Drupal 2011 retrospective and 2012 predictions

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2011 was a tremendous year of major growth for Drupal, and also a year that kept me very, very busy.

Drupal 7

At the beginning of the year, thanks to the efforts of nearly 1,000 contributors, we released Drupal 7, celebrating the event together as a community with over 250 parties in over 90 countries. An incredible achievement for all of us.

Drupal release party map
A map of all the Drupal 7 release parties around the world: over 250 parties in more than 90 countries.

With a new release comes a fresh round of evangelism. I traveled 412,000 km (or 256,000 miles) in 2011, up from 300,000 km (190,000 miles) in 2010 and about 100,000 km (62,000 miles) in 2009. Given that the world is about 40,000 km (or 25,400 miles), I flew around the world approximately 10 times, or roughly once a month. Or put differently, I traveled an average of 1100 km a day (or 680 miles a day). Needless to say, that is a lot of evangelizing! And although it may not be visible, I believe this evangelizing to be very effective in promoting Drupal and creating local communities around the globe.

Three of the places I visited that I'm most excited about were Brazil, India, and Singapore. There is a large and growing Drupal following in these places with a lot of opportunity for Drupal.

Today, Drupal 7 is a roaring success. Drupal 7 is being adopted at least twice as fast as Drupal 6 has. Expect to see Drupal's adoption to grow throughout 2012 thanks to Drupal 7.

Drupal 8

Drupal also turned 10 years old in 2011, and we had a big birthday bash at DrupalCon Chicago, where we also kicked off development of Drupal 8, and started work on major core initiatives, to help ensure that Drupal stays relevant in the ever-changing web. At DrupalCon London, I presented the results of a community-wide survey with over 3,000 participants, which both reinforced the strategic importance of the existing initiatives, plus added a few more, which I hope to announce in 2012.

These initiatives are being led by Greg Dunlap (Configuration Management), Larry Garfield (Web Services), Gábor Hojtsy (Multilingual), Jacine Luisi (HTML5), Jeff Burnz (Design), and John Albin (Mobile), and are happening in conjunction with other great community initiatives for Drupal 8. A huge thanks to everyone who's been working hard on improving Drupal 8!

In addition to celebrating our future, we also tried to learn from our past. We held a development process retrospective discussion on Drupal 7's 3-year release cycle and the lessons learned: what went well, what didn't, and what we should hook_process_alter() in Drupal 8. As a result, we implemented numerous core development process tweaks (a hard cap on the number of critical and major issues, worked with the various Drupal core team leads to develop "gates" that document how to review patches for accessibility, performance, usability, testing, and documentation). We also made a number of improvements to the collaboration tools on Drupal.org (e.g. issue summaries, image uploads, and subscriptions).

Due to our community's initial focus during the release cycle on stabilization and bug fixes, Drupal 8 development really only recently came into bloom, around the time of DrupalCon London. However, since then, a number of exciting improvements have gone in, including patches to convert Drupal 8 to HTML5 and clean up Drupal's multilingual system, a new object-oriented entity API and cache system, and numerous documentation and API clean-ups. Additionally, there is some promising prototyping going on for the web services and configuration management initiatives.

Drupal Association

Another aspect of Drupal that took a front seat for me in 2011 was the "rebooting" of the Drupal Association: moving to a US-based 501c3 organization, changing the structure of the organization to one of a policy-making board with supporting committees, and electing a new board of directors.

Understanding the importance of these changes requires some familiarity with the Drupal Association's history, as well as the background of the changes. But the key goals are:

  1. Move the board away from essentially unpaid "staff" positions (infrastructure manager, event manager, etc.) to a policy-making board. This allows the Drupal Association's activities to scale with the exponential growth of the community and not be hamstrung by what 7-9 individuals are capable of doing.
  2. Increase the diversity and effectiveness of the board through targeted outreach of new members via a dedicated Nominating Committee.
  3. Increase direct community representation in board decisions through the inclusion of community-elected, "at-large" board members.
  4. Empower the community to get directly involved with the Drupal Association's activities through participation in focused committees, such as an Infrastructure Committee and Events Committee.
  5. Move operations to the US, where most of our income comes from (which can now be tax-deductible donations), and where most of our staff is located, in order to help increase the efficiency of running the organization.

While these changes took a lot of time to implement, and a few are still ongoing, I believe they will set a very strong foundation for the future of the organization.

In fact, the Drupal Association 2012 planning has already kicked off. Our primary goals for 2012 are to make Drupal.org awesome, and to help address Drupal's talent shortage issue.

Despite the growth and opportunity, finding Drupal talent still remains really, really hard. It continues to be Drupal's most important challenge in my opinion. I'm really glad we decided to focus on it with the Drupal Association.

Community

It certainly hasn't all been rosy, though; 2011 was also a year with challenges, particularly within the core development team. We've certainly struggled with morale issues following nearly two years without a development phase in Drupal core, misunderstandings about the relationship between "official" initiatives and community initiatives, concerns about the balance between adding new features and cleaning up existing technical debt, as well as even more existential questions like "Is Drupal a product or framework? Should Drupal be a page generator or a REST server?".

Much of the growing pains are normal. We're now one of the largest Open Source projects in terms of active contributors -- if not the largest. That growth requires us to evolve how we work. We've grown from a 100% volunteer driven model to a model where there is increasingly more corporate participation and influence. This model is not new to the world. There comes a time when a volunteer-based project needs to foster commercial involvement to help the project advance and compete. Linux is our best example. Without Red Hat, IBM and Dell, Linux would not be what it is today. One of our biggest challenges for 2012, is to figure out how we can get more commercial organizations to get involved with Drupal development in a bigger way while respecting the needs and desires of our community.

Although I also want to do a lot of evangelizing in 2012, I feel like the pendulum has to swing back. I want to re-balance how my time is spent and focus more on Drupal 8 and the Drupal community, in order to spend focused time and energy on overcoming these growing pains.

As a community, we shouldn't forget about the evangelizing though, and this is something a lot of people can help with. It sometimes frustrates me that we spent 3 years working on Drupal 7 with almost a thousand people, but don't properly tell the world about all the great things we've done. Especially because over the years, Drupal has built up a reputation of being hard to use compared to some alternatives. A lot of that is changed with Drupal 7, but it isn't necessarily reflected in how people think and talk about Drupal. To change that, we need to continue to educate people about all the great improvements we made to Drupal 7 and encourage those that gave up on Drupal previously, to give Drupal another try. Drupal 7 is a giant step forward compared to Drupal 6.

Overall, I'm confident that we can overcome these challenges. I really believe in the people that make up our community and the core development team, and our ability to collaborate together to get through tough problems. Drupal will be much better in the end, as a result. We'll have different challenges at the end of 2012.

More predictions for 2012

Here are some more prediction in addition to the predictions and plans above:

  1. As Drupal gains in popularity, the number of developers/shops getting involved will increase, and the Drupal ecosystem on the whole will expand greatly. However, there could be a danger that individual companies who don't invest in marketing may actually see fewer clients as a result. Marketing will be a much larger focus of the business community in 2012.
  2. I hope 2012 will be the year of the Drupal entrepreneur. Drupal companies who specialize in one particular aspect, such as Pantheon, Drupal Commerce, and Tag1 Consulting have seen a lot of success or promise in 2011 (specialization is a form of marketing, after all), but there are many more niches to fill, and many niches that have plenty of room for multiple companies -- something we sometimes seem to forget. I'd love to see more entrepreneurial spirit within the Drupal community.
  3. Another thing I'd love to see is more young people engaging with Drupal in 2012, and have this be a measure of Drupal's success. Some of us old farts are busy raising kids these days. ;-) New, vibrant energy in the community from young people is a hallmark of a great community.
  4. I predict more distributions will be created than ever before. We still haven't fully cracked the code on business models for distributions though. That is important because they are expensive to build and maintain. We're seeing early traction with the support business model around distributions, but in 2012, I think we'll see people experiment with more of a client/server model. That is, people will use distributions as a way to sell different kinds of hosted services.
  5. Usability is still the number one reason people choose competing solutions to Drupal. Not because the existing features are hard to use — usability of Drupal was vastly improved in Drupal 7 — but because of lack of out-of-the-box features, such as content workflow and content staging tools, accurate content previews, WYSIWYG, media handling, and scheduling. However, I predict that very little significant work will happen on many of these fronts without multiple companies investing a lot of resources into it. In any case, we will need to make Drupal core bigger, as we try and make it smaller.
  6. We're going from a pure web world, to a world where there are increasingly more mobile applications. A more diverse world with web sites and web applications. Current website developers will be forced to adapt. Fortunately, Drupal will be well-poised to handle this, both in contrib in Drupal 7 and in core in Drupal 8. I also predict that a number of Drupal shops will re-position themselves to be strong players in the mobile-Drupal world.
  7. Someone will fly a Druplicon shaped hot air balloon.

To finish things off, I want to end with a sincere, heart-felt "Thank you!" to the many members of our community who work so hard and passionately to make Drupal the great success and fun project that it is. So, let me just say from me to you, for making Drupal what it is today, and for working with me to make it better day by day, you ROCK! Here's to 2012!