Come For the Code, Stay For the Communities
Aside from features and technical advantages, an important question in choosing open source software is what the community is like. If several alternatives will do the job, then the people who support the software, make recommendations, and offer technical help can be the deciding factor.
WordPress and Drupal are both strong content management systems, and both boast strong communities. If you look more closely, though, you’ll notice they have different kinds of communities. Both have their own qualities, and which one is better depends on your own situation.
In a nutshell, recognizing that exceptions always happen, WordPress communities are organized around technologies, and Drupal communities are organized around purposes. The difference comes out of the histories of the two content management systems.
WordPress started out as a blogging system, and blogging is still its single biggest purpose. Blogs exist for every imaginable purpose, so the common thread is the required technology rather than what’s done with it. The name Drupal comes from a mangled version of the Dutch word “dorp,” which means “village.” Its original purpose was discussion rather than blogging. This led to the formation of many communities — villages, if you like — serving interests of all kinds.
The WordPress Communities
“The X community” is a cliché that seldom fits reality. Any big group of people with something in common has many overlapping communities, not one monolithic one. They can be very different in style and values. WordPress is far too big to have a single community. It has communities for software developers, for site designers, for administrators. Its major plugins, like WooCommerce and Jetpack, have their own communities. Some are for beginners, some for people who tell jokes in PHP and dream in APIs.
Most WordPress communities are online, on places like Stack Overflow, Stack Exchange, Facebook, Reddit, and Google+. You can still find large and active groups where people meet in person; Meetup is a good place to start looking. For any level of technical expertise and any well-known piece of WordPress tech, there’s bound to be at least one community.
The Drupal Communities
Drupal has similar communities, of course. Where there’s a technology, people get together to talk about how to use and improve it. You can start by looking at the groups on drupal.org. But a large portion of these groups are focused not on a technology as such, but on a common purpose. You’ll find groups such as Mentoring, Drupal Campus Ambassador Program, Drupal Books in Libraries, Pets, and Burning Man.
These communities don’t just talk; they create technologies to advance their purposes. For example, there’s a wide range of resources to enhance Drupal for academic institutions. Many distributions of Drupal are available, specialized for different purposes. In education, the OpenScholar and Open Academy distributions include many education-related features.
WordPress follows a different model. People install the WordPress core, then they add a theme and some plugins. WordPress advocates say that its lack of distributions reflects the greater ease of configuring it, which suggests that distributions are the cause rather than the result of special-interest communities. Whatever the reason, Drupal communities and supporting software put a greater emphasis on special purposes rather than selecting and combining general-purpose tech.
Making the Choice
Both the WordPress and Drupal approaches to communities offer good value. WordPress leads in the sheer quantity of available options; whatever tech level you’re at, and whatever features you’re looking for, your chances of finding a matching community are very good. With Drupal, if there’s a community that matches the kind of work you do, you can find broad-based support in one place. Which approach is better depends on your aims.