Web Engagement (WEM) is definitely a hot topic for 2011 in the Web Content Management (WCM) space. While there may be some controversy over the validity or utility of the term, you can't argue with the interest across the industry. In fact, I think the term is a good thing -- both for WCM vendors and end users.

But what about open source? How does all this WEM buzz help one of the most vibrant open source Web Content Management communities -- Drupal?

Web Engagement Management is Not New

Much of what WEM is about, you could do before the term was coined (who officially coined it, anyway? I’ve heard more than one vendor take credit; feel free to comment below). From managing the full cycle of customer touch points to leveraging analytics to measure and target the most effective web content, many software packages have offered these features for several major versions.

Drupal is no different. In many cases, the functionality available in Drupal contributed modules for targeting content, leveraging analytics and other important WEM-enabling functionality is as good or better than many of its traditionally licensed competitors.

For example, the Context module for Drupal offers powerful functionality for end users to target content or otherwise adapt the experience for users under specific conditions. Even more, the Context module is a powerful framework and API, allowing developers to create custom conditions for targeting content.


Another such example is the Google Analytics module for Drupal, which provides robust integration with Google’s Analytics platform. More than just basic analytics integration, the module allows contextualized configuration, in addition to campaign and conversion tracking -- all configurable through an administrative user interface.

So with all this existing functionality available in Drupal, how then is the WEM buzz a good thing for the Drupal community?

First, a Word on WEM

The term Web Engagement Management was initially used by Vendors and pundits to describe a particular subset of WCM features. But the term does more than that; it lends to thinking about a strategy for leveraging your WCM platform to engage in two-way conversations with users. Barb Mosher's recent article on Metrics for Web Engagement is a great example of this kind of strategic thinking.

While many of the technical features underpinning WEM were available in years past, the focus on strategy is a paradigm shift. With this new focus on engagement we're starting to see more focus from WCM vendors -- and not just from their marketing departments. We're starting to see streamlined user interfaces in vendor's WCM and Marketing platforms- - making it even easier to leverage the features that allow web teams to engage their users.

Drupal's Greatest Strength

So, back to Drupal. As I mentioned, many of the modules available from the Drupal community are plenty capable of meeting the demands of a true WEM strategy. In fact, there are many Drupal modules available one could leverage as part of their WCM strategy.

But, as is typical, Drupal's greatest strength is often its weakness. The community is very active and there is quite often a module to get you 80% of the way for any given need. Truly unique to the Drupal community, there are over 7500 modules and extensions available for the core Drupal platform.

But because the Drupal community is so active and there are so many modules, there is often overlap between them. Further, modules are also often fairly narrow in scope. To meet a given need, you’re likely to leverage a number of individual modules, rather than a single all-encompassing suite.

As an example, to meet your Web Engagement Management goals, one could leverage some combination of Context, Panels, Rules and the standard Block / Theme configuration modules to target content or overall site experience to users.

All of these modules and choices come at a cost -- complexity, both in implementation and in user experience.

So, for Drupal, the WEM buzz will drive the community toward better user experience for the functionality already available in the community. Where you may use several modules for WEM today, we’ll start to see better collaboration between the best Drupal module projects. This will lead to less overlap between modules and potentially Drupal distributions specialized for WEM.

We’re already seeing more consistency with Drupal 7 and the community is focusing on Web Engagement through initiatives in the future of Drupal 8, so the best is yet to come.