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.
Four weeks ago we went on a vacation in Tuscany. I finally had some time to process the photos and write down our memories from the trip.
We booked a last-minute house in a vineyard called Fattoria di Fubbiano. The vineyard has been producing wine and olive oil since the 14th century. On the eastern edge of the estate, is Al Magrini, a Tuscan farmhouse surrounded by vines and olive trees.
When we arrived, we were struck by the remoteness. We had to drive through dirt roads for 10 minutes to get to our house. But once we got there, we were awestruck. The property overlooks a valley of olive groves and vines. We could have lunch and dinner outside among the rose bushes, and enjoy our own swimming pool with its own sun beds, deck chairs and garden umbrellas.
While it was full of natural beauty, it was also very simple. We quickly realized there was no TV or internet, no living room, and only a basic kitchen; we couldn't run two appliances at the same time. But nothing some wine and cheese can't fix. After some local cheese, olives and wine, we went for a swim in the pool. Vacation had started!
We had dinner in a great little restaurant in the middle of nowhere. We ate some local, traditional food called "tordelli lucchesi". Nearly every restaurant in Lucca serves a version of this traditional Lucchesan dish. Tordelli look like ravioli, but that is where the resemblance ends. The filling is savory rather than cheesy, and the cinnamon- and sage-infused ragù with which the tordelli are served is distinctly Tuscan. The food was exceptional.
We were woken up by loud screaming from Stan: "Axl got hurt! He fell out of the window!". Our hearts skipped several beats because the bedrooms were on the second floor and we told them they couldn't go downstairs in the morning.
Turns out Axl and Stan wanted to surprise us by setting the breakfast table outside. They snuck downstairs and originally set the table inside, wrote a sweet surprise note in their best English, and made "sugar milk" for everyone -- yes, just like it sounds they added tablespoons full of sugar to the milk. Axl then decided he wanted to set the table outside instead. They overheard us saying how much we enjoyed eating breakfast outside last time we were in Italy. They couldn't open the door to the backyard so Axl decided to climb out of the window, thinking he could unlock the door from the outside. In the process, he fell out of the window from about one meter. Fortunately since it was a first floor window (ground level window), Axl got nothing but a few scratches. Sweet but scary.
Later on, we went to the grocery store and spent most of the day at the pool. The boys can't get enough of playing in the water with the inflatable crocodile "Crocky" raft Stan had received for his birthday two years ago. Vanessa can't get enough of the sun and she also confiscated my Kindle.
With no Kindle to read on, I discovered poop next to the pool. I thought it was from a wild horse and was determined to go to look for it in the coming days.
In the late afternoon, we had snacks and prosecco, something which became our daily tradition on vacation. The Italian cheese was great and the "meloni" was so sweet. The food was simple, but tasted so much better than at home. Maybe it's the taste of vacation.
Vanessa did our first load of laundry which needed to dry in the sun. The clothes were a little crunchy, but there was something fulfilling about the simplicity of it.
In good tradition, I made coffee in the morning. As I head downstairs the morning light peeks through all the cracks of the house, and highlights the old brick and stone walls. The coffee machine is charmingly old school. We had to wait 20 minutes or so for the whole pot to brew.
Vanessa made french toast for breakfast. She liked to shout in Dutch "Het is vakantie!" during the breakfast preparation. Stan moaned repeatedly during breakfast - he loved the french toast! It made us laugh really hard.
Today was a national holiday in Italy so everything is closed. We decided to spend the time at the pool; no one was complaining about that. Most weeks feels like a marathon at work, so it was nice to do absolutely nothing for a few days, not keep track of time, and just enjoy our time together.
To take a break from the pool, we decided to walk through the olive groves looking for those wild horses. Axl and Stan weren't especially fond of the walk as it started off uphill. Stan told us "I'm sweating" as if we would turn back. Instead of wild horses we found a small mountain village. The streets were empty and the shutters were closed to keep the peak heat of the day out. It seemed like we had stepped back in time 30-40 years.
Sitting next to the pool gave me a lot of time to think and reflect. It's nice to have some headspace. Our afternoon treat by the pool was iced coffee! We kept the leftover coffee from the morning to pour over ice for a refreshing drink. One of Vanessa's brilliant ideas.
Our evening BBQs are pretty perfect. We made Spanish style bruschetta; first grilling the bread, then rubbing it with garlic and tomato, drizzle some local olive oil over it, and add salt and pepper. After the first bite it was requested we make this more often.
We really felt we're all connecting. We even had an outdoor dance party as the sun was setting. Axl wrote in our diary: "Vanessa laughed so hard she almost peed her pants. LOL.". Stan wanted to know if his moves made her laugh the hardest.
Every evening we would shower to wash off the bug spray, because mosquitos were everywhere. When it was finally my time to shower, we ran out of water -- just when I was all soaped up. Fortunately, we had a bottle of Evian that I could use to rinse off (just like the Kardashians).
We set the alarm for 7:30am so we could head to Lucca, a small city 30 minutes from our house -- 15 minutes of that is spent getting out of the vineyard and mountain trails. We were so glad we rented "Renny", our 4x4 Jeep Renegade, as there are no real paved roads in the vineyard.
We visited "La Boutique Dei Golosi", a tiny shop that sold local wines, olive oils and other Italian goods. The shop owner, Alain, opened bottles of wine and let us taste different olive oils on bread. He offered the boys samples of everything the adults tried and was impressed that they liked it. Interestingly enough, all four of us preferred the same olive oil. We shipped 5 bottles home, along with several bottles of wine, limoncello and 3 jars of white truffle paste. It was fun knowing a big box of Italian goods would arrive once we were home.
When we got back from Lucca, we fired up the grill and drank our daily bottle of prosecco. Every hour we hear bells ring -- it's from the little town up on the hill. The bells are how we kept track of time. The go-at-your-own-pace lifestyle is something all North Americans should experience. The rhythm of Tuscany's countryside is refreshing -- the people there know how to live.
Axl and Stan enjoyed the yard. When they weren't playing soccer or hunting for salamanders, they played ninjas using broomsticks. Axl was "Poison Ivy" and Stan was "Bamboo Sham". Apparently, they each have special moves that they can use once every battle.
Today we went wine tasting at our vineyard, Fattoria di Fubbiano, and got a tour of the cellar. It was great that the tour was in "inglese". We learned that they manage 45 hectares and produce 100,000 bottle of wine annually. We bought 21 of them and shipped them home so there is only 99,979 left. The best part? We could walk home afterwards. :)
Our charcoal reserves are running low; a sign of a great vacation.
We visited Montecatini Alto, about a 40 minute drive from our house. To get to Montecatini Alto, we took a funicular built in 1898. They claim it is the oldest working cable car in the world. I believe them.
Montecatini Alto is a small medieval village that dates back to 1016. It's up on a hill. The views from the village are amazing, overlooking a huge plain. I closed my eyes and let my mind wonder, trying to image how life was back then over a thousand year ago.
The city square was filled with typical restaurants, cafes and shops. We poked around in some of the shops and Stan found a wooden sword he wanted, but couldn't decide if that's what he wanted to spend his money on. To teach Axl and Stan about money, we let them spend €20 of their savings on vacation. Having to use their own money made them think long and hard on their purchases. Since the shops close from 1pm to 2:30pm, we went for lunch in one of the local restaurants on the central square while Stan contemplated his purchase. It's great to see Axl explore the menu and try new things. He ordered the carbonara and loved it. Stan finally decided he wanted the sword bad enough, so we went back and he bought it for €10.
When we got back to our vineyard, we spotted wild horses! Finally proof that they exist. Vanessa quickly named them Hocus, Pocus and Dominocus.
In the evening we had dinner in a nearby family restaurant called "Da Mi Pa". The boys had tordelli lucchesi and then tiramisu for dessert. Chances are slim but I hope that they will remember those family dinners. They talked about the things that are most important in life, as well as their passions (computer programming for Axl and soccer for Stan). The conversations were so fulfilling and a highlight of the vacation.
Spontaneous last minute decision on what to do today. We came up with a list of things to do and Axl came up with a voting system. We decided to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We were all surprised how much the tower actually leans and of course we did the goofy photos to prove we were there. These won't be published.
Last day of the vacation. We're all a bit sad to go home. The longer we stay, the happier we get. Happier not because of where we were, but about how we connected.
Today, we're making the trek to Florence. One of the things Florence is known for is leather. Vanessa wanted to look for a leather jacket, and I wanted to look for a new duffel bag. We found a shop that was recommended to us; one of the shop owners is originally from the Greater Boston area. Enio, her husband, was very friendly and kind. He talked about swimming in Walden Pond, visiting the Thoreau's House, etc. The boys couldn't believe he had been to Concord, MA. Enio really opened up and gave us a private tour to his leather workshop. His workshop consisted of small rooms filled with piles and piles of leather and all sorts of machinery and tools.
I had a belt made with my initials on it (on the back). Stan got a bracelet made out of the leftover leather from the belt. Axl also got a bracelet made, and both had their initials stamped on them. Vanessa bought a gorgeous brown leather jacket, a purse and funky belt. And last but not least, l found a beautiful handmade ram-skin duffel bag in a cool green color. Enio explained that it takes him two full days to make the bag. It was expensive but will hopefully last for many, many years. I wanted to buy a leather jacket but as usual they didn't have anything my size.
We strolled across the Ponte Vecchio and made some selfies (like every other tourist). We had a nice lunch. Pasta for Vanessa, Axl and myself. Stan still has an aversion to ragù even though he ate it 3 times that week and loved it every time. Then we had our "grand finale gelato" before we headed to the airport.
I've made no secret of my interest in the open web, so it won't come as a surprise that I'd love to see more web applications and fewer native applications. Nonetheless, many argue that "the future of the internet isn't the web" and that it's only a matter of time before walled gardens like Facebook and Google — and the native applications which serve as their gatekeepers — overwhelm the web as we know it today: a public, inclusive, and decentralized common good.
I'm not convinced. Native applications seem to be winning because they offer a better user experience. So the question is: can open web applications, like those powered by Drupal, ever match up to the user experience exemplified by native applications? In this blog post, I want to describe inversion of control, a technique now common in web applications and that could benefit Drupal's own user experience.
Using a native application — for the first time — is usually a high-friction, low-performance experience because you need to download, install, and open the application (Android's streamed apps notwithstanding). Once installed, native applications offer unique access to smartphone capabilities such as hardware APIs (e.g. microphone, GPS, fingerprint sensors, camera), events such as push notifications, and gestures such as swipes and pinch-and-zoom. Unfortunately, most of these don't have corresponding APIs for web applications.
A web application, on the other hand, is a low-friction experience upon opening it for the first time. While native applications can require a large amount of time to download initially, web applications usually don't have to be installed and launched. Nevertheless, web applications do incur the constraint of low performance when there is significant code weight or dozens of assets that have to be downloaded from the server. As such, one of the unique challenges facing web applications today is how to emulate a native user experience without the drawbacks that come with a closed, opaque, and proprietary ecosystem.
In the spirit of open source, the Drupal Association invited experts from the wider front-end community to speak at DrupalCon New Orleans, including from Ember and Angular. Ed Faulkner, a member of the Ember core team and contributor to the API-first initiative, delivered a fascinating presentation about how Drupal and Ember working in tandem can enrich the user experience.
Ed's changes are not in production on Drupal.com, but in his demo, clicking a teaser image causes it to "explode" to become the hero image of the destination page. Pairing Ember with Drupal in this way allows a user to visually and mentally transition from a piece of teaser content to its corresponding page via an animated transition between pages — all without a page refresh. The animation is very impressive and the animated GIF above doesn't do it full justice. While this transition across pages is similar to behavior found in native mobile applications, it's not currently possible out of the box in Drupal without extensive client-side control.
These impressive interactions are possible using the Ember plugin Liquid Fire. Fewer than 20 lines of code were needed to build the animations in Ed's demo, much like how SDKs for native mobile applications provide easy-to-implement animations out of the box. Of course, Ember isn't the only tool capable of this kind of functionality. The RefreshLess module for Drupal by Wim Leers (Acquia) also uses client-side control to enable navigating across pages with minimal server requests. Unfortunately, RefreshLess can't tap into Liquid Fire or other Ember plugins.
We can apply this principle of inversion of control not only to the end user experience but also to editorial experiences. The last demos in Ed's presentation depict CardStack Editor, a fully decoupled Ember application that uses inversion of control to overlay an administrative interface to edit Drupal content, much like in-place editing.
Those of you following the outside-in work might have noticed some striking similarities between outside-in and the work Ed has been doing: both use inversion of control. The primary purpose of our outside-in interfaces is to provide for an in-context editing experience in which state changes take effect live before your eyes; hence the need for inversion of control.
Thinking about the future, we have to answer the following question: does Drupal want inversion of control to be the rule or the exception? We don't have to answer that question today or tomorrow, but at some point we should.
In the longer term, client-side frameworks like Ember will allow us to build web applications which compete with and even exceed native applications with regard to perceived performance, built-in interactions, and a better developer experience. But these frameworks will also enrich interactions between web applications and device hardware, potentially allowing them to react to pinch-and-zoom, issue native push notifications, and even interact with lower-level devices.
In the meantime, I maintain my recommendation of (1) progressive decoupling as a means to begin exploring inversion of control and (2) a continued focus on the API-first initiative to enable application-like experiences to be developed on Drupal.
I'm hopeful Drupal can exemplify how the open web will ultimately succeed over native applications and walled gardens. Through the API-first initiative, Drupal will provide the underpinnings for web and native applications. But is it enough?
Inversion of control is an important principle that we can apply to Drupal to improve how we power our user interactions and build robust experiences for end users and editors that rival native applications. Doing so will enable us to enhance our user experience long into the future in ways that we may not even be able to think of now. I encourage the community to experiment with these ideas around inversion of control and consider how we can apply them to Drupal.
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