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Stop talking about scaling, make Drupal easier to use

It seems that I hear a lot of people within the Drupal community focusing on how to make Drupal scalable. This is all well and good, but Drupal does scale; the Emmys know this, the Grammys know this and so does the Economist. Drupal can handle millions of page views in single day and frankly this isn't an issue that most websites face. This single biggest argument people have against building a website in Drupal is that it too complicated.

So does Drupal need to be complicated? Absolutely not! As Drupal service providers our job is to build something that's not only high quality but also to make the user experience during and (maybe more importantly) after development easy. Drupal 7 is a great step in this direction, so let's get it out the door. Let's focus more attention on administrator workflow and making some of the more commonly used features of Drupal (like blogging) more easy to use and more intuitive. Let's attract more designers and non-developers to this fantastic platform.

The usability of Drupal affects every Drupal user. So let's leave the scalability question to Dries and Acquia and start focusing more on making Drupal sites that are intuitive, easy and a joy to use.

Addendum (7/23/10):

I'd like to start out by apologizing for not recognizing the contributions of more people in my initial post; I don't want to under value the work that has been done on Drupal to-date. Notable companies/people doing scalability work include Chapter 3, Four Kitchens, and countless others.

As for UX, as merlinofchaos mentioned you can get a sense of who's active in this movement in terms of improving the codebase at:


As I already mentioned, I think that Drupal7 makes great strides in improving the usability of Drupal.

With that said, the reason that I posted this article is that I think that during site building by service providers (this is important) strides forward in UX tends to take a back seat to how many visitors the site can support. I hear a lot of buzz about high profile sites switching to Drupal and not as much about how Drupal is making people's lives easier.

I know that people who are excited by scalability are going to continue to work on this and continue to push the envelope getting bigger sites on to smaller hardware. That's great! I'd just like creating fantastic user experiences within Drupal to be seen as just as important and get the recognition and attention it deserves. Great users experiences will attract more people and increase Drupal adoption rates - and that is good for everyone.

Date posted: July 22, 2010


Once you have nodes/users/comments/taxonomy terms into five digits each, which is not hard for any moderately busy community site to get to, you will very quickly run into issues with things like taxonomy listings, complex views, tracker or forum module.

Scaling a site like the Emmys is relatively easy - looks like hardly any logged in traffic so nearly every request uses page caching - even with a vast amount of traffic it's fairly simple to scale Drupal to deal with that, this much is true as of the past couple of years.

However if you have logged in users and a lot of dynamic content, then you very quickly need relatively complex caching strategies and some way to denormalize queries and/or you'll be moving off shared hosting or cheap VPS accounts pretty quick.

Most sites Acquia are hosting (that I know of) are not dealing with large user communities, so "leaving [that kind of scaling] to Acquia" would be really idiotic - what they're doing is scaling the provision of lots of small and medium websites, and higher traffic sites with mainly anonymous traffic, at least at the moment I think that's the focus.

Most sites with large user communities cannot afford the hardware and double-figure development teams of sites like the Economist and Examiner.com, and don't get the free expert help of Drupal.org - so it's very important, to me personally as someone who both works on a large dynamic site as my day job, and has spent years running medium-sized community sites on a shoe string in my spare time, that it can handle those kind of sites better without having to use core patches (or Pressflow, which is largely packaged core hacks plus a few extras), or a massive reliance on custom code, or extremely beefy hardware, or all of these at once.

Working with Drupal 7 for the past few months it's going to be much, much better than this than D6 (not good on $5/month shared hosting, but much better on single VPS accounts), but there's a very long way to go before it's as easy to build a complex site that doesn't fall over once more than a few people use it at the same time, as it is to just build the complex site.

I'm also not clear if you want to focus on making Drupal sites easier to use, or Drupal as a site building platform easier to use - the two are not the same thing at all.

Apparently you missed an effort so grand that it actually got its own name: d7ux.

It seems odd that you would post this. Usability has been a giant focus of people working on core right now, with half a dozen people who've basically been working on it exclusively.

So let's leave the scalability question to Dries and Acquia


Perhaps you didn't mean to be, but I find this statement kind of insulting.

You're absolutely right - I should have given credit to more people in terms of the work that is being done. I hope you saw the addendum I posted.

And what if I say that the backend is harder to replace than the user interface and also the UI is more often site specific so let's get Acquia to build usability? Drupal Gardens, hm?

Change starts with yourself, what are you going to do about it?

As service company we focus on making sure that our client interactions with Drupal are good ones in terms of UX. As business owner I'm also moving forward with time matching on code commit time for our Drupal Security expert @grendzy to make sure we get Drupal 7 out the door ASAP.

So, you've already felt the wrath of other devs, no need for me to apply ;-) Here's what I've been doing about usability. Why not go download ctools and context_admin and see if you can't make your site a little easier to maintain. Making drupal easier starts with you (if you're this fired up to make it more usable). Hopefully you can build on other people's work.



I too am surprised about the "start focusing more on making Drupal sites that are intuitive, easy and a joy to use" part. It's up to designers and builders to create great ux for projects, regardless of the platform used.

If you mean better usability of Drupal itself, then did you really miss out on all the UX work of the last 18 or so months? Come to #drupal-usability on IRC or groups.drupal.org/usability and we'll get you up to speed :)

Just because someone can make a Drupal site scale to a million sites doesn't mean that same person can make a site easier for a novice to use. The two skill sets are completely different. Attempting to get developers to shift from performance to usability doesn't make any sense. Focussing on recruiting more UX specialists into the community would make a lot more sense.

People with the interest and the ability to address scalability should absolutely continue talking about scalability. People with the interest and ability to fix usability issues should do so. Sometimes they are the same people but often they are not.

Thanks for the info, I know very little about your company, and thankfully I'm glad that I'll now never have to bother finding out more. Ill informed, idiotic, comes to mind when reading your article. If you are the company, or employed by the company, then you or it deserves to fail with such an attitude.

Drupal does not scale well, even on medium sized sites, Drupal is not enterprise grade, it's not even medium business grade. And yes I'm well aware of all the big companies doing Drupal. Drupal takes a lot of work to get going for any project of worth.

Performance of a Web site, is also a feature of a website. If your website does not scale, it doesn't matter how pretty the front page looks, it's not going to be used.

While I get your point, you have made it in such a way that its meaning is hidden in a forest of objectionable statements.

At the very least Tag1, Chapter3 and 4Kitchens tend not to like leaving the scaling to Acquia.

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