Last week, we launched a new version of Acquia Lift, our personalization tool. Acquia Lift learns about your visitors' interests, preferences and context and uses that information to personalize and contextualize their experience. After more than a year of hard work, Acquia Lift has many new and powerful capabilities. In this post, I want to highlight some of the biggest improvements.
To begin, Acquia Lift's new user interface is based on the outside-in principle. In the case of Acquia Lift, this means that the user interface primarily takes the form of a sidebar that can slide out from the edge of the page when needed. From there, users can drag and drop content into the page and get an instant preview of how the content would look. From the sidebar, you can also switch between different user segments to preview the site for different users. Personalization rules can be configured as A/B tests, and all rules affecting a certain area of a page can easily be visualized and prioritized in context. The new user interface is a lot more intuitive.
Having a complete view of the customer is one of the core ideas of personalization. This means being able to capture visitor profiles and behavioral data, as well as implicit interests across all channels. Acquia Lift also makes it possible to segment and target audiences in real time based on their behaviors and actions. For example, Acquia Lift can learn that someone is more interested in "tennis" than "soccer" and will use that information to serve more tennis news.
It is equally important to have a complete view of the content and experiences that you can deliver to those customers. The latest version of Acquia Lift can aggregate content from any source. This means that the Acquia Lift tray shows you content from all your sites and not just the site you're on. You can drag content from an ecommerce platform into a Drupal site and vice versa. The rendering of the content can be done inside Drupal or directly from the content's source (in this case the ecommerce platform). A central view of all your organization's content enables marketers to streamline the distribution process and deliver the most relevant content to their customers, regardless of where that content was stored originally.
Content can also be displayed in any number of ways. Just as content in Drupal can have different "display modes" (i.e. short form, long form, hero banner, sidebar image, etc), content in Acquia Lift can also be selected for the right display format in addition to the right audience. In fact, when you connect a Drupal site to Acquia Lift, you can simply configure which "entities" should be indexed inside of Acquia Lift and which "display modes" should be available, allowing you to reuse all of your existing content and configurations. Without this capability, marketers are forced to duplicate the same piece of content in different platforms and in several different formats for each use. Building a consistent experience across all channels in a personalized way then becomes incredibly difficult to manage. The new capabilities of Acquia Lift remedy this pain point.
In addition, we've also taken an API-first approach. The new version of Acquia Lift comes with an open API, which can be used for tracking events, retrieving user segments in real time, and showing decisions and content inside of any application. Developers can now use this capability to extend beyond the Lift UI and integrate behavioral tracking and personalization with experiences beyond the web, such as mobile applications or email.
I believe personalization and contextualization are becoming critical building blocks in the future of the web. Earlier this year I wrote that personalization is one of the most important trends in how digital experiences are being built today and will be built in the future. Tools like Acquia Lift allow organizations to better understand their customer's context and preferences so they can continue to deliver the best digital experiences. With the latest release of Acquia Lift, we've taken everything we've learned in personalization over the past several years to build a tool that is both flexible and easy to use. I'm excited to see the new Acquia Lift in the hands of our customers and partners.
The first half of the presentation I provided a technical update on Drupal 8. I showcased some of the big changes in Drupal 8.2 such as the settings tray, REST API improvements, migration tool improvements, and easier to use block placement. I also talked about how we've transformed Drupal 8 for continuous innovation. I'm super excited about our improved development process and release cycle, as it helps us ship innovative updates to Drupal 8 faster and with a much easier upgrade path.
The second half of the talk focused on "The why" of Drupal, and asked an important question for all of us to think about: what is Drupal's collective purpose? In addition to me talking about my own purpose, my team interviewed Drupal people around the world about their passion and purpose.
I featured a lot of interviews with Drupalists. If you're interested in viewing their individual videos, they're now available on my YouTube channel:
When I was on vacation in Italy this summer, I had no internet, which gave me a lot of time to think. Some of that time was spent reflecting on why I do what I do. I have been working on Drupal for over 15 years and on Acquia for almost 10 years. The question of what gives me meaning and purpose has changed drastically over that time.
I started Drupal because I wanted to build a website for myself and a few friends. In the early days of Drupal, I was obsessed with the code and architecture of Drupal.
As I wrote in 2006: "I focused completely and utterly on creating fewer and fewer lines of more elegant code.". I wanted Drupal to be pure. I wanted the code to be perfect. For Drupal to be architected in the right way, I had to rewrite it multiple times and strip away anything that wasn't necessary – I couldn't imagine preserving backwards compatibility as it meant we had to drag along a lot of historical baggage. My mission in the early days was to keep the platform fast, clean and on the leading edge of technology.
As time passed and Drupal started growing, my role evolved. More people became involved with Drupal, and I thought more about scaling the community, including our tools, processes and culture. I started to focus on building the Drupal Association, promoting Drupal, handling trademark issues, and last but not least, setting the overall direction of the project. In the process, I started to worry less about achieving that perfect vision and more about the health of the community and collaborating on a shared vision.
While I miss programming, I have come to accept that I can't do everything. Every day when I wake up, I decide where I want to focus my energy. My guiding principle at this time in my life is to optimize for impact. That means enabling others versus doing much programming myself.
While in Italy, I decided to make a list of the moments in Drupal's history that stand out as particularly meaningful or purposeful. I started to discover some patterns in these moments, and ended up sorting them into two groups. Here is the first set:
All of these moments suggest that my purpose is self-transcendent – I get meaning when my work matters more to others than it does to me. Organized into radiating circles, the impact on each of these groups gives me purpose: individual Drupalists, the Drupal community, Drupal end users, and the open web. This is why I've become so passionate about things like usability, internationalization and accessibility over the years.
I know it's not just me; my team interviewed many other people that have the same feelings of finding meaning when their work results in life-changing outcomes. One great example is "Franck" Seferiba Salif Soulama, who hopes that training more young people in Drupal can lift people from Burkina Faso, Africa out of poverty. He wants to provide them job opportunities so they don't have to leave their country. Other examples are Drew Gorton or Ronan Dowling. There are many people like Franck, Drew or Ronan around the world that have a positive domino effect on others.
The second group of moments I wrote down weren't necessarily self-transcendent, but still gave me purpose. Here are a few examples:
Many of us find meaning when the hard and uncomfortable work results in life-changing outcomes for others. Not only does this type of work provide purpose, some people believe it is the recipe for success. For example, Angela Lee Duckworth's TED talk on grit applies directly to the work that is done by Drupal's maintainers.
Hearing all of these inspirational stories makes me think: How we can attract more people to the project, but do so in a way that ensures we share our core values (like giving back)? While there are no straightforward answers to this question, there are many organizations that are doing great things in this area.
One example is the Drupal Campus Ambassador Program which hopes to appoint ambassadors in every university in India to introduce more students to Drupal and help them with their job search. While at Drupalcon India earlier this year, I met Rakesh James, who has personally trained 600 people on Drupal!
Another example is the Drupal apprenticeship program in the UK, which focuses on recruiting new talent to the Drupal community. Participants get an extensive Drupal bootcamp to help them with their job search. Many of these apprentices are disadvantaged young people who have great talent and aptitude, but might be lacking the traditional route or access to a meaningful career path.
I'd love to take programs like these global – they instill our values, culture and a sense of purpose to many new people. If you know of similar initiatives, or have ideas to share, please do so in the comments section.
Based on my own introspection, and hearing from amazing Drupalists from around the world, I truly believe that Drupal is fueled by a collective sense of purpose that sets us apart from other open source software communities and organizations. We need to keep this purpose in mind when we make decisions, especially when the going gets tough. What is your sense of purpose? And how can we scale it around the world?
This week Acquia was named a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management. We're quite excited about it at Acquia as it's the third year in a row that we received this recognition from Gartner.
Organizations planning large WCM deployments rely on reports such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management to give them a comprehensive view of the competitive landscape. Acquia's strong placement will cause many organizations to give Drupal a closer look for their content management projects. Acquia is the only open source company included among the six leaders, and as CMSWire's Dom Nicastro reported, "Acquia made the biggest positive move" of all the solutions ranked in Gartner's report.
What I found especially interesting in this year's report was their observation that the WCM market is beginning to split in two subcategories: the first subcategory treats the web as an ever more important channel for marketing and communications; the second subcategory is focused on more profound digital transformations, where WCM is a strategic technology to create new business models and build new digital experiences.
Drupal is used for both. Johnson & Johnson, MillerCoors and Motorola are examples of brands that are creating digital experiences to support their marketing and communications. Look to the City of Boston's work to reimagine citizen engagement, or the innovation at Hubert Burda Media to transform the publishing industry for the next digital age as examples of the latter.
In the past, after every major release of Drupal, most innovation would shift to two areas: (1) contributed modules for the current release, and (2) core development work on the next major release of Drupal. This innovation model was the direct result of several long-standing policies, including our culture of breaking backward compatibility between major releases.
In many ways, this approach served us really well. It put strong emphasis on big architectural changes, for a cleaner, more modern, and more flexible codebase. The downsides were lengthy release cycles, a costly upgrade path, and low incentive for core contributors (as it could take years for their contribution to be available in production). Drupal 8's development was a great example of this; the architectural changes in Drupal 8 really propelled Drupal's codebase to be more modern and flexible, but also came at the cost of four and a half years of development and a complex upgrade path.
As Drupal grows — in lines of code, number of contributed modules, and market adoption — it becomes harder and harder to rely purely on backward compatibility breaks for innovation. As a result, we decided to evolve our philosophy starting after the release of Drupal 8.
The only way to stay competitive is to have the best product and to help people adopt it more seamlessly. This means that we have to continue to be able to reinvent ourselves, but that we need to make the resulting changes less scary and easier to absorb. We decided that we wanted more frequent releases of Drupal, with new features, API additions, and an easy upgrade path.
To achieve these goals, we adopted three new practices:
Now that Drupal 8 has been released for about 10 months and Drupal 8.2 is scheduled to be released next week, we can look back at how this new process worked. Drupal 8.1 introduced two new experimental modules (the BigPipe module and a user interface for data migration), various API additions, and usability improvements like spell checking in CKEditor. Drupal 8.2 further stabilizes the migration system and introduces numerous experimental alpha features, including significant usability improvements (i.e. block placement and block configuration), date range support, and advanced content moderation — among a long list of other stable and experimental improvements.
It's clear that these regular feature updates help us innovate faster — we can now add new capabilities to Drupal that previously would have required a new major version. With experimental modules, we can get features in users' hands early, get feedback quickly, and validate that we are implementing the right things. And with the scheduled release cycle, we can deliver these improvements more frequently and more predictably. In aggregate, this enables us to innovate continuously; we can bring more value to our users in less time in a sustainable manner, and we can engage more developers to contribute to core.
It is exciting to see how Drupal 8 transformed our capabilities to continually innovate with core, and I'm looking forward to seeing what we accomplish next! It also raises questions about what this means for Drupal 9 — I'll cover that in a future blog post.
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