CommonPlaces Interview

CommonPlaces LogoDrupal has really grown in popularity over the past few years, but a lot of people still think of it as a hobbyist’s bit of fun rather than a serious development platform.
But there’s a growing number of Web Development companies out there who are turning to Drupal and it’s versatility to make it their development platform of choice.

So today we get to know one of the biggest and most well-known Drupal companies there is: CommonPlaces.

So here are the questions I put to the CommonPlaces team, thanks to Harry, David, Erich, Chris and Seth for answering the questions:

Question 1

CommonPlaces is a big name in terms of Drupal development companies, tell us a bit about your company and your team.

Harry: CommonPlaces is a nationally recognized web design firm specializing in e-Commerce, Social Networks, and Web 2.0 Applications based in Drupal. CommonPlaces was originally founded by Ben Bassi in 1998 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is now located 45 minutes north of Boston, Massachusetts in New Hampshire. Ben is best known as one of the founding members of Lycos and COO of the Firefly Network that built the Microsoft (Firefly) Passport. We have one of the largest dedicated Drupal development teams in the US. CommonPlaces is much more than just Web Design development, we also provide Strategic Planning, Competitive Analysis, SEO, Interactive Marketing, Copywriting and Customer Service. We firmly believe that every project needs to combine Strategy, Creativity, and Technology in order to be successful. Last year we won numerous awards including Web Marketing Association’s WebAward for “Outstanding Achievement in Website Development.”

Question 2

What were the main factors that convinced you to start using Drupal?

Harry: Well, we could talk about Drupal for days – we even wrote haikus about it – but briefly, we develop in Drupal for the following reasons:

It’s open source, which we like, and it has a large community of supporters, as DrupalSN makes evident. We believe that this creates a product that is more robust and more stable than proprietary solutions.

We evaluated over 200 products on the Web, narrowed them down to twelve that met our needs and brought six in house to build prototypes. The key factor in our decision was the architecture of the core Drupal module that was 8.5K lines of code at that time. We found sites where people evaluated the performance and scalability of Drupal verses other CMS and PHP frameworks. A lot of the CMS’s had module functionality built into the core, which created issues. We found this functionality to be less desirable than the Drupal modules because it they were developed by the project instead of the community. It also created overhead even if you didn’t need that functionality.

We spent two full months with six engineers tearing apart the top 250 modules to rate them for future use. Drupal’s module API was better because we could easily create PHP programs and turn them into modules that could be contributed back to a huge community of developers for continued support. Drupal was also the one framework that had actual high traffic sites using it. Companies like Google and Adobe Systems endorse it as one of the few Open Source technologies that met their internal requirements. The Theme System, based on PHP Template, allowed us to make website with a premium, custom look with far less effort than other template engines such as Smarty.

Question 3

What’s your favourite thing about Drupal?

Erich: Our favorite thing about Drupal is its flexibility. The power of the platform is that you can make it do just about anything without modifying the platform itself. The ability to make custom modules allows you to add new functionality while inheriting the theme and user management. These are benefits that in a custom development scenario could take hundreds of hours.

Question 4

What’s your least favourite thing about Drupal?

Erich: Our least favorite thing about Drupal is the lag between core releases and module versions. Forklift upgrades make it difficult to build large-scale projects on newer versions of core without having to port a lot of modules. An example would be the lag between Drupal 6 and the Views Module.

Question 5

What are your favourite Drupal module(s), and why?

Chris: My favorite Drupal module is Drush, which is a CLI to Drupal. It allows you to easily perform administrative tasks such as running cron, clearing the caches, and installing and updating module.

Question 6

What do you hope for CommonPlaces in 2009?

David: We want to establish ourselves as an elite class of Drupal developers. Last year we were welcomed in the Drupal Community by sponsoring DrupalCons in Boston and Szeged, Hungry. With that in mind, we have three goals for 2009. We want to continue to contribute to Drupal and become a primary resource for development and consultation on the platform. We would like to cement our reputation as an expert in Drupal security. Finally, we want to promote our Internet marketing services as a valuable piece of the puzzle for Web success. We feel that a good strategy is equally important as a well-built site.

Question 7

What are your favourite Drupal-based sites?

Harry: There are so many great Drupal sites out there that it’s hard to single out a few. That being said, we really like sites like Popular Science, The Onion, Spread Firefox, Universal Music Group, and Us Magazine.

Question 8

What modules have you contributed to Drupal?

Seth: Erich has contributed the Permissions API module, which allows for the adding and removing of permissions from a given role. This is often a much simpler option than using the access control page in the admin interface.

Chris has very recently contributed Search Lucene API This module, still in beta, is an interface for modules to index and search content using a Lucene backend, and promises to be a very useful module.

CommonPlaces has also found and fixed security vulnerabilities in the Drupal core, and we have contributed a great number of committed patches.

Question 9

Who are some of your clients?

Harry: We have serviced 200 clients including: Waste Management, MIT, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Staples, ITT, Dish Network, Thompson Financial, America’s Mattress, and Millennium Medical Communications. Having worked with clients in a wide range of sectors (commerce, education, government, publishing, etc.), we’ve gained a great deal of experience with meeting a wide range of client goals. We are most proud of our ability to evaluate businesses and markets to develop innovative Internet business models.

Question 10

What’s a typical day in the CommonPlaces office?

Harry: Well, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a typical day here! And I think our team thrives on that variety. Generally speaking, though, I think a typical day at CommonPlaces proves that people can work hard, accomplish difficult tasks, and have fun at the same time. CommonPlaces is a great place to work, and amidst challenging projects and tight deadlines, laughter is a near-constant occurrence. A typical day includes a healthy dose of NERF gun warfare as well. Many people also enjoy walks through the beautiful surroundings around our office.

Question 11

You’re Platinum Sponsors of DrupalCon DC, what are you most looking forward to about the event?

David: We are looking forward to seeing the number of attendees, all working together to grow the community by sharing knowledge, experience, and code. This is what DrupalCon is all about, and we’re proud to be a part of it. We believe that supporting these activities is critical to the long-term success of the Drupal Community. That is why we decided to be a Platinum sponsor. The knowledge and relationships we walk away with from DrupalCon in the past have proven invaluable. We want to be an active part of this community because we believe that as the tide rises so do all of the boats. We find the more we give the more we get out of the community.

Question 12

What’s on your desk right now?

Harry: NERF gun, of course. Small jar of Play-Doh (blue). Wind-up penguin (no longer winds-up). Frisbee. Various folders. An assortment of pens.

In our office if you do something really great you get a small plastic Burger King bobble head on your desk. Do something bad and you get the eyeless squirrel. Currently I have neither…though the squirrel is on my neighbor’s desk, and frankly, it’s a little too close for comfort.

Question 13

Nine members of your staff are signed up to DrupalSN. What do you see as the benefits of being on DrupalSN?

David: By being a part of this community you get to take pride in showing off your newest projects, as well as see what amazing things other people are doing with Drupal. It’s also a great place to network and contact people directly who you think might be able to answer your questions.

I’d like to once again thank everyone over at for supporting and taking the time to answer my questions. Big thanks to CommonDavid for making this all possible too!!

If you want inspiration be sure to check out the CommonPlaces portfolio.

If you enjoyed this feature please comment below and me know what you thought.

Commenting on this Feature Article is closed.

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