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Drupal Commons isn't dependent on using Drupal

Ok, so yes - the title is a bit misleading in one sense; but in another it's totally true. Let me explain.

While briefing an industry analyst yesterday, I realized that the analyst was presuming that an organization needed to have adopted Drupal in some way before they would could use Drupal Commons. This is not the case.

Drupal Commons is a ready-to-use application. It is constructed to fit into the social business software category. That is, software that lets businesses have websites of their own that provide capabilities similar to popular consumer social software sites.

What took the analyst a little while to understand was that an organization's choice to use Drupal Commons is a community platform decision, not a CMS decision. While Drupal Commons is built using Drupal, Drupal Commons is a complete community solution.

Drupal Commons changes the dynamics of the decision making process for social business software site. In past, organizations had two choices: (a) choose a finished (proprietary) software solution that provides community, or (b) build a bespoke community website piece-at-a-time using Drupal modules. Pre-Commons, making the Drupal choice forced the business do all the thinking about the interface architecture, feature set, etc. - which smells like building a web site, which in turn often implied "making a CMS decision." This was a problem. Those people in businesses seeking a social business software site didn't want to think about building a website from parts; they wanted a solution they could deploy. They still wanted to "customize" it, but there's a big gulf between "customize" and "build from parts."

Drupal Commons changes that. Commons is now a choice at the same level as (a) above - finished software solutions for building a community. The "pick a CMS and build a community site" element is no longer required.

The key advantage Drupal Commons provides, though, is the massive leverage you can get from Drupal's customizability. Drupal Commons can still use any of the 5,000+ Drupal modules for new capabilities.

BUT - and here's the important part:

A user (organization) does not need to already be using Drupal as their main website platform before they can deploy and use Drupal Commons.

A second, related point is that using Drupal Commons does not mean you must shift your main website CMS platform to Drupal. Drupal community sites can (and commonly do) run alongside, and separate from, an organizations' primary website.

This may best be illustrated by looking at some examples. The first is the community site for Symmantec (on the right), alongside the company's main site (on the left):

This example shows us two things. First, Symantec's community site shares many of the same features as Commons: user groups, user profiles, userpoints, etc. But Symantec had to construct all this in a custom website build. Second, note that (even though it doesn't use Drupal Commons) the community website is build in Drupal, but company's main website is not built in Drupal.

The second example is Novell. The exact same two points apply here.

Should either of these organizations be just now considering deploying a community site, they could have chosen to use Drupal Commons instead of creating a semi-bespoke site using Drupal modules.

Now I don't want to underplay the benefits of the fact that Drupal Commons is built on Drupal. When you choose to use Commons, you get the huge number of benefits that come from having Drupal DNA. For example:

  • Drupal (Commons) is SEO-friendly. A community site built using Drupal is will give you strong SEO juice. Deep discussions on your products happening in your Drupal Commons site, with its SEO friendly operations underneath, generates more - and more meaningful - content than you'll ever generate yourself, driving your SEO rank higher.
  • Drupal (Commons) lets you create a brand-consistent design. Note Symantec's sites above. Both are very consistent with the Symantec corporate branding. This is possible because your community site visual designers will be designing a template for a high-horsepower CMS, and not for some design-constrained, purpose-built social business solution.

So don't make the mistake of thinking that your use of Drupal Commons is dependent on your organization already having chosen Drupal as a CMS. Drupal Commons is an off-the-shelf solution that happens to be extensible using Drupal's greatness.

Footnote: The types of capabilities that Social Business Software provides include:

  • Wikis. Like Wikipedia, Drupal Commons allows users to create pages that (a) other users can update and change to improve the content, and (b) use "wiki syntax" to simplify making links, etc.
  • Friends. Like Facebook, Drupal Commons lets you Friend another user to create relationships and information sharing between them.
  • Enterprise activity streams. Like Yammer, Drupal Commons provides personal activity streams of things their friends are doing.
  • Groups. Like Facebook & LinkedIn, Drupal Commons lets users organize into groups of people with common interests, and have discussions in those areas.
  • etc.

Update 11 Oct 2010: The analyst referred to above contacted me after I posted this blog item clarifying that he did "get" that Drupal Commons is independent from other corporate adoption of Drupal. Even if he does, however, I think it's important to make sure this point is clear, and the value of the blog post remains constant.


Posted on by Artusamak (not verified).

It seems that you missed the order of your screenshots. ;)

Posted on by Jay Batson.

Thanks for pointing that out. This is now fixed.

Posted on by wmostrey (not verified).

This article is true for most Drupal distributions, or for Drupal itself. As Jay states: "the community website is build [sic] in Drupal, but company's main website is not built in Drupal."

I'm not sure if I agree with the negative connotation that is given to having a Drupal site that isn't based on a specific Drupal distribution when you talk about a "custom website build" or "a semi-bespoke site using Drupal modules". I'm confident that none of these sites can be built with a default Drupal Commons installation. So in this case the site would be another custom website build, or more specifically a semi-bespoke site using Drupal Commons and Drupal modules.