There is a shift in the Drupal community that could transform the way websites are built; from an abstract inside-out approach to the more user friendly outside-in.

There is an elephant in the room of Drupal user experience for site builders. Actually the elephant is so big it occupies space in the content management room also. In fact, its feet extend into the space of Drupal developers and its trunk ultimately rasps in the faces of end users.

If we were to give this elephant a name, I would suggest the words ‘Push Model’.

Drupal is built on a ‘push model’ which means that content (AKA a ‘node’) is defined and managed in the administrative area of a given site and then ‘pushed’ out into the public site through a variety of technical mechanisms. These mechanisms include: a ‘promote to front page’ option in the node creation form; assignment of a given node to an existing menu; assigning an alias (alternate name) that is more semantic than the default path ‘node/some-node-id-number’.

Mechanisms such as this are abstract and difficult to understand. They contribute to the steep learning curve that hampers new Drupal users, especially content managers. Because the user interfaces are based largely on the developer perspective, the result is an ‘inside-out’ approach to doing things. The user starts with the details and attempts to build a big picture from those. Fortunately there is a growing awareness of these problems in the Drupal community and many UX designers and developers are working hard to address them. The internal architecture of Drupal is being radically changed in such a way that it could support a strong ‘pull model’ for site builders and content managers. This opens the door for a more naturalistic, ‘outside-in’ approach to these tasks.

The original impetus for this architectural change was the recognition that the Web is shifting from a simplistic definition of web pages as presentations of single pieces of content, to much more dynamic assemblages of content from a variety of sources. The challenge is to come up with a user interface system that can allow site builders and content managers to create and manage such web pages in Drupal.

As a contribution to the Drupal community discussions on this, Myplanet have sponsored an extensive research project into ways that this could be possible with the new architecture. From this we’ve produced a document that describes an ‘outside-in’ in approach to site building in Drupal.

You can see a 15 minute video version here.