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Why publishers are using Thunder as a Drupal accelerator

Drupal Distributions can give you a massive head start in your projects. They allow you to skip weeks of configuration and get started sooner on solving the high-value parts of your project. Here we look at how Thunder – a new distribution for professional publishing – can accelerate your Drupal projects.

The case for accelerators

Having worked with Drupal in-agency for many years, I’ve seen first-hand how development teams often end up carrying out the same tasks across different projects for different clients. While every site is unique, it’s important to step back and realise that different media organisations are often looking for identical features and similar end results.

As Ingo Rübe, founder of the Thunder initiative and CTO at Hubert Burda Media, puts it: ‘If you introduce a cool new feature it can easily be copied, and you can expect to see something similar appear on your competitor’s website. But the only ones benefitting from this model are the software companies – it just doesn’t make sense for publishers to duplicate the work’. 

Distributions – or ‘accelerators’ as I think of them – aim to alleviate some of this repetition of work by providing site features and functions for particular types of sites as a single download containing Drupal core, contributed modules, themes, and pre-defined configuration. They don’t solve every problem in your project, but they definitely give you a massive head start by accelerating through the often time-consuming set-up steps in your Drupal project, so that you can crack on with the interesting bits.

Enter Thunder

The Thunder Distribution was initially produced by Burda Media for its own benefit before the  German media organisation decided to open-source it to other publishers.

Thunder consists of the current Drupal 8 functionality, lots of hand-picked publisher-centric modules with custom enhancements, and an environment which makes it easy to install, deploy, and add new functionality.

Hubert Burda Media

Users of the Thunder Distribution benefit from a whole range of channel- and feature-specific enhancements through collaboration with industry partners such as nexx.tv, Riddle.com, and Valiton. And as members of the Thunder Coalition, publishers, industry partners, and developers build custom extensions and share them with the Coalition to further enhance Thunder.

So how can Thunder accelerate your Drupal projects? To help answer this question, here’s an overview of some of the useful features that come preset in Thunder (but would normally require creating from scratch in a standard Drupal 8 installation):

1. Roles and permissions

Roles and permissions are fairly trivial to set up in Drupal, but getting them just right is time-consuming. Thankfully Thunder provides some preset roles – ‘Editor’ and ‘Seo’ – with sensible assigned permissions. This means you can immediately start working from these roles rather than making the common mistake of working on your site as the all-powerful ‘user 1’.

2. Advanced article content type

In the default installation of Drupal 8, there are rightly no assumptions about what your article type should do. Thunder builds on the article type and adds many new features that a publisher would often end up adding onto the default anyway:

  • Channel taxonomy
  • Metadata and SEO related fields
  • Media selection
  • Scheduling of publication
  • XML Sitemap

3. Media configuration and setup

Media management in Drupal 8 is continuing to make great strides, but getting it all working still requires a number of contributed modules and a lot of configuration. Thunder does this for you, along with the placement of third-party media such as video and social media content.

4. Paragraphs 

The Paragraphs module has become a standard way of implementing complex layouts in Drupal. This is achieved by adding predefined content slices – or paragraphs – to a content item. In Thunder, there are a number of ready-made paragraphs, including Gallery, Instagram, Pull Quotes and Twitter. You can implement more as you need then, but the ones provided cover many common use cases.

5. Facebook Instant Articles

A common requirement for content-rich sites is the ability to share content to Facebook in the Instant Articles format whereby articles reportedly load ten times faster than natively, with 70% of users less likely to abandon the article. The configuration to do this is all built into Thunder.

6. Third-party integrations

A number of third-party systems are integrated and ready to go in Thunder, including the Nexx.tv video player and Riddle Interactive content.

Is Thunder right for you?

Whenever the idea of using an accelerator like Thunder comes up at the beginning of a project, you can usually expect some level of resistance from your development team. In some regards, Distributions force you to comply with decisions made by the Distribution development team. If you don’t agree with any decisions they’ve made, ‘undoing’ them requires work.

But as Burda Media’s Ingo Rübe, puts it: ‘We realised that what worked best for us as a publisher would likely work best for the rest of the publishing world. We recognised the benefit of sharing modules and development work and that’s why we decided to open-source Thunder so everyone could benefit from our development and best practices’. 

So by accepting that Thunder makes certain decisions for you, and uses certain publisher-specific configurations, you can ensure the focus of your work is on the more interesting and challenging work, rather than the comparatively mundane initial setup.  

While we subscribe to the notion that every company is a media company, it’s important to remember that Thunder is specifically geared towards professional publishing and certain sites may not benefit as much from this set of defaults. The decision about whether Thunder is right for a particular organisation should be made on a case-by-case basis.

Using Thunder at Inviqa

Here at Inviqa, The Thunder Distribution is our current starting point for certain types of content-rich, media and publishing sites, because of the benefits I’ve outlined above. Coupled with our cloud-based tool for faster development workflows – ContinuousPipe – we can get new projects up and running quickly, so that we’re driving business value from Sprint 1. 

Download Thunder here to try if for yourself. Want to learn how Inviqa can support your content delivery? Drop us a line!