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Mollom, my content monitoring startup

After several months of private beta testing, Benjamin Schrauwen and I are happy to unveil Mollom, your partner in automated content monitoring. Mollom's purpose is to dramatically reduce the effort of keeping your websites clean and the quality of their user-generated content high. Currently, Mollom is a spam-killing, one-two punch combination of a state-of-the-art spam filter and CAPTCHA server. We are experimenting with automated content quality assessments, but these are still in an early testing phase.

If you're interested in learning more about how Mollom works, check out the 'How Mollom works' page and visit the Mollom FAQs for more details.

We currently provide modules for Drupal 5 and Drupal 6. For all you developers out there who'd like to build Mollom plug-ins, we will be releasing full API documentation very soon. We would be thrilled to put your home-brew plug-in for your favorite platform on our download page.

Mollom vs Akismet vs Defensio?

Mollom does offer some of the same features as Akismet or Defensio, but our goal goes further than spam-blocking alone. We want to increase the overall quality of your site's content. For example, Mollom's CAPTCHA service already helps block fake user accounts, and we are experimenting with various automated content-quality assessments, including blocking obscene, violent and profane content.

We have some great new features in the pipeline, so please check back with us regularly for more news or subscribe to Mollom's RSS feed.

Mollom and Acquia?

Mollom is a self-funded, garage-style project. I do take it very seriously, but it is nowhere near the size or scope of Acquia, which obviously remains my full-time commitment.

Mollom is a separate effort for three reasons: (i) I started it a while ago, (ii) I'm working on it with a friend who is not involved with Drupal or Acquia and (iii) unlike Acquia, Mollom is reaching out to as many content management systems and web applications as we can engage (and not just Drupal).

While Mollom is not associated corporately with Acquia, Acquia does intend to offer Mollom services as part of its subscription offerings. See Acquia's Caliper project.

Thank you to our testers

We would like to thank all of our private beta testers for their help and suggestions over the past months -- you've gotten us to this important milestone, guys. Thank you!

From infinite extensibility to infinite interoperability

Jeff Whatcott, Acquia's VP of marketing, wrote an interesting blog post about the term content management system, Microsoft SharePoint 2007, and Drupal's opportunity to be the poster child for the social software market space.

The funny thing is that I replied to Jeff's post back in 2006. In 2006, I agreed with Jeff -- and I still agree with Jeff today -- that (i) the term 'content management system' under sells what Drupal is capable of, (ii) that content management systems are consolidating to community and collaboration platforms, and (iii) that SharePoint is mind-boggling in more than one way.

From a content management system's point of view, we can summarize the current state of affairs as:

Web 1.0 = content management
Web 2.0 = Web 1.0 + user management + infinite extensibility

Jeff said it best when he wrote: the genius of what the [Drupal] community has done is to reduce all of the aspects of social software to their core DNA: content nodes and membership, and then build a platform that could be infinitely extended to allow the assembly of almost any styles of online social interaction.

But while Jeff rightfully sees a business opportunity for the Drupal community in the social publishing market, I tend to worry more about the fact that Drupal's key differentiator (i.e. bundling a wide variety of functionality into a single platform) becomes a commodity.

I want the Drupal community to stay ahead of the competition. I want to start implementing today what proprietary CMS vendors will implement in 2013. From a content management system's point of view, I believe, that means (and I really hate to use the term 'Web 3.0'):

Web 3.0 = Web 2.0 + infinite interoperability

which roughly translates to:

Web 3.0 = Web 2.0 + data portability + web service APIs

While the short-term business opportunity might be to go after the social publishing market, I strongly believe that the long-term business opportunity lies in the infinite interoperability and that spans well beyond the social software market.

Thanks to Open Source software and companies like Google, the cost of building Web 2.0 applications will approach zero. Contrary to what one might think, this actually creates a lot of business opportunities. Opportunities that are best monetized through web services. But for that to happen, ubiquitous and seamless interoperability is key.

Popular Science using Drupal

With the help from pingVision, Popular Science relaunched using Drupal. This move is notable, not only because Popular Science is a popular website, but also because they moved from Vignette v7 (a proprietary content management system) to Drupal (an open source content management system).

According to a recent press release, Vignette's revenue for 2007 was down 3% compared to 2006, and their licensing revenue was down more than 15%. One data point doesn't constitute a trend, but to me, it is further proof that Open Source content management systems are gaining market share. Just last year, Drupal grew by more than 200%.

Popsci

Acquia raises $7 million series A

Today we announced that Acquia has raised $7 million from a group of venture capital (VC) firms. That's a wonderful vote of confidence in Drupal, and a testament to the incredible opportunity that lies before all of us. And it means that Acquia is going to be able to help the Drupal community make Drupal even better.

So you're probably thinking: "Wow, that's a lot of money! What are you going to do with it all?". Well, we're going to do what we said we would do earlier this month: build a company that develops a number of Drupal distributions and that offers electronic services that make Drupal easier to use and manage. The funding allows us to quickly bring together a world-class team, rent office space, buy equipment, etc. Starting a great company is not cheap, especially if you have big dreams and plans. In fact, Jay summed up our goals nicely.

Working with Jay to get this capital secured was an incredible experience: strolling around the areas where VCs all put their offices in Boston and on Sand Hill Road in California, doing the work to show market opportunity, create business plans, working up the courage to pitch investors in partner meetings, and working with the lawyers on the mountains of paperwork. I certainly learned a lot about what investors look for, how they make decisions, etc.

One of the things I'm really proud of is the quality of the investors that Jay and I managed to attract. Just like investors are extremely selective with regard to the companies they invest in, we have been picky about the VC firms that we wanted to work with. There have been few businesses that have tried to do what we're about to do, and so I'm really happy that we found investors that really "get" open source.

Now the money is in the bank, our first challenge is to build out the rest of the Acquia team. Many of our people will be working on things other than Drupal. They'll be building and testing services we plan to provide over the Internet, providing support to our customers, and evangelizing and building awareness for Acquia products and Drupal in general.

However, a good number of Acquia people will be working 100% on Drupal, alongside the rest of the community. This is an important investment, because Acquia succeeds only if Drupal succeeds, and we're going to do our part. We'll contribute code, QA testing and other important things like user experience design, marketing, documentation, etc. We'll talk more about our plans in the near future.

All in all, I think it's a great time to be a Drupal user.

Acquia, my Drupal startup

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.

The vision

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.

The company

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.

Conclusions

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.

As a start, I've prepared a FAQ for our website. We (the company) will have more to say as we go along, and I will, too. Keep an eye on this blog or on our company website.

Gartner on pricing pressure

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.

On hiring Drupal talent (2)

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.

In an interview with CNET, JBoss founder Marc Fleury was asked where they found Open Source developers:

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.

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