Some “under-the-covers” details behind our new website

This is my first blog post in quite some time. I’m sure that no one missed me, but I missed me. You see, at some point last year I gave up on our old website. It started out with many good intentions and served us well, but it had become quite a lot like the Winchester Mystery House, lacking a master plan and using it felt that way. It was a classic case of the cobblers children have no shoes. So, with that said, I quietly boycotted our site, waiting for the new one to arrive, and here it is.

As we launch our new website and new Phase2 brand on the one year anniversary (roughly) of the Treehouse merger, you’ll notice a lot that’s new. A new logo, new design, new colors, and a more people-centric approach to our communications. What you might not see at first glance, however, is that our site is not built on Drupal as most people would expect. We used…*gasp*…Wordpress. Our decision to use WordPress is not some grand statement nor is it central to our rebrand, but all the same, we think it tells an interesting story, so we wanted to give you some insight into why we chose it here.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: no, we’re not leaving Drupal. We are as committed to the Drupal community and using Drupal as a first-in-class platform as we ever have been. The majority of our clients have partnered with us specifically to build awesome Drupal platforms and sites, and we are as excited as ever by our work with them. We are also heavily invested in the new Open Atrium 2.0 (built on Drupal 7), and in community events like DrupalCon Portland, where 10 of our team members will be speaking, CapitalCamp, where we’ll be the Diamond sponsor, and DrupalCamp Dallas, where our CEO Jeff Walpole will be keynoting.

So why did we choose it then? The real answer is that we always strive to choose the right tool for the job, every time, and this site is no different. It was time to dog-food our process on our own website.

Our team considered many different technologies for our new site: Drupal, WordPress, Ruby/Rails, Jekyll, and many others. The goal at the beginning of this project was to not just assume we would use Drupal just because it is a website. Some of the goals that were defined for this site were (in order of priority):

  1. Ease of use for our *non-technical* content administrators.
  2. Quick implementation of brochure-site features, such as simple media handling, easy wysiwig, etc.
  3. Provide an opportunity for our team to step out of their usual comfort zone, gain more experience doing technical evaluations, learn something new, and appreciate the strengths of other technology solutions.

Another differentiator here to why we chose WordPress over Drupal is that our corporate website is nothing like the Drupal platforms we build for clients, so we need not use the same tools that we would use for those sites. Our typical builds these days are not corporate websites that have some case studies, a people browser and a blog. We build platforms and enterprise content management systems with deep integrations to other systems. Our website is not one of those. We do, however, now have a much clearer understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of using WordPress and this will benefit our clients tremendously over the coming years.

Yes, both Drupal and WordPress were capable of creating the site we needed here, but ultimately, we chose WordPress because we felt like it helped us achieve the goals mentioned above in the shortest timeframe and we got to exercise our learnin’ muscles.

The straight truth is that while folks might consider us only a “Drupal shop”, we are also a “DevOps shop”, a “Content Strategy shop”, a “Systems Architecture shop”, a “Design shop”….you get the picture. We don’t really identify ourselves as any specific “shop”.  We are consultants and technologists that know how to solve problems and what technology enables those solutions best — this was the right tool for the job, it taught our teams something new, and it helped us get our goals accomplished quickly and on budget.

All that said, we hope you like our new site, we sure think it’s purty.

  • sinanerdem

    In a marketing point of view, dont you think it is a disadvantage to have a non-Drupal website for a company like you when it comes to offer someone else Drupal services? Will you explain to customers each time they are asking you that you prefer WordPress over Drupal?

    • http://twitter.com/mistcat Nate P.

      You might think that at first, but what most people really want is someone who understands their problem deeply and is very empathetic towards their stated and unstated business goals and objectives. Drupal is a powerful tool, but even it’s powers are directly tied to how well a Drupal solution is integrated with 3rd party services, existing legacy systems, and configured for the users of the system. You need to understand lots of tools, lots of technologies, and lots of business problems to offer the highest value and best results. Actively seeking and understanding a wider and deeper problem set actually makes our Drupal offering *more* compelling I’d say, especially when married up with our incredibly deep expertise within Drupal itself. The right tool for the right job, used with skill.

    • http://twitter.com/OmerAtakoglu Omer Atakoglu

      Sinan, in a marketing point of view I think they got the attention, look we are talking about the company and everybody will go on . But I think it won’t help them to recruit Drupal talent which is more important in my opinion.

      • patcon

        > But I think it won’t help them to recruit Drupal talent

        I think it’s a pretty big leap to assume that any or all Drupal talent is uninterested in learning other systems. It’s incredibly valuable to recruit hacker-types and hacker-wannabes, and these people are not always the type to tie themselves to a single system :)

        I personally think the tone of this post sends an awesome message, and if I weren’t gainfully employed, this would put phase2 on my shortlist

  • http://twitter.com/febbraro Frank Febbraro

    @sinanerdem I might not have highlighted it clearly in my post, but our clients are not coming to us to build them a site like our company website. So I don’t anticipate this to be a very big topic of conversation with clients.

    We do, however, have quite an impressive collection of client sites wild on the internet that we can point to in order to highlight the work we can do for them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sinanerdem Sinan Erdem

      It is relatively easy for you to explain this choice to me (not very easy, only relatively :) ), but most of the customers, at least the final decision makers are not that knowledgeable in those technologies. In the end, people tend to think simple and a company’s own decision is a good marker of how they think of technologies. For example, when a customer questions Drupal’s benefits, I can convince them by giving the whitehouse.gov example only. Even if their needs are completely different. I hope I explained myself clearly.

      One last question though. What is it that you can do faster with WordPress than Drupal? People always say that WordPress is faster to develop. But if you are not gonna choose a pretty theme and use exisitng blogging functionalities, I believe a skilled Drupal developer can develop any kind of website as fast as WordPress.

      • patcon

        I don’t agree, but well-said

      • http://twitter.com/febbraro Frank Febbraro

        We did use a lot of existing functionality provided by WordPress, no there was much less to write/configure. The other benefit to our team is that the administrative tools to manage the minimal content and configuration we have are very easy to use and not hard to learn at all.

      • Jeff

        @Sinan while I respect your point about the impression it makes, I do have some experience selling Drupal to decision makers myself ;) and we aren’t lacking for examples other than our own website to demonstrate to customers when and why to use the right technology. I can use the Whitehouse.gov example to demonstrate why that was the perfect solution for that customer and their needs (and 1500 other Drupal sites we have built over the last 7 years). We launch several Drupal sites every month so examples of when/why it makes sense will be fresh too – we arent going to stop using/selling Drupal. I think most of our customers hire us for our expertise in Drupal but feel better knowing that we arent dogmatic about our technology – they also want us to know Java, Python, Django, Node.js, RAILS because not everything they need is a CMS website and the big guys need integration expertise too – which is where our team shines. Anyway, thanks for participating in the discussion, I would rather you care and not agree than not care ;)

  • katbailey

    This is a bold and awesome move – especially from the perspective of goal #3. I think the single most important thing a Drupal developer can do these days is to spend time on platforms other than Drupal (though personally I would have gone a step further and used something ruby-based instead of sticking with PHP ;-) ). Hats off!

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisf Chris Fowler

    Congrats. She’s a good lookin’ site.

  • http://twitter.com/febbraro Frank Febbraro

    @katbailey Thanks! Ruby was definitely a front runner and while we do a good deal of work in Ruby here, we also wanted to have the largest pool of folks at the company that could lend a hand if we need some site work, so it made PHP a good option in that regard.

  • http://www.kaleemclarkson.com/ Kaleem Clarkson

    First let me say Phase2 has given so much back to the Drupal Community that there can be no way to measure. But It is a little disappointing that you went with a WordPress site being a leader in the Drupal community. In one of your business sessions that I attended you talked about finding a niche and staying with it. To me it sounds like you took the easy way out in hopes of attracting more business and getting the site done the fastest way possible versus educating your non technical people and coming up with more counter responses to “I want to use WordPress”.

    • Jesse Stegmann

      I’ve attended a similar presentation by the Phase 2 guys and I think you have misunderstood the idea of niche. Being a Drupal shop is not a niche, that means you are competing with anyone who does Drupal. Their niche is enterprise CMS implementations and they think Drupal is the best tool for that. I very much doubt they are trying to get WordPress work with this move. They wanted a site with a blog, portfolio that was easy for content admins to use out of the box. Those are things that WordPress does well so why not use it?

      • http://www.kaleemclarkson.com/ Kaleem Clarkson

        I completely understand niche markets and what they were saying. I would argue focusing only on drupal as a platform is far more of a niche market than servicing all types of CMS. Anyway, my main point is that I am just a little disappointed. I look at the big companies (Acquia, Phase2, Mediacurrent, Lullabot etc) to be our biggest advocates within the market and it is just a little weird to be such a large leader but not use the platform to showcase your work.

        Again it’s all good because at the end of the day because Phase2 will still be a leader in the drupal community. But on a small scale it would be like Bill Gates being caught using an iPhone, or CEO of Coke out in public with a Pepsi, or Magic Johnson wearing a Larry Bird Jersey in L.A. :)

        • http://openchurchsite.com/ Jay Callicott

          I think Kaleem raises some good points here. I think each business can decide for themselves whether it’s better to focus specifically on one thing or whether your “niche” is being able to do many things. I think the cliche “right tool for the job” is a bit overused but I understand Phase 2′s point. At least there is some consistency in sticking with open source. I think WordPress is totally fine, it’s a good tool. So is Ruby on Rails, so are a lot of things. An argument could be made though that this might undermine Phase 2′s ability to champion Drupal. That being said, it’s not the end of the world to use another open source tool.

          • Adam Ross

            I think it increases it. People who need convincing will judge software stack arguments by the background of the speaker. This is a visible statement that Phase2′s consistent Drupal position comes from broad experience.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sinanerdem Sinan Erdem

    I agree with @katbailey:disqus though. Stucking in one technology and trying to use it for any kind of project is not a good idea. +1 for Ruby :)

  • Adam Ross

    Congratulations on the relaunch, does this mean Agile Approach is going away?

    • http://twitter.com/febbraro Frank Febbraro

      Thanks @google-3e2f0386a66cb77f556b166cef941d6c:disqus. While the Agile Approach URL will now just redirect you to this site, our blog will accomplish the same goals as AA and all old posts have been migrated here, so no one loses. :)

  • http://blog.rubenspeculis.com Rubens Peculis

    Great job on the relaunch. I’m impressed with the choice of WordPress too. It’s certainly validation of your ethos of the right tool for the job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/markandrewsutton Mark Sutton

    Love the new digs. Love the WordPress underpinnings as well. Just because you CAN do a simple Website in Drupal does not always mean you should. Finding the right tool for the job is half the battle. Congrats!

    • http://twitter.com/febbraro Frank Febbraro

      Thanks @facebook-636558664:disqus

  • http://twitter.com/TheRealChiko Chiko Mukwenha

    This sounds like a business decision to me more than anything.
    ———-The following is just a theory————–
    This is to be expected when passionate coders are no longer in places of authority. Moving away from drupal sounds to me like a business decision not so much backed with passion, but a need to pay bigger bills for the business.

    This is NOT a vote of no-confidence in drupal anymore. It’s a vote of LESS-CONFIDENCE.

    • http://twitter.com/febbraro Frank Febbraro

      @twitter-178428992:disqus You theories, while amusing, are hardly close to the truth. As a business we are always striving to find the intersection of the things we want to build and have expertise building and the needs of potential clients. As we grow, sure we have bigger bills to pay, but we also have larger clients with more diverse needs. Sometimes those needs might be smaller micro sites or blogs that could easily be knocked out with a tool other than Drupal, and other times they will be complex business applications that Drupal is not a good fit for either. What our clients NEED is us to pick the tool/approach/technology that best solves their problem and enables their business goals. Our job is not to make every problem a nail just because we have a Drupal hammer. Additionally if we had less confidence in Drupal we would not undertake such herculean efforts as upgrading Open Atrium to Drupal 7.

      But all of that aside, if you read my blog post again, this was about knocking out our company site so we can get back to our real jobs, and that is to continue delivering value for our clients. WordPress helped us get our site up and out the door (for what it is) quickest, is very easy to use for our folks that work in the CMS, and we learned quite a bit in the process. Wins all around.

    • Jeff

      @twitter-178428992:disqus respectfully your theory is wrong. We let our tech team decide to use whatever they wanted to for the job as long as they met the requirements and stayed within the budget/timeline. As a member of the Drupal Association Board and someone who has championed Drupal around the world for the last 5+ years, I was honestly a bit worried at first that their decision would cause these types of rumors. But then I realized that this WASN’T a business decision and unless I (as the CEO) wanted to over rule my team to MAKE IT one I had to respect their wishes. I chose to empower and trust my team in areas that a CEO and technology politics do not belong. I think they appreciate that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.clendening.1 Michael Clendening

    Only time will tell if this was a wise move. For now, you have certainly lost the respect of quite-a-few Drupal enthusiasts. I cant imagine on what planet WordPress would ever be the first choice of a company who’s existence is based on great web tech like Drupal. Do as I say, not as I do?

    • http://twitter.com/febbraro Frank Febbraro

      Our company existed long before Drupal (2001). We were building enterprise applications and content management tools in Java (and some other languages). So Drupal did not create Phase2. While it is true that we owe a lot of our current success and opportunities to Drupal, it remains only one (major) piece of the work we do. Our services also include work that is not even development oriented and always has.

      We certainly owe a lot to Drupal which is why we contribute, build open source distros, and are diamond sponsors to DrupalCon and sponsor many camps. That does not mean, however, that we owe it to Drupal to make every single site we do a Drupal site. Especially the simpler ones.

  • Josh

    We certainly do. We have many people on the technical side who are very interested in using the right tool for the job and building solutions in a variety of technologies.

  • http://www.robloach.net/ Rob Loach

    The web is always changing. Learning to adapt accordingly is a must. Whether it’s WordPress, Drupal, Ruby on Rails, it’s important to realize that it’s all on the web. What we can accomplish with it is up to us. We are the ones that push it forward… We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams.

    Great launch, guys! Keep it up.

    • Michael Caccavano

      Thanks Rob. Appreciate the wise words – I couldn’t agree more!

  • http://www.volacci.com/ Ben Finklea

    While it certainly is “purty” (we pronounce it “purdy” here in Texas, y’all) I’m surprised that you don’t discuss the role of marketing in your article. While ease of use, quick implementation, and the desire to stretch your team are admirable causes I’m curious about what it has done for your bounce rate, conversions, lead quality, and sales. Any early indicators you can share?

    • febbraro

      Hey @BenFinklea:disqus. Marketing was certainly a concern. We are waiting after the splash of the new site and word of mouth to see what the lasting effects are. I could easily say our traffic was up 300% since the previous week, but most new sites with any social media push will see a short lived change. Our mobile usable was up quite a bit too w/ the new responsive theme. :)

  • Richter Roger

    This is so disappointing to hear. Embarrassing to say the least. The reasons given, really don’t add up for such a renowned Drupal Shop. My grandmother could have grabbed a theme from Themeforest and one-click installed WP to achieve this. Way to saturate and commoditize your value.

    • febbraro

      Sweet, is your grandmother looking for work? Seriously though, I’m not sure why you would care so much, but I’m flattered that you do. I do, however, think this is a prime example of living our values as a company and for that I’m super proud. In fact, I’m not even the slightest bit embarrassed. I think it took a good amount of guts to do this and based on the wildly successful client sites we have delivered on, I doubt a corporate marketing site in WordPress commoditizes our value.

  • http://twitter.com/tonykopetchny Tony Kopetchny

    Frank (and team), congrats on the brand update and new site. It looks fantastic! I’ve reviewed all the comments in this chain and find the dialogue fascinating… What I believe is, value quality for clients comes from the ability to help define their needs, then, match appropriate fitting solutions (not preselected formulas)–bravo to the P2 team for using that value set in their own work. Any suggestion that using WordPress somehow diminishes confidence in Drupal is silly–Drupal is great for enterprise Web, this site just isn’t that scale (as you note).
    Technology exists to make work easier, it’s a tool not an end state–screwdriver or power drill? Guess it depends on my immediate issue, my longer term goals and budget, or if I only have a box of nails…

  • m0j0_j0j0

    So basically,from all the CMSs you considered, you came to the conclusion that:

    - WordPress was the easiest to use (especially for non-technical people)
    - WordPress was the fastest to implement brochure site features for

    Unfortunately, when your shop is a community leader ,a decision like this carries a statement, wether you want it to or not. This is a strong statement (especially in our world of thisCMS vs thatCMS).

    That said, every business is entitled to expanding their horizons to increase profitability. And every business is entitled to have more than one tool in their toolbox.

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  • Marcus Morba

    It would be very interesting which additional modules you used and what theme.

  • http://www.elijahlynn.net/ Elijah Lynn

    As a Drupal developer for around 4-5 years now I have on my list to learn WordPress and think it will make me a better developer in the long run. I do believe in having a niche and staying focused and becoming really great at one stack but I still feel like I have a bit to go with Drupal. Either way, I would value a shop more if I knew they weren’t so “tool” biased and were open to choosing the best tool for the job.

    I cannot say whether WordPress was a good or bad decision because I don’t have that experience yet but I don’t frown upon it and I think it shows some diversity.

    I think some shops can get distracted if they try to half ass too many different technologies but WordPress is hugely popular and there isn’t much reason to not know it well, if nothing else just to understand customers more and the platforms they are coming from. After all, most customers do some research on the net while researching companies to help with their challenges, they will undoubtedly come across WordPress as an option and it would be wise to know its strengths and weaknesses.

    /end opinion

  • Big Brother

    So this explains why the OpenPublish distro is dead.

  • http://softkube.com/ Mario Awad

    Is it possible that you guys share with us more technical details as to why you went with WordPress over Drupal? Maybe a case study where you go over different sections of your website (especially the homepage) and give us hints on how you implemented them with WordPress vs how you would have implemented them in Drupal and why you think WordPress was a better choice. This case study, in my opinion, would be of immense benefit to the Drupal and WordPress communities and also to anyone evaluating open source content management systems. Good luck with your new website. Cheers!

  • mclinn

    Makes perfect sense to me. If you manufactured 18-wheelers but needed to give the mailroom guy a vehicle to run local errands — pick up pizza for the office, drop off the CEO’s dry cleaning, etc., would you give the kid a big old semi to bop around town in? Probably not. And would your customers, seeing this, think you had abandoned the truck industry? Not if they were paying attention.

    You fit the tool to the requirement. Anything else is just silly.