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My predictions for 2009

It is that time of year again. Time to reflect on 2008, and to put on my Drupal Nostradamus hat and look forward to 2009. But first of all, thanks for 2008! It's been a pretty crazy ride.

Drupal

My personal Drupal highlights for 2008 include the Drupal 6 release (the best Drupal release ever!), both DrupalCon Boston and DrupalCon Szeged, the Drupal.org redesign that is in progress, and, of course, beating Joomla and Wordpress at the Packt awards. ;-) As I predicted last year, more than ten books were written about Drupal, compared to a single book in 2007. The increase in Drupal books is another highlight as I actively helped connect authors to publishers. I truly enjoyed being part of the Drupal community in 2008.

My personal low for 2008 is regret that some key modules lagged behind the Drupal 6 release. The majority of these modules have now been released, and Drupal 6 is finally getting on the fast lane now. The message is clear: we'll continue to see tremendous growth and adoption in 2009.

Why?

  1. Drupal 6 is easier to use, runs faster, and comes with many great new features. The work we did on Drupal 6 throughout 2007 and 2008 will pay off in 2009.
  2. Economic pressure will help accelerate Drupal's growth, and that of Open Source in general. More site owners will discover that with Drupal, you can build a better website cheaper than with many of its proprietary counterparts.
  3. Social publishing (blogs, forums, wikis, social networks, etc.) will become more pervasive and continue to make inroads in organizations seeking to facilitate collaboration between teams and departments. These applications, while nothing new, make many aspects of business better, are here to stay, and will mature over time. Drupal continues to be in that sweet spot.

I'll continue to have a software love affair with Drupal in 2009. At the moment, I'm very excited about the community's growing interest in the semantic web -- and all the related interoperability and decentralization technologies. The seed of what I hope will become a strong marriage between Drupal and semantic web technologies was planted in my DrupalCon Boston 2008 keynote in February (with the help, hard work and preparation of many others), and will continue to grow in 2009. Drupal continues to be a technology pioneer in 2009.

I predict that Drupal 7 will be released in the fourth quarter of 2009. The two most exciting features in Drupal 7 core will be custom content types and radical improvements in usability. To reduce the risk of important modules falling behind in support or update path, a significant portion of the Content Construction Kit (CCK) related modules will move to core and we'll pave the way for the Views modules. The same holds true for other important contributed modules, including token module, path auto module, and image handling functionality. In 2009, core becomes bigger, not smaller. The Drupal 7 code freeze will be longer than expected regardless our new continuous test framework, and the upgrade path to Drupal 7 will be more painful than hoped for. But like always, we'll come out stronger than before ...

Despite Drupal being loved by many, we'll have to work hard in 2009. The thing that holds Drupal back is failure to execute many of the ideas and plans that we have. As a community, we need to grow more mentors in 2009, and we must all make sure that they are set up for success rather than failure. The community's responsibility to itself should be to remove barriers to participation and single points of failure. Alarm bells should go off when there is a desire to introduce red tape, unnecessary hurdles or dependencies, or when we fail to collaborate and make progress in key areas of the project. At the same time, we need to help more Drupal companies figure out how to contribute back to Drupal in substantial ways. Contributions are gold, talk is silver. Helping people contribute must become platinum.

Last year, I predicted that we would see the first signs of consolidation in the Open Source CMS market. I believe that prediction was correct. The "big three" (i.e. Wordpress, Joomla! and Drupal) continued to grow in 2008, while many of the other systems faded into the background a bit. I think that trend will continue in 2009. In the long run, the winners will be platform providers that enable people to connect, create and share value in different ways -- and that do so with the lowest barrier to entry. Expect other systems to (continue to) attack Drupal from both below and above. We're the best platform today, and others will have to move in to stay viable.

Oh, and IBM starts to embrace Drupal in 2009!

Acquia

I'm proud of Acquia. Acquia is the Drupal company that I started with Jay Batson. We announced the start of Acquia at the end of November 2007, and we announced our funding just before the end of 2007. People had a lot of questions about Acquia early in 2008, but throughout the year we demonstrated over and over again that we're committed to Drupal's success and that we want to do what is right for the community. We built a great team and grew from 2 employees early in the year to 30 people today. In September 2008, we launched our first products and started to offer commercial support for a defined software distribution called Acquia Drupal. Today, 3 months after we opened to doors for business, we are serving customers. We worked hard and made our milestones. It has been fun to see a new business take off. I also racked up way more frequent flyer points (i.e. air miles) than what is generally considered healthy.

The first thing you learn when selling in tough economic times is that you must figure out how to give customers exactly what they want and you must do it fast. It didn't take long for us to realize that people wanted more than Acquia Drupal: they wanted support for everything Drupal 6.x -- all modules, themes and custom code. The good news is that Acquia is a nimble company so the last weeks we worked on changing our support model to address customer demands. Starting tomorrow, we will support everything Drupal 6.x -- not just Acquia Drupal but all modules and themes available on drupal.org as well as custom code. I'm still a firm believer in Drupal distributions so Acquia Drupal still has a role as a packaged on-ramp for people getting started with Drupal. However, anyone will be able to connect any Drupal 6.x site to the Acquia Network -- helping us achieve our goal of helping people build and operate great websites with Drupal. Keep an eye on acquia.com if you want to learn more about these changes.

We're passionate about getting our value proposition right, so expect us to continue to tweak and extend our current offering in 2009. We'll also launch a number of new products. Some, like our hosted search service, we've already talked about, and I think we'll finally be ready to talk about a few others in the first quarter of 2009.

Regardless of the down-turn in the economy, I think that Acquia's business will continue to take off nicely in 2009. My heart and gut are convinced that Acquia has a tremendous opportunity to do well, and to do good. I believe (and hope) that Acquia will have the success it takes to continue to invest in Drupal.

Mollom

Together with Benjamin Schrauwen, I also launched Mollom, a web service whose purpose is to dramatically reduce the effort of keeping websites free of spam and the quality of user-generated content high. Mollom is a self-funded company and nowhere near the size or scope of Acquia (Acquia is my full-time commitment) but nevertheless, a lot of progress has been made. We announced Mollom in March, and opened the doors for business at the end of September 2008. Today, we're actively protecting 4,500 websites of which 75-100 have paid subscriptions. Mollom has caught almost 21 million spam messages since it started.

In 2009, I predict that Mollom will continue to experience steady growth and that we'll introduce a premium subscription (i.e. "Mollom Premium" in addition to "Mollom Plus" and "Mollom Free") with enterprise level features. I also predict that our efficiency in blocking spam will raise from our current 99.88% (i.e. 12 in 10,000 spam messages were not caught) to 99.95% or more (i.e. 5 in 10,000 spam messages or less were not caught). While this might sound like a marginal improvement, it actually means we make 2.4 times fewer mistakes.

Mollom has a ton of potential and is great fun, so I have all reasons to believe that 2009 will be a good year for Mollom. If fact, I predict that 'good' will be an understatement.

Conclusion

2008 was a great year, and continues Drupal's great run. The economic realities of 2009 will present challenges, but also opportunities. I believe Drupal's success will continue -- and accelerate -- in 2009, though we'll have to work hard. I predict we'll do exactly that.

Fields in core code sprint debrief

I just got back from the Fields in core code sprint at Acquia that I helped organize. Our participants all had the same goal for this five-day sprint: get CCK functionality into Drupal 7. The participants were Yves (CCK maintainer), Karen (CCK maintainer), Barry Jaspan (CCK contributor), Moshe Weitzman, David Strauss, Florian Loretan, Károly Négyesi, David Rothstein and myself.

It was a very productive week. For 14 hours a day, we discussed CCK, aligned our visions, tackled important design questions, wrestled with terminology, wrote code, and hit some important milestones. We can, for example, "field-enable" any object using a clean API. As a prototype, we've field-enabled both users and nodes. While the new Fields API isn't in core yet, a lot of progress has been made and I'm confident that we'll get something in core soon. Work continues now we're all home. To learn more about the current status, or to help drive this home, please consult the fields in core group. Expect to see more detailed and technical write-ups from participants to appear within the next couple of weeks.

Fields in core code sprint

© Chuck D'Antonio

All things considered, this sprint was a big success, and I'm now toying with organizing a "drupal.org upgrade" sprint at Acquia during the last week of January. The goal would be to upgrade drupal.org from Drupal 5 to Drupal 6, and make progress on the drupal.org redesign work. Is anyone interested in participating in or helping fund this sprint? If so, more soon.

I'd like to thank everyone who helped make the fields in core code sprint a success, and give a special mention to:

  • Yves, Karen, Barry, Moshe, David, Florian, and Karoly for their time and energy -- and for putting up with the jet lags and snow blizzards.
  • Everyone who provided remote help.
  • Four Kitchens for paying for David and providing Karoly and Florian accommodation.
  • Acquia for hosting the sprint and for donating Barry's time (as well as some of mine).
  • Our 146 sponsors -- only by all of us bringing a small piece to the table have we been able to pull this off. Together we were able to raise $5,682 USD to support our Fields In Core sprint. Special thanks to Chapter Three, LLC and Gravitek Labs for donating $500 USD each.
  • And, special thanks to Pieter De Clercq, who sold his Guitar Hero 3 game and donated the money to this code sprint. Respect!

Fields in Drupal core code sprint

Good news! During the week of December 15, we're organizing a 5-day Fields in Drupal core code sprint at Acquia! The goal is to get CCK functionality into Drupal 7.

So far, Karen, Yves and Barry have signed up -- Karen and Yves are the main CCK maintainers, and Barry has done a lot of work on CCK as well.

To help us fund the sprint, please consider making a donation using the ChipIn widget on this page. We need money for airline tickets, hotel rooms, food and transportation. It would also be great to fly in a few additional people with extensive core and CCK experience.

I've tentatively worked out a budget of $7,000 USD, which covers flight, food and hotel costs for at least four people (Karen, Yves, and two additional people). Since Acquia is covering my travel expenses and allowing Barry to participate all week long, that gives us six people working on CCK-fields-in-core for an entire week. Any excess money will be used to add more people, or donated to the Drupal Association.

To guarantee that Yves and Karen can attend, Acquia is funding Yves' and Karen's hotel and airplane tickets if enough money can't be raised through donations. Acquia is also providing working space in our Andover office.

We'll try to allow people to participate in the sprint remotely, and provide a daily update on our progress. If you're interested and available to participate, join the Fields in Core group, enable e-mail notifications, and block time in your calendar between December 15 and December 19. We'll use the Fields in Core group to plan and to let you know how you can contribute and participate.

This sprint could be an important moment in Drupal's history, so we're counting on your help. Please consider making a donation using the ChipIn widget or help us raise funds by spreading the word. Hopefully, fields in core can be this year's Christmas present. Thanks!

A hosted search service for Drupal

Jay just announced Acquia's plans to get into the hosted search business. By doing so, we hope to provide Drupal sites a (i) faster, (ii) more scalable search solution that (iii) can work across multiple sites, that (iv) can handle broader content, (v) that offers faceted navigation and more.

Content management systems with basic keyword search are going nowhere but out of style. Content management systems that do search really well can improve a site's navigation in new and significant ways. We want Drupal sites to be in the latter category.

As we've learned with big sites like drupal.org, it is extremely difficult to do search well from within Drupal, hence the need for a powerful hosted search service. By offering a hosted search service, Acquia continues to tear down barriers for adoption so Drupal can fulfill its full potential.

We're still working on this new service, and we don't know yet when it will be ready, but let us know if you're interested in being an early private beta tester.

The freemium business model: giving away pays

I've recently been thinking a lot about the freemium business model. For those unfamiliar with the freemium business model, it was first articulated by venture capitalist Fred Wilson in 2006:

"Give your service away for free, possibly ad supported but maybe not, acquire a lot of customers very efficiently through word of mouth, referral networks, organic search marketing, etc., then offer premium priced value added services or an enhanced version of your service to your customer base."

I've been thinking about the freemium business model because, inspired by Drupal and Open Source, both my companies, Acquia and Mollom, use a freemium business model. (Technically, Acquia uses an Open Source business model which is different from the freemium business model, but there is plenty of overlap and similarities -- pointing out the differences could be a blog post and discussion on its own.)

At Acquia, we currently provide community subscriptions for free -- people that want help with Drupal installation and configuration can get free support from Acquia's Drupal experts. While our free support is limited to certain channels (i.e., forum only), certain support questions (i.e., no module development help and no security best practices) and comes without response time guarantees, we have people on staff whose full-time job is to help you (example customer story). Further, we invest heavily in Drupal and give those contributions away for free.

Similarly, at Mollom, our basic spam filtering service is available for free to sites with limited post volumes. Our free website protection service provides all the features of our commercial Mollom Plus product, but is limited in the number of posts it will protect each day and in its access to our high-availability back-end infrastructure. The great majority of our Mollom clients are using our free filtering service with great success.

There are a number of things that attract me to the freemium business model. The first, and certainly foremost, is the opportunity to do “good” and “well” at the same time. It’s a great thing to help people build quality websites with Drupal, and it’s a great thing to provide Mollom to help deal with spam. Second, I believe a company is better off with a large install base than a small install base, even if the majority of clients ride free. A large install base translates to direct and indirect network effects, including efficient marketing, greater brand awareness, the collective intelligence of your users, and faster product adoption. And, last, I strongly believe that a successful company built on the freemium business model is simply a stronger and more defensible business in the long run.

The freemium business model is relatively new because it didn't become a serious option until the internet gave us a low-cost distribution channel. Ultimately, I can't help but think the freemium business model is the business model of the future for the sole reason that it puts the customer first. With the freemium business model customers only have to pay when they get significant value from the software (i.e. they have reached the limits of the free version). Compare this to the current model where people have to pay to get access to the bits, or where people have to pay before they got enough value from the software (e.g. most shareware software).

That all sounds great but you have to make the freemium business model work first. Getting free users to convert to paying customers is hard. Conversion rates of less than 1% are not uncommon. Free is often “good enough” and only a few people choose to pay for additional features and services. You have to put enough value in the free version to drive adoption (so that you get the scale and the network effects that derive from it), while providing enough incentive for people to pay for premium features or services. The marketing and sales funnel is really wide at the top, and very narrow at the bottom. Plus, you have to make sure that the paying users subsidize all the free users.

Achieving the right balance between free and paid customers is difficult and requires close attention to a number of variables. As a result, I've been trying to answer questions like: how much should we invest to acquire additional free users? How do you estimate the value of a free user? What is the cost of a free user? How long does it take for a free user to convert to a paying customer, and how many will do so? What are the triggers that convince free users to convert?

For example, in Mollom's case, one could argue that we get thousands of dollars worth of value from free users already. We currently have more than 3,000 active users that use Mollom for free. Say each user spends on average 15 minutes a week moderating his site's content and reporting classification errors to Mollom. Mollom learns from this feedback and automatically adjusts its spam filters so that all other Mollom users benefit from it. At a rate of $10 USD/hour, we get $390,000 USD worth of value from free users a year -- 3,000 users x 15 minutes/week x 52 weeks/year x 10 USD/hour = $390,000 USD/year. If these numbers hold up, the value of a free Mollom user could be estimated at $130 USD/year. And that doesn't include the marketing value they add. That said, the value of a free user probably declines as you get more of them and the business becomes stronger.

Both Acquia and Mollom have just opened for business so we have a ton to learn. It will be interesting to look at the different variables and questions a year from now, and to see what we have learned. I hope we can make it work so we can do good and well at the same time ...

Lullabot podcast #65

I was featured on the infamous Lullabot podcast series. Jeff Robbins and I talk about Acquia, Mollom and Drupal 7. Check out the Lullabot podcast #65 (mirror) if you want. We kick it off talking about Acquia, the Mollom part starts around minute 25 and the Drupal part starts around minute 47.

Acquia launch coverage

Cheers to the Acquia launch, which went really well. Hundreds of people signed up for a free community subscription. Also, check out Jeff Whatcott's blog post covering some of the blog posts, press articles, and Tweets about our new product and service offerings. Awesome!
Drupal lager

Cheers!

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