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Big news today! I'm doing a Drupal startup.
The Drupal community does an incredible job building the Drupal technology and making sure that Drupal is on the forefront of the technical innovation. The Drupal Association does a great job supporting and protecting that community by improving our server infrastructure, by organizing Drupal conferences, by helping to protect the Drupal trademark. Last but not least, the Drupal consultants do an outstanding job developing websites and training people to use Drupal. Together we managed to create an incredibly successful project.
However, one piece is missing. Before we go there, let me provide a little more context.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the future of the web, and the future of Drupal in particular. I’ve also increasingly been spending time on what I want to do after I’m done with my PhD work. Since the two of those are coming together shortly, it’s time for me to start blogging about the next stages of Drupal, and my life.
First, Drupal 6 and Drupal 7 should be all about reaching out to more and different people. Making Drupal easier to use, easier to theme, easier to translate, and easier to develop for. Drupal 6 will do exactly that, and with Drupal 7 we should maintain that strategy. We want to make Drupal the best web content management platform; “the Linux of the web”.
The beauty of Drupal is that people can build powerful websites with little effort simply by combining different modules into one site; it is something we should continue to optimize for. I hope that that as a community you want to join me in putting (more of) the custom content types and (part of) views into Drupal core. But not just that; Drupal’s success arises from its community and the hundreds of contributed modules this community creates. We should continue to empower our contributors so they can continue to write great modules and deliver them in an exceptional way.
Second, with the rise of Facebook, Open Social, and friends, I’m not sure there is a future for (social community) websites that don’t provide an API. Starting with Drupal 7 we should also start to focus more on the ability to create, share and mash up managed content. The idea is to let Drupal be a data repository that can be accessed by tools and websites across the network. It is where custom content types, web service APIs, semantic web technologies and Drupal’s fine-grained access control mechanism come together. I want Drupal 7 to be a stepping stone when it comes to data mobility. This will allow people and companies to create value-added services that improve the users’ efficiency.
Third, when I examine the landscape of open source projects that have had big impact on the technology industry, I’ve concluded that projects which have had the biggest impact (usually) have a well-capitalized company behind them. Jboss, Linux and MySQL have all benefited not only technically, but the presence of a well-capitalized provider for those projects has made those projects palatable to users who might not have otherwise tried the software.
So what is missing? It's two things: (i) a company that supports me in providing leadership to the Drupal community in exploring the vision I described above, and (ii) a company that is to Drupal what Ubuntu or RedHat are to Linux. If we want Drupal to grow by at least a factor of 10, keeping Drupal a hobby project as it is today, and taking a regular programming job at a big Belgian bank is clearly not going to cut it.
Thus, I'm starting a Drupal company whose current working name is 'Acquia'. Acquia's software products will include a number of Drupal distributions -- for community networks, digital media properties, corporate websites, and others. In addition to providing Drupal distributions, Acquia will build the Drupal-tuned analogue of the RedHat Network, over which we can deliver a wide variety of electronic services intended to be useful to people developing and operating Drupal websites. An example such service is an automated upgrade/update service, an uptime and performance monitoring / reporting service, a configuration management service, etc.
I was fortunate enough to meet an experienced CEO, Jay Batson, that I have come to like and trust, who managed to translate this vision into a business plan and who can complement my technical strength and community management skills with business experience in running open source software companies. (The last company Jay started was Pingtel, and open source enterprise-scale IP PBX, recently acquired by Bluesocket.) Jay has been invaluable so far.
The inevitable fear
Well, fear not.
Acquia is not going to fork or close-source Drupal. Acquia wants to see the Drupal community succeed and to do so, Acquia will listen to and work with the community to advance Drupal. The Drupal Association continues to operate the drupal.org domain, I continue to own the Drupal trademark, and the Drupal community continues to set the technical direction of the Drupal project. Drupal.com has not been sold.
Acquia's success is directly tied to overall success of the Drupal project - and to how widely-used it becomes. We understand better than anyone else that Acquia will never succeed on its own; we will only succeed if we are part of the larger Drupal community. We will contribute to Drupal development just as other companies or individuals do today. Our investors fully expect us to use a portion of the resources they’ve provided to help make Drupal even better, since our own success depends on significantly growing the widespread use of Drupal.
Furthermore, I'm expressly permitted to make decisions within the Drupal project that may not always be in Acquia’s best commercial interest. This was a hard requirement for me. Acquia fully expects that a portion of my time will be spent on activities associated with the project at large (vs. Acquia’s own software development). In essence, since the health and vitality of the Drupal project at large is extremely important to us, we’ve taken great pains to make sure that I am able to continue to act for the best interests of the Drupal community at large as I have done for the past 7 years.
The community has my heart and respect, and that won't change. Fear not.
So rather than working on Drupal in my spare time, I will soon have the time and resources to provide the leadership it takes to help get Drupal to the next level. I'm looking forward to leading the many thousands of you to the next step of this incredible adventure. It's been a little bit hard for me to not say anything about this before - mostly because I'm so excited about it. But it didn't make business sense to speak about this effort until it was for-real. Now that it is, I'm much happier that I can talk about it, because I want to think together with all of you about how we can make it a really really good thing for Drupal.
In a research note, Gartner predicted what most people already knew: proprietary software is going to face serious pricing pressure from a range of different software trends. Specifically, Gartner identified seven trends putting pricing pressure on software business models:
These include business process outsourcing; software as a service (SaaS); low-cost development environments, such as China and India, combined with modular architectures and service-oriented architectures; the emergence of third-party software maintenance and support; growing interest in open source; the rise of Chinese software companies; and the expansion of the Brazilian, Chinese and Indian markets.
I wonder how many executives took a poop after reading Gartner's research note ... Not too many, you would hope.
Anyway, it looks like Drupal is in good shape: it is open source software with a modular architecture that lends itself to delivering web services. Also, Drupal 6 is all about reaching out to more people; I'm confident that Drupal 6's localization (l10n) and internationalization (i18n) improvements will help us get more traction in Brazil, China and India. Plus, with Drupal companies like Raincity Studios opening offices in China, there have been talks about organizing a Chinese Drupal conference.
Because the demand for Drupal talent exceeds the supply, it's incredibly hard to hire talented Drupal developers. In a recent blog post I advised people to hire good Java or PHP developers, and to get them up to speed on Drupal.
We tried once to create an open-source developer out of a normal developer, but it completely failed. We never tried it again. Truth be told, I had an aversion to it. An open source developer is a self-starter. He's competitive - this is someone that wants to prove that they can do something better than you can. As such, it's a great recruitment/qualification vehicle, because you can see their work before you ever think of hiring them. You can see if they'll work out for the company. We definitely took that approach to hiring.
I believe there is a lot of truth in that. First, developers with impressive resumes don't necessarily grok Open Source software development. Second, having experience with Open Source software development is becoming an increasingly valuable asset on any developer's resume. So let me refine my advise:
Hire good Java or PHP developers that are active in the Open Source community (at large), and get them up to speed on Drupal.
Last week at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON), Microsoft and SpikeSource announced their intention to work together to certify a number of Open Source projects on the Microsoft Windows platform. According to the press release, Drupal is the first application that has been tested and certified for Microsoft Windows ...
Because I didn't know this partnership was in the works, and because it's not clear what this really means, I figured I'd let the story develop for a couple of days. It has since been picked up on a number of blogs and news sites, and I got a couple of inquiries about it as well. I guess now is a good time to share what I think about it.
First, Microsoft's willingness to work with Open Source applications to ensure that they work on Microsoft Windows Server with MSSQL and Active Directory support is great –- it helps us bring Open Source software to the corporate world. Microsoft's announcement brings credibility to Open Source software and validates Drupal as one of the leading Open Source CMS applications. That is a good thing.
Second, I've never been close to either SpikeSource or Microsoft's business but hopefully it won't stop with an announcement. It remains to be seen whether they live up their marketing drum. With the help of Larry Garfield we already started planning a redesign of Drupal's database abstraction layer. I'm curious to see if they'll contribute to that, and if they will help us add and maintain MSSQL support in future versions of Drupal core. In the Open Source world, contributions speak louder than press releases.
That's a lot of money and a big series A. However, since NowPublic's start two years ago, it has become one of the fastest growing news organizations in the world. By harnessing the wisdom of crowds and tapping into the news reporting potential of the hundreds of millions of internet users, eye witnesses, bloggers and photography enthusiasts, NowPublic is changing the way news is produced and distributed.
Step by step, NowPublic is building the platform that lets major news agencies outsource their news gathering process, and that is not to be taken lightly and not to be confused with sites like Digg or Slashdot. It won't be long until more major news agencies realize that NowPublic's on-the-ground network of news contributors will help them break more and better news stories at lower costs.
And of course, as NowPublic is built on Drupal, this is good news for Drupal too.
(Disclosure: I am an advisor to NowPublic.)
IBM just announced Lotus Connections. According to this article in Business Week, Lotus Connections wraps five social networking technologies up into one integrated package: profiles, where employees post information about their expertise and interests; communities, which are formed and managed by people with common interests; activities, which are used to manage group projects; bookmarks, where people share documents and websites with others; and blogs.
Microsoft was quick to reply with a press release announcing new tools that will help IBM Lotus Notes users migrate to Microsoft SharePoint 2007.
So we have Microsoft SharePoint 2007 versus IBM's Lotus Connections. But how is IBM going to compete with SharePoint's many third-party hosted service providers? Or with Google for that matter (think Google calendar, Google spreadsheets, Google's Blogger, Google search, Google pages, Google wiki/JotSpot, ...)?
With that in mind, now consider this. Many organizations have been experimenting with Drupal and see real benefits from using it. They are begging for reliable support. One or two years from now, they'll be begging for better integration with their existing tools and platforms.
It doesn't take a whole lot of IBM'ers to get Drupal to talk with Lotus Connections, to get Drupal up to par with SharePoint, or for IBM to become the world's premier Drupal support company. It is a small investment for a win-win situation.
IBM embraced Linux so they know how to do this, and they know how well that worked. It helped IBM turn around some of its business and strengthened their position in the server market. The battle has since moved up the stack and Lotus is to Drupal what AS/400 was to Linux. It will be interesting to see if IBM is going to repeat history and embrace an open source alternative.
The European Commission published an interesting study on the impact of Free and Open Source Software on the European economy (PDF, 287 pages). Based on an empirical study of the European IT market and forecasting techniques, the following is one of many interesting conclusions:
Proprietary packaged software firms account for well below 10% of employment of software developers in the US, and "IT user" firms account for over 70% of software developers employed with a similar salary (and thus skill) level. This suggests a relatively low potential for cannibalisation of proprietary software jobs by FLOSS, and suggests a relatively high potential for software developer jobs to become increasingly FLOSS-related. FLOSS and proprietary software show a ratio of 30:70 (overlapping) in recent job postings indicating significant demand for FLOSS-related skills.
I can't speak for other projects but Drupal is in high demand, and there is a shortage of talented Drupal developers and consultants on the market.
Either way, make sure you can put "solid understanding of open source software development" on your resume. It increases your market value. And you'll have more fun too.