forums, and different ways for developers building applications for these devices to grow connections with each other, sort out problems, and build momentum for their application space.
Of course, developers aren't the only ones who seek community. Symantec created the Symantec Connect site for customers of its enterprise products, and Greenopolis created a community site for those who are keen on recycling, with ways to track how much good you're doing for the planet.
Until now, though, anyone considering Drupal for a community site has been faced with more questions that we'd like. Which modules are the best? How much freedom should contributors have? Do the modules available scale to the target size for a community?
Those in a rush to build community sites don't puzzle through these questions with Drupal, and sadly take the route of spending millions of dollars to buy software licenses to so-called social business software. Yet other organizations with more time or savvy have built as powerful - or more powerful - social sites using Drupal at a tiny fraction of the cost of those licenses.
So how do you get the the business-level guidance on whether, and how Drupal can meet your community site needs?
To take the mystery out of it, we've written a white paper that helps non-techies understand Enterprise Social Software, and how Drupal rocks in this arena. You can find it here. There we outline what the potential of a social site is, what kind of social features Drupal supplies, why using open source (Drupal) is the best choice for building a social site, what Drupal modules are useful when building a social site, and some examples of successful enterprise Drupal communities.
Beyond that white paper, Acquia has even more resources to help you navigate Drupal's broad flexibility, depending on how much customization you need:
- Site builders that require total control over every micro-aspect of the site - from pixel to workflow - can start with Acquia Drupal, and choose from our recommended add-on modules to construct the site piece by piece.
- Alternately, Acquia supports the Drupal package known as Open Atrium for site builders looking for an off-the-shelf solution (a'la Basecamp).
- Or, we can help you navigate how to use off-the-shelf (OTS) add-on Drupal modules available to add community capabilities to a website that provides more than simply community.
It's easiest to visualize this as a spectrum, with Acquia acting as your guide to sort out where you belong:
I love seeing the Novell and Symantec type sites, because they demonstrate how Drupal is malleable enough to marry WCMS and community functionality. Acquia is engaged with many customers seeking this middle-type. As we continue to work with such customers, we are working to template-ize and simplify how such community features are added to enterprise sites. If you're seeking this type of Drupal site - with broad CMS functions as well as community features - please contact us, and we can help.
One note to any Drupalista's reading this: Many of you may have built social-style capabilities into sites that you've built. We are building a showcase of good examples of such sites. If you've built, or have a Drupal site around which you have built a successful community, tell us about it, and we'll contact you to learn more.