Why hasn't WordPress caught on in government?

While WordPress is the global leader in content management on the Web, it lags far behind Drupal for federal government websites, according to a report.

WordPress is the content management system for about two-thirds of the world’s top websites, according to the latest statistics from BuiltWith.

However, Drupal is six times more popular for federal government domains, reports Ben Balter, a blogger and open source expert who recently conducted his own analysis of federal .gov domains based on publicly-released information.

“Drupal powers twice as many federal [websites] as every other Content Management System combined,” Balter wrote in a March 5 blog post about the report. “That is more than six Drupal sites for every one WordPress (site in) .Gov alone, not to mention the Joomlas, MovableTypes, and SharePoints of the world.” 

The Drupal software currently powers about 150 federal website, including WhiteHouse.gov, Recovery.gov and Energy.gov, according to a Drupal-sponsored wiki.

According to Balter’s analysis, WordPress is in a distant second place in the .gov domain. WordPress is used by the Health and Human Services Department, Consumer Protection Agency, Commerce Department, and several others. Both Drupal and WordPress are open source content management systems.

Balter and other experts are questioning the basis of Drupal’s skyrocketing popularity for government and wondering why WordPress is falling behind.

“When you stack the two side by side (or against any other CMS for that matter), WordPress is objectively the prudent choice,” Balter wrote. “On paper, you’d be hard-pressed to make the case for anything else. But, it’s not a technical problem. It’s a human one. It seems that WordPress’s greatest asset – ease of use that has resulted in widespread adoption by a largely non-technical user base – is threatening to become its greatest liability.”

For government purchasers, Balter suggests, WordPress may be suffering from an image problem.

“Among those empowered to make purchasing decisions, there seems to be a sense that WordPress is what you use on the weekends to post pictures of your lunch while Drupal is what you use for 'serious' business,” he added.

Balter also said marketing by Drupal to government clients may be a factor.

Other experts also have questioned the disparity, suggesting that while WordPress is lower in cost and effective, more organizations want to follow the example of the White House and use Drupal.

“We have many clients requesting that we build them a Drupal site just because whitehouse.gov is written in Drupal. One thing that these clients don't realize is that the White House has a big available budget, financial resources, and a team of experienced web programmers available to manage, customize and maintain the whitehouse.gov site,” wrote Web developer Bernard Kohan in a recent blog post.



About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Cyber. Covered.

Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Wed, Feb 4, 2015 makwal macham


Wed, Feb 4, 2015 lateefahtmullins atlantag georgia


Fri, Mar 9, 2012 OccupyIT

Thanks, Alice! The USG has a long history of following the leader like sheep without real analysis. They like to own 'cool stuff' even if it is known to be more expensive, less friendly, and overkill for most missions. Oracle and SharePoint are great examples. Seriously? A five table system for five ysers needs Oracle instead of a highly cost-effective open source arlternative that feeds itself? Ah well - If you are not accountable then your can pick whatever makes you hip at the CIO conference...

Thu, Mar 8, 2012 kirsten DC

Well, this is the 2nd piece this week you've written on Drupal and still, you miss too much. First off, the piece you note from Kohan is undated, unless you have some date on your screen or in the source that I don't. Next, you fail to analyze his post (which really looks like it was written in 2010), the most important factor in determining what product if any to go with is, your users. Budget is important, too, but if you can't meet your user needs it doesn't matter what your budget is. Recovery's first site, the 1st Drupal site in government, was terrible. The content managers didn't have access to updating data. It didn't display clean URLs, it was clunky and to be honest, it seemed like the contractor was either new to drupal or to web site design. They moved to SharePoint in 2009, I think it was 6 months after launching the drupal site. But, you don't mention Go.USA.Gov. The URL shortener is drupal. It's run in house. Developed for next to nothing and seems to have worked for nearly 3 years now. All sites need maintenance. ALL. SITES. NEED. MAINTENANCE. And that will always cost money. What Drupal does best is exactly the difference between it and the competition, it does complex sites with massive workflows. Kohan also notes this: Massive Content, Multiple Webmasters, Members Features If you need to build and manage a website (or multiple sites) with a significant number of pages and articles, and community features such as members that can provide comments on contents and articles, and will require some common functionality tweaking, and have a sufficient budget, Drupal may be a good option for you. I disagree with his budget estimates because I suspect this piece was written before the advent and expansion of Drupal distributions which have been slowly released since around 2010 http://drupaldistrowatch.com/drupal_distributions I also had a steep learning curve with Drupal with D5, 7, it's easy. In fact, I have been teaching content managers and developers to use and work with Drupal since 2009. The gaining of traction for Drupal is more about creating the framework for government agencies to look into open source in general. And I for one applaud the use of WordPress (which powers loads of government blogs) and Joomla! (which is in use at several government agencies and also in Congress) and I'm a little tired of how we can't applaud all the open source awesomeness around from Plone to Etherpad to Open Security to Linux (the one code to unite them all, sort of). I love Drupal. I'm clearly an evangelist, but if it is not the right solution for something I'm building, I'll use something else. Heck, if FrontPage is the right solution for what I need to post, I'd use that. Using the right tool for the job, isn't that what we all should be doing?

Thu, Mar 8, 2012

Alice - love your work. Just a small correction though - Recovery.gov is SharePoint based not Drupal. Just go to the site and note the URL is .../Pages/default.aspx - or you can view the page source. Its certainly not Drupal despite what they may say.

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