(I originally wrote this blog post as a guest article for Forbes. I'm cross-posting it to my blog.)
To "assemble" means to build. Assembling also means that we come together. Sometimes, both aspects are true. When that happens and we work together to build, we are better off for it.
The open source community is a perfect example of this. When Linux creator Linus Torvalds spoke about how it felt to get contributions from a worldwide network of people, he remarked "I had hoisted myself up on the shoulders of giants". I'm lucky enough to feel the same way.
The Internet has created a culture of sharing, letting people connect and collaborate on areas of common interest. When I started developing Drupal in 2000 from my university dormitory in Antwerp, I never imagined I'd build a network of people who were interested in building a content management system with me. Yet word of my project spread, and before I knew it, I was getting contributions to my project from around the world. Soon I also was standing on the shoulders of giants.
We didn't know it at the time, but this founding group of Drupalists was creating the basis for the assembled web. The assembled web is the next stage in the evolution of the web. While the coded web will always continue to exist, it will be a minority.
Think of the assembled web almost as an app store model for creating a digital experience. For example, if you want your website to allow social comments to flow in from Facebook or Twitter, you can simply add a module that someone has already coded. If you want to add analytics, maps, or almost anything you can imagine — there's probably a module for that.
While the modules are built on a foundation of code, they require no coding to install and build with ... to assemble. Instead, the vision of a great digital experience can be accomplished by someone with no coding experience, who can now simply "snap" the pieces of a new web experience together.
So, why is the assembled web rising to prominence so quickly, and what does that mean for developers?
- First, there are more websites now than ever before, and there's no sign of that growth slowing down. Ten years ago, a company had one website. Now, that same company might manage dozens or even hundreds of sites.
- Second, the complexity of websites has skyrocketed. Applications, integrations with third-party systems, social media integration, and the mobile web have all driven this complexity. New technologies emerge and replace the old. For example, Flash has almost been driven to extinction, replaced by HTML5, CSS3 and other more modern standards.
These two trends, set against the way many sites are built today, make it difficult to keep up with the changing standards, much less innovate and move the digital experience forward.
There is only one way to keep up: do more with less. I first imagined the assembled web in 2005, when the widespread use of content management systems began to replace the webmaster role as we knew it. Webmasters were no longer hired to write HTML by hand, or upload code to an FTP. In a way, the CMS eliminated the middleman.
Beyond our own evolution as developers, outside forces have also fundamentally altered the web. Ten years ago, the global phenomenon of Facebook didn't exist. Twitter didn't exist. The iPhone had yet to be released and create the mobile ecosystem that we know today. Think about the amount of change that's happened in such a short period. Now what will the world, and the web, look like another 10 years from today? No one knows.
The best thing to do is to adopt a platform that can change at the pace of the web. Developers will be tasked with building new functionality, and expanding the world of possibilities that modules can deliver. The innovation that developers will bring is crucial, and will power the assembled web by lowering barriers and democratizing the experience of site building.
The assembled web doesn't just have implications for the way developers create websites. It will have a widespread impact on any person or organization that needs to keep up with rapidly changing external forces. That's pretty much everyone. Think about how the assembly line changed manufacturing the first time. And how 3D printing is changing it again now. We can build faster and smarter than ever before. Similarly, the assembled web gives more people the tools to build the web as we know it.
Anyone without coding experience will be able to use an open source CMS to assemble a site by simply snapping modules together. A marketer could build a site for a new product launch without relying on the engineering team. An entrepreneur could launch a company site without hiring a webmaster. This phenomenon frees up time for developers to create new ways to connect citizens to their governments, nonprofits to donors, businesses to customers, friends and family to each other. Launching a disruptive business idea or reacting to today's rapid market changes could be accomplished without technical assistance. Going from vision to realization, for the first time, would be a single step. This advantage would finally bring the speed of digital site building in line with the speed of the web.
This evolution isn't a scary thing for developers; it's an opportunity. The web has forced a constant reinvention of everything. Careers. The way we compete for business. Being more efficient in the way we assemble a website will allow us to focus on the things that matter more, like innovation and creativity. By standing on the shoulders of giants, we can make things look and operate more beautifully than we'd ever have expected.
Over the past two years, we've built Drupal 8 into what will be the most flexible, future-proof Drupal version ever. Core developers have contributed thousands of hours of work to expanding Drupal 8's capabilities and modernizing our APIs.
We're several months into Drupal 8's API completion phase, and we're releasing monthly alphas as we nail down key APIs, refine the developer experience, and continue vital work on performance. To finish Drupal 8, we must focus on essentials, so I'd like to ask the Drupal developer community to look ahead to the next big step: the first Drupal 8 beta.
When does alpha become beta?
Earlier in the year, we announced that Drupal 8's first beta would be released once we had a stable data upgrade path from Drupal 7. At DrupalCon Prague, however, the Drupal core developer team made a bold decision: instead of using Drupal's
update.php database update script to convert Drupal 7 sites to Drupal 8 on the fly, Drupal 8 core will instead include a robust data migration API (based on the popular migrate module) to migrate data from existing sites into new Drupal 8 installations. This means that Drupal 8 core will provide reliable, extensible migration from Drupal 6 as well as Drupal 7. We believe this to be important for organizations running older versions of Drupal can reliably modernize their sites.
Data migration no longer blocks a beta release
In order to make this important data migration change possible for Drupal 8, the initial Drupal 8.0 release will be primarily intended for building new Drupal sites, and the finished data migration path for existing Drupal 6 or 7 sites may be provided in a later Drupal 8 release, like Drupal 8.1. (For more information on how we might improve the Drupal release cycle after the release of Drupal 8, see the proposal to manage the Drupal 8 release cycle.)
This means that a data upgrade path from Drupal 7 is no longer a prerequisite for releasing Drupal 8.0-beta1. Instead, we will focus on what testers and contributed module authors most need from a Drupal 8 beta: (1) a stable data model and (2) stable critical APIs.
Stable data model
A stable data model means that developers should not need to perform data migrations between beta releases of Drupal 8 (except where necessary to resolve critical issues). The Drupal 8 data model includes database schemas, file-based configuration storage, and storage services like the Entity and State systems.
Stable critical APIs
To provide contributed module developers with a useful milestone for module porting, beta 1 will include stable critical APIs. These are fundamental APIs that most or all contributed modules depend on, including the configuration system, the Entity and Field API, the Plugin API, and the Routing and Menu systems.
Other API changes approved by core maintainers will continue through the end of the API completion phase, but after the first beta, we will shift from away removing deprecated code and instead retain more backward compatibility layers. (Module/theme developers who wish to go through the porting process only once should wait for the first release candidate.)
What issues are blocking beta1?
Drupal core maintainers determine which specific issues must be resolved to meet the criteria above. We have worked with core developers to identify a list of beta-blocking issues. There are currently 48 of these "beta blockers" outstanding. As you can see, there are many difficult problems in this list that need to be solved. We need your help to resolve these issues so that we can release beta1 and expand Drupal 8's reach to new testers and contributors.
It's focus time!
While the end of Drupal 8's development cycle is in sight, there's still a lot of work to do. Now more than ever it's essential to focus on the critical issues that will bring Drupal 8 closer to release. If we don't, we risk pushing Drupal 8's release off for many more months. The sooner we create a beta, the sooner we can release Drupal 8 to the world.
Many people looking forward to Drupal 8's release aren't sure how best to help out. I'd like to ask all sub-system maintainers to watch their sub-system's issue queues closely to help new contributors triage issues and fix bugs, especially for beta-blocking issues. I'd also like to ask everyone to review patches carefully, make only necessary API changes, and document APIs clearly. Or, if you aren't able to work on Drupal 8 issues directly, consider sponsoring core developers for Drupal 8 contribution.
Help us make Drupal 8 the best release of Drupal yet by working on our alpha releases and toward a Drupal 8 beta!
Over the past twelve months, I’ve become a bit of an obsessive follower of Bitcoin. It started after I read Satoshi Nakamoto’s original Bitcoin paper. It was a fascinating read and my first introduction to crypto-currencies. I even had a couple of lunches in Boston with Gavin Andresen, Bitcoin’s current project lead.
I was close to buying some Bitcoin when I first got interested, but backed off. It was too bad because Bitcoin's value increased from $13 a year ago to around $1,000 at the time wrote this: a 4,000% increase in 12 months. I didn't buy my first Bitcoins until a month ago. I bought them with some reluctance but I figured that people felt a certain reluctance when paper money first came along. But I bought them because to me it seemed like Bitcoin could work and also because I wanted to have a better understanding of what it was all about.
Bitcoin is a purely digital currency. There are no records of Satoshi's identity so no one knows who invented it, no one controls it and it is not backed by gold. It is something akin to a digital version of gold. It's fascinating. At the core of the Bitcoin system is a global, public log, called the "blockchain", that records all transactions between Bitcoin clients. A user can send Bitcoins to another user by forming a transaction and committing it to the blockchain. The blockchain is maintained not by a central body, like a central bank, but by a distributed network of computers, called "miners". Everyone can be a miner, and the miners collectively record and verify all transactions.
Compared to traditional banks, the advantages of Bitcoin are significant. Bitcoin payments can be made at any day of the week, any time of day to anywhere in the world. The fees and delays involved are small compared to those imposed by banks; pennies compared to dollars and minutes compared to days. And unlike paper money, it is unforgeable. Unlike gold, its supply is perfectly verifiable. It is also immune to inflation: governments can't print more Bitcoins to pay off their debts.
The design and architecture of Bitcoin is both a curse and a blessing. The lack of central authority governing Bitcoin raises questions. Governments tend to enjoy power of observation; it makes it easier to fight money laundering, tax evasion and other crimes. As Bitcoin continues to gain popularity, governments may grow increasingly resistant and attempt to shut down Bitcoin. And banks don't like Bitcoin either. Money transfer is an important part of their business; it has almost zero risk, almost zero cost, yet provides them billions of dollars in revenue. In a world where Bitcoin is universally accepted, banks may have a diminished role.
The jury is out on whether Bitcoin is a fantasy destined for failure, or whether Bitcoin will underpin the future of finance. Some predict the value of one Bitcoin could climb to hundreds of thousands of dollars if it becomes universally accepted. While I risk losing some money, it could also turn out to be a massive investment home-run. I felt that the risk/reward decision made it a bet worth taking.
I certainly don't advise you to buy Bitcoin as I'm skeptical that Bitcoin will succeed. I predict Bitcoin to have an extremely bumpy ride, and at best, to follow Gartner's hype cycle. If Bitcoin ends up collapsing, I will be disappointed but I won't feel stupid. I already sold some Bitcoin and recouped my original investment; I'm long with my remaining Bitcoin.
So is Bitcoin a case of speculative greed, or a utopian cyber-libertarian ideology? In a world where everything is going digital, why not currencies? Bitcoin makes it faster, cheaper and easier to store and transport value. It was designed to overcome problems faced with traditional currencies and banks. At a minimum, Bitcoin has created a lot of debate throughout the world, and has shaken a stagnant banking market. Longer term, the concept of a crypto-currency makes a lot of sense to me. It is massively beneficial for the world that we can transfer money easier, faster and cheaper. I find it hard to believe that a hundred years from now, we'd still be digging up gold, and that we wouldn't have a global, digital currency to replace it.
If you believe a digital currency is the future of money, I'll leave you with one question: how would one launch a world-wide crypto-currency like Bitcoin? It can't be owned by a commercial organization, and I simply can't imagine all the world's governments work together to build and launch something like this. Creative disruption often comes from the outside, and not from the inside. It pretty much has to happen in a grassroots way, not unlike the way the Internet was created. Even today after 30 years, the Internet operates without a central governing body and is comprised of independent, voluntarily networks. It works well and changed the world.
For the International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPwD) today on December 3rd, I want to take some time to reflect on the Drupal community’s work to support universal access to information technology. Drupal is an inclusive community, both in how we interact with each other and in the results of our work.
We understand the need to create software that is accessible, both for consumption and production of content. Our accessibility statement opens by saying:
As an inclusive community, we are committed to making sure that Drupal is an accessible tool for building websites that can also be accessed by people with disabilities.
Donna Benjamin and Jesse Beach wrote a great overview of the accessibility improvements efforts in Drupal 8. It will meet higher standards of access than our previous releases. As developers and site builders, we continue to incorporate new techniques and access technologies into Drupal. Accessibility to the core.
As a community, we're proud and thankful for the efforts of all those who have contributed time and energy writing, reviewing and testing patches aimed at improving the accessibility of Drupal. There is much work still to do. If you are able, please join the accessibility effort to make sure our next version is our best yet. Thank you!
I'm turning 35 today. 35 is a weird age. It feels like a milestone birthday; like I'm turning the corner into adulthood for good. Turning 35, it seems, is not without complications. I feel like I became part of the old folk whose cool is threatened by youngsters. Anxious, as I've so much left to achieve and experience.
And yet, I am following my passions and there is not much more I'd want. People have asked me what I'd like for my birthday. I'd love it if you gave me one of the following two things: