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Drupal compared to custom development

Drupal allows scholars, and others with content-area expertise to develop web-based projects that store and display data in ways that they and others in their communities find useful and meaningful. This significantly cuts down on the cost of developing these projects, to the point where they can be undertaken without grant funding, as the developers are the scholars themselves who are willing to devote “sweat equity” to the project. No programming knowledge is required, and no custom code needs to be written. In many cases, taking a strict “no-code” approach to Drupal can result in a project that realizes 80-90% of the scholar’s vision, requiring a 10-20% compromise in how the site looks, the seamlessness of data entry, or some shortcomings in the data display. Having some funding available for custom design work or custom module development can close this gap, but particularly for niche projects in small disciplines, this compromise is an acceptable alternative to not undertaking the project at all.

Custom development enables a project to do whatever it can envision, without making compromises, but generally at significant development cost. Even a substantial development cost pales in comparison to the ongoing costs of maintaining a project that consists entirely of custom code over the course of multiple years. These maintenance costs can be even more difficult to come by, as grants are generally not awarded simply for site maintenance.