How hard is Drupal to use?
Having a flexible, powerful and reliable web platform is one of the most important aspects to any new Internet based endeavor. The Internet is teeming with super easy to use online blog or website builders that can get a reasonable looking, basic site or blog up in a matter of minutes. We've certainly come a long way in the last 10 years in this regard.
However, with simplicity and ease-of-use, there is always a trade off. What you make up in simplicity you often lose in flexibility and power. A good example of this is hosted WordPress sites. WordPress is a fantastic web platform for bloggers, and the hosted version (http://www.wordpress.com) allows anyone to run their own blog without having to worry about hosting and server issues.
The problem comes when you need to do something slightly more advanced or customized. Hosted WordPress sites are not particularly good for anyone interested in doing some serious Internet marketing because you simply can't implement decent analytics. You also can't make any "under the hood" SEO improvements. Ultimately, these little things could end up hurting your chances of success - as compared to a competitor who goes with something like Drupal (http://www.drupal.org).
The problem for Drupal is the converse. What you make up in flexibility and power, you lose in simplicity. Because Drupal is so powerful and flexible, it has a far greater range of options and settings for you to familiarize yourself with. It takes longer to go from a Drupal newbie to a competent Drupal webmaster than it does for someone using, say Blogger or TypePad.
That's not to say that Drupal is difficult. Take a look at the SME Pals homepage. With the exception of a bit of manual CSS styling, this page, complete with the slideshow feature (top of page) took no more than a few hours to put together. Most of that time was spent adding content. More importantly, there was no programming involved at all. Everything required to build that landing page is provided by Drupal or by the Drupal community, for free.
With that said, it would not be possible for a complete newcomer to build a page like this without putting in a bit of time and effort to find their way around the system. For example, you need to know which Drupal modules to install. The most important ones used in this page were:
This leads neatly to my next point. Drupal is modular, which means that functionality can be plugged in as and when you need it. The community is super active and this generally means that almost anything you could possibly need has been done by someone and shared in a module, like the ones listed above. This almost completely removes the necessity for programming skills, which is a great advantage for many small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Creating and operating a superior, flexible, adaptable, scalable and robust website therefore comes down to how well you can familiarize yourself with a system that is designed to be as easy to use as possible. It's not trivial, but it's also not hard. Often, all most people need is a little bit of professional advice and support for their web platform.
If, on a difficulty scale of 1 - 10, 10 being the hardest, WordPress is about a 4, then creating a similar website using Drupal would be a 7. However, creating a website that does something out of the ordinary (depending on your individual needs) can be entirely impossible using less flexible platforms like TypePad, Blogger, hosted WordPress sites, but remains a 7 using Drupal.
Get the picture? If you have an idea and you want to implement it online then think carefully about what your requirements are going to be, now and in the future. Then decide whether the slightly steeper learner curve isn't going to be worth the greater power and flexibility down the line. Again, having professional advice and practical help in analyzing online business requirements and strategy can also go a long way to ensuring you make the right decisions early on.
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