Healthcare IT News takes open-source approach

By Jeff Marion
07:39 AM

Pop the hood on our new Web site and you’ll find one very powerful engine. It’s called Drupal, a free, open-source platform that powers all of our content entry. As many healthcare IT workers know, the value of open-source solutions isn't just the (lack of) price tag: it's the fact that the products are user-developed, community-tested and constantly improved.

After an exhaustive evaluation process, the open-source model was the only solution that met our needs for a fast-paced, ever-adapting content management system (CMS).

The CMS is the backbone of any news publishing Web site. It allows us non-coders to keep the site updated daily with fresh content - news, podcasts, videos, resources and more. With some light training, it's easy to update our new site with content-rich stories and media.

Not all software platforms are created equal. During our search we looked at a number of off-the-shelf engines. These were mostly custom-built, proprietary engines requiring monthly license fees and close contact with the vendor, as they alone knew the code and how it functioned.

Drupal is a completely different animal. It is open-source, like the Linux operating system, and with a growing community of millions of users worldwide. New plug-ins, called "modules" in Drupal-speak, are constantly being developed by the user community, adding new features and functionalities free for use by any Drupal-powered website.

Got a bug with your site? Want to expand the functionality? Drupal offers a simple do-it-yourself style with an active community always just an email or forum post away. Some of the customization still requires a bit of programming elbow grease, but for the most part Drupal is hands off.

An open source platform also gives you more freedom. You’re not locked into a propriety system. Instead, anyone and everyone has access to the code, meaning bugs are found and fixed more quickly, and you can outsource web development or even change web vendors without a major infrastructure overhaul.

When you become a Drupal user, you are joining a large international community of some of the biggest organizations on the Internet today. Drupal users include NASA, FedEx, MTV UK, The Onion, Popular Science, The United Nations, and Sony Music. (45 Drupal Sites Which You May Not Have Known Were Drupal Based, Drupal case studies).

The inspired community of programmers are constantly churning out amazing new (and did I mention free?) functionality in the form of Drupal modules. One module we’re trying out on our new Web site is called Calais.

Calais, a project initiated by Thomson Reuters and our Web developer, Phase 2 Technology, semantically tags all of our news stories in order to suggest related stories that might be of interest to our readers. To the right of most stories you will see a list of “suggested content” – these links are automatically generated by Calais based on complex algorithms that scan each article and extract related topics, people, places, and subjects.

We’re still tweaking the module for maximum results, but so far we’ve been quite impressed. With over 10,000 articles on Healthcare IT News, it’s great to have related content suggested to our readers.

In the end it’s not just the price, and it’s not just the functionaly that attracted us to Drupal. It’s the community. A living, breathing network of international programmers, designers, marketers, hard-core geeks, and Internet enthusiasts dedicated to open-source software and the continuing evolution of a project they love.