CMS for a university research project website?
February 3, 2010 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Deciding on a CMS for a university research project website: Wordpress, Joomla, or Drupal?

I am designing and developing a website for a university research project about the natural and human history of a particular geographic area. Here is an example of a similar type of website. The website will allow searching and browsing of a media archive (historical maps, photos, documents, and so on), with features such as advanced search, guides for teachers, an interactive map, a timeline, and so on. The website will be powered by a CMS which a small team of researchers will use to add content to the website. But which CMS?

I have extensive experience developing websites that use Wordpress as a CMS, and am considering using it for this project. I think the research team would appreciate Wordpress's easy-to-use interface. However, I am wondering if there is any compelling reason why I would be better off using Joomla or Drupal for this project. I have not used either before although I learn new systems fairly easily, and have enough time to do so. I am not considering other CMSes besides these three, as if I am going to learn a new system, I want it to be Joomla or Drupal.

My main issue with Wordpress is that the built-in search is hopelessly inadequate for this project, and so far I've been unable to find any plugins which are much better.

To sum up: Can Wordpress work for this project, or should I use Joomla or Drupal?

Thanks. As a small add-on, I am also interested in finding more examples of research websites such as the one I linked to above.
posted by oulipian to Technology (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Forgive me if this has already been considered and discounted, but WRT to search, if it's not a private site why not use Google? That would probably fix Wordpress for you.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 8:37 AM on February 3, 2010

Can you please elaborate on the ways in which WordPress's search is inadequate? This will help people make either alternative suggestions or help you asses whether either Joomla or Drupal will bring a solution to those limitations to the table.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:53 AM on February 3, 2010

The University Reseach Center I work for uses Drupal happily. MeMail me if you want deets.
posted by k8t at 8:53 AM on February 3, 2010

WHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhy. So many people are using Wordpress and I don't understand it. Wordpress is for BLOGGING. People have expanded it to do other things, but it is not as flexible or versatile as Drupal.

In particular, the mapping community and capabilities for Drupal are very very strong. I would suggest you poke around, as there are lots of sites that use it. Greenmaps is one

I would suggest going to a Drupal meetup near you. You can find out about them at

I work with many clients who initially chose Wordpress for non+blog sites and as their needs expanded they realized their mistake and are now in the process of switching to Drupal.
posted by melissam at 8:55 AM on February 3, 2010

Best answer: I've used the Search Unleashed plugin for Wordpress, and generally been happy with it.

I've looked at Drupal before, but from a user perspective, I think Wordpress is much easier to use. With multiple editors, ease of use would be important, I think. Unless there's something Wordpress simply can't do, I'd make a child theme with Wordpress using a good framework (Thematic and Hybrid are my two favourites) as a parent theme.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:56 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just as a counterpoint to Melissam's post - I've worked with clients who've used Drupal and realized it was more than they needed for their site, and moved to Wordpress.

Drupal is awesome, and very powerful, but I think it'd be overkill for what you need. Especially when you're already familiar with Wordpress. If you think familiarizing yourself with another CMS would be useful in the future, Drupal might be worth considering.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:59 AM on February 3, 2010

Response by poster: Can you please elaborate on the ways in which WordPress's search is inadequate?

Sure. Wordpress's built-in search doesn't search tags or attachment descriptions, lists search results chronologically (as opposed to by relevance), and doesn't have any way to specify advanced search options.

Google Search might work, if I am able to integrate the Google Advanced Search interface in my site design, which I am not sure they allow you to do. I want the advanced search feature to match the design of the rest of the website.
posted by oulipian at 9:00 AM on February 3, 2010

WordPress: Search Everything includes tags and attachments and can be expanded to additional data sets in the WP database if anything you need is not covered. (Conversely you can also edit it to exclude data sets you do wish to include.)

Caveat: I hate Drupal.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:07 AM on February 3, 2010

You should use Wordpress, you will save yourself a lot of hairpulling when it comes time to upgrade.
posted by mike_bling at 9:11 AM on February 3, 2010

Sounds like Omeka would be a good fit for what you want to do.
posted by imposster at 10:43 AM on February 3, 2010

Best answer: Missed your statement that you aren't looking at other CMSes, but I would encourage you to take a look at Omeka. It is basically designed to easily create websites like the one you linked (just take a look at some sites powered by it.) From the about page:
"Omeka is a free and open source collections based web-based publishing platform for scholars, librarians, archivists, museum professionals, educators, and cultural enthusiasts. Its “five-minute setup” makes launching an online exhibition as easy as launching a blog. Omeka is designed with non-IT specialists in mind, allowing users to focus on content and interpretation rather than programming."

It really is very intuitive to use and well supported. Rather than try to make some blog platform work into your archival project, why not use a CMS that is designed just for this purpose?
posted by imposster at 10:51 AM on February 3, 2010

Response by poster: imposster: I'll be sure to take a good look at Omeka, thanks. I hadn't known about it but it does seem to be designed for this kind of website. If it has strong documentation and a good community of users, it may be a good candidate. The list of sites built with it is also really helpful, as I am looking for more examples of research archive websites.

I'm leaning towards Wordpress because I know it quite well and have a good idea of how the research website structure could work with Wordpress's system. As backwards guitar pointed out, the CMS needs to be super easy to use.

Thanks for the search plugin recommendations - Search Unleashed might be able to suit my needs. I've tried Search Everything for a previous project, and ran into issues where it would inject html incorrectly when highlighting text (I think it was trying to highlight the alt text on my image tags), so that one's out.
posted by oulipian at 11:22 AM on February 3, 2010

2'nding Search Everything plugin for WP
posted by WizKid at 2:44 PM on February 3, 2010

If you do end up going with Wordpress (very easy to use, but the updates can be a little frequent for me), take a look at the Scriblio plugin. Might be helpful.
posted by imposster at 6:31 PM on February 3, 2010

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