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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:
People wonder what we do at Acquia's Office of the CTO (OCTO). In order to provide some more transparency, I wanted to share how we plan to give back between today and the end of the year.
Drupal 8 beta 1
Now that we're forgoing an upgrade path for a migration path, we need to redefine the release criteria for 'beta 1'. We also need to track the issues that block beta in order to help escalate the most critical of the critical issues. We will work with the Drupal 8 core maintainers to define and communicate these criteria, and help with timely patch reviews and issue management for beta-blocking issues.
Migrate module in core
As a co-author of the Migrate module, Moshe will be assisting the core development team on the goal to get Migrate module functionality into core and support a Drupal 6 to Drupal 8, as well as the Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 migration path.
Improve the Drupal 8 developer experience
We want developers to be productive and enjoy writing Drupal 8 modules, so we will be fleshing out the D8DX battleplan based on discussions at DrupalCon Prague, and working with others in the Drupal community to ensure that we fix the most important developer experience problems in preparation of Drupal 8's release.
Develop learning resources
We will be working on a central resource on Drupal.org for developers to find the information they need in order to port their modules to Drupal 8, including documentation, tools, and other resources.
Evaluate semantic versioning
There was a lot of talk at DrupalCon Prague about lessons learned in Drupal 7 and 8 and how to do better in the future. One such area of improvement is a release strategy that allows for iterative innovation in Drupal core every few months. We plan to work with other community leaders and the Drupal security team in order to come up with a strategy around this. A component of this strategy may be to adopt semantic versioning.
Improve Drupal 8 performance
We will also dedicate the OCTO team's time to help the Drupal core community identify and fix some major performance issues in Drupal core.
Authoring experience improvements
Major development efforts on the UX features the Spark team helped get into Drupal 8 core—WYSIWYG, in-place editing, mobile-friendly toolbar —are winding down. We still have work to do on fixing up some loose ends, and are committed to see this through. We will also backport the major Spark modules to Drupal 7.
Communicate Drupal 8 progress
We aim to continue the weekly D8 progress reports that you can find at This Week In Core, and are actively seeking other core developers to help get these important posts out.
A drop in an ocean
We're a handful of contributors in the OCTO and can only do so much. We will continue doing these things within a community of hundreds of other contributors and supporting their work in other ways. We're looking forward to much Drupal 8 progress in the next 3 months!
People ask me what it is like to be the head of a big Open Source project, and whether they should Open Source their project or not. I wanted to talk about that a bit more in this blog post so more people can pick up my answer.
Having been the project lead of the Drupal project for the past 13 years, I’ve watched my dorm-room activity transform into a community filled with passionate people all working toward the same goal: changing the world and making it a better place through open source.
Today Drupal powers more than 1.5 million sites. Drupal is a source of innovation for business and government. Most importantly, Drupal has helped individuals build a dream, giving smaller groups and organizations a bigger voice, as tools are democratized. But it has also allowed large businesses to develop new ideas, bring and build transformative experiences to the digital world.
The ambitious individuals who would lead the next generation of open source projects will experience moments of joy and excitement. It's exhilarating when your passion drives you to help create solutions to challenging problems. Your joy will be tempered with plenty of moments of frustration and doubt, as roadblocks may stand in your way during crucial points of development. But the successful leaders will be the ones who aren’t dissuaded from their work.
Creating a successful open source project requires much more work than writing good code. If your project is growing, then one day you'll start to see that you are a leader. You’re creating a vision, a culture, and inspiring people to come on board. This evangelism requires a lot of travel, conferences, fundraising, people management, project management and more. Make sure this passion is also within you.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world, evangelizing Drupal and have a leading role in a passionate, active community that is making a real difference. I’ve also founded a non-profit organization and a commercial company on that same promise.
As you start to build a community of participants who are willing to commit their time and passion to your project, you’ll soon realize that in life, the luckiest people in the world are those driven by the desire to be a part of something great. When you work in open source, you’ll be surrounded by people like these. Knowing you help make a difference and that hundreds of thousands of people depend on your project, helps you make sense of your commitment. So even on a bad day, it's still exciting.
The world would certainly benefit from having more Open Source, but its not a small undertaking as others come to depend on it. Only you can decide whether you have what it takes. When I started Drupal, I didn't really understand what I was getting myself into. It has been a lot of work, but knowing what I know today, I'd do it again. In a heartbeat.
Last week in Prague, I gave my traditional State of Drupal presentation. A total of 1,830 Drupalists were present at DrupalCon, a new record for our European DrupalCon!
In good tradition, you can download a copy of my slides (PDF, 31 MB) or you can watch a video recording of my keynote. The keynote starts at 11:42, but don't miss out on the singing carrots introduction. A video recording of the keynote is embedded in this post.
There has been a lot of chatter about Drupal 8. Will Drupal 8 be performant? Will Drupal 8 be easy to develop modules for? Will I have to learn Symfony? I want to address these concerns and explain why Drupal 8 introduces such big changes.
Lessons from the past: the pain before the gain
The reason Drupal has been successful is because we always made big, forward-looking changes. It’s a cliché, but change has always been the only constant in Drupal. The result is that Drupal has stayed relevant, unlike nearly every other Open Source CMS over the years. The biggest risk for our project is that we don't embrace change.
The downside is that with every major release of Drupal, we've gone through a lot of pain adjusting to this change. I first wrote about it in 2006 when trying to get Drupal 4.7 released:
"So let's capture that thought for future reference. Sweeping changes are required to make major advances in technology, and often times there is a lot of pain before the pay-off."
We decided that big changes were required
Drupal 7 is a fantastic CMS, but at the same time there are some fairly big limitations, including an incomplete Entity API, a lack of separation between content and configuration, leading to deployment challenges, a lack of separation between logic and presentation in the theme layer, and more. We created solutions for those challenges using contributed modules, but those solutions were in many cases incomplete. In Drupal 8, we decided to tackle a lot of these problems head-on, through the Configuration Management Initiative, the Twig templating layer, and a complete Entity API.
The web landscape has also dramatically changed around Drupal since January 2011, when Drupal 7 was released. Mobile browsing is ubiquitous, and so are third-party services that people may want to integrate their Drupal sites with. Web site users expect a much higher bar when it comes to ease of use. We anticipated these trends and as a result, we spent the past 2.5 years working on Drupal 8's mobile features and user experience improvements.
But are all these great improvements enough?
We need to modernize Drupal 8
One of our biggest challenges with Drupal, is that it is hard for organizations of all sizes to find Drupal talent (developers, themers, site builders, etc). Drupal 7 didn't address this problem (e.g. we held on to procedural programming instead of object-oriented programming), and in fact made it a bit worse with the introduction of even more "Drupalisms" (e.g. excessive use of structured arrays). For most people new to Drupal, Drupal 7 is really complex.
The most effective way to address the Drupal talent issue, as well as the complexity issue, is to bring Drupal in line with modern frameworks and platforms, so there is less Drupal-specific knowledge to learn in order to become proficient. We decided to adopt modern PHP concepts and standards, object-oriented programming, and the Symfony framework. While a lot of the Drupal concepts (Fields, Views, Entities, Nodes) continue to exist in Drupal 8, they are now implemented using object-oriented programming design patterns.
The advantages and disadvantages of object-oriented programming are well-understood. The disadvantages are size, verbosity, the amount of work it takes to write (including the design planning that goes into it) and slower performance. For people new to object-oriented programming there may be a steep learning curve; some of the key programming techniques, such as inheritance and polymorphism, can be challenging initially. The advantages are encapsulation (both to hide implementation details and to avoid tampering with internal values), faster development thanks to re-use, extensibility, and better maintainability. Compared to procedural programs, object-oriented programs are easier to maintain, extend and refactor. So although a lot of work is spent to write the program, less work is needed to maintain it over time.
For Drupal 8 this means that the code will be more abstract, more verbose, and slower, yet also be more maintainable, more modular, and more accessible to non-Drupal developers. The end result is that Drupal 8 should help us attract new people to Drupal in a way Drupal 7 didn't.
This is exactly what happened with other projects like Symfony; Symfony 2 was a complete rearchitecture of Symfony 1. A lot of people were alienated by that, yet at the same time Symfony 2 took off like a rocketship. The same thing has happened with the major releases of Drupal as well, despite how much change each one brings.
Change is scary for the existing Drupal developers
However, as we get closer to the release of Drupal 8, existing Drupal developers have become increasingly aware of the massive changes that Drupal 8 will bring. This has resulted in some fear; some people feel like they have to re-learn everything they know, and that developing for Drupal 8 has changed to the point where it's no longer fun. This fear is completely understandable. Change is hard, it can be scary, and often takes a long time to be absorbed.
But even if we completely streamlined the Drupal 8 developer experience, Drupal 8 will still look and work radically different under the hood. As mentioned, there are advantages and disadvantages to object-oriented programming and modern design patterns. But if we care about the long-term success of Drupal, we can't preserve the past. The risk of sticking with the old Drupal 7 architecture is that we won't be able to attract many more Drupal developers, and that over time, Drupal will become the odd one out.
There is a lot of work left to be done
Part of the fear out there is well-founded because in the current state of development, Drupal 8 isn't good enough. While there are many things to like about Drupal 8, I'm also the first to admit that we have work to do on the Drupal 8 developer experience (as well as performance) before Drupal 8 can ship. Creating a well-designed object-oriented application takes more time and design work than creating a procedural one. Some major improvements have already landed, but we're still working hard on improving the developer experience. We need more help, especially from Drupal 7 developers, on how we can make Drupal 8 more approachable for them. I'm not afraid to make major API changes if the developer experience improvement is suitably large. So if you have concerns about Drupal 8, now is the time to step up and help. In return, I promise we'll work on Drupal 8 until it is ready. Thank you!
Many organizations adopt Open Source for reasons like flexibility and agility. Everyone needs to do more with less. But in government, Open Source drives both civic engagement and government participation like never before. Because of digital, the world feels much smaller and more connected. And Open Source gives people the opportunity to rally around a cause, no matter where they live.
Think about how we petitioned our government before we had the We The People website. I bet you have to think pretty hard about how it was done (I do!). Now, a website has brought to life the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens. Millions of people's voices are heard. People pull together based on common concerns. The White House built We The People using Drupal and shared the code on GitHub, opening up the opportunity for other governments to easily create their own online petitioning systems.
Now, all kinds of open government data made available through the Data.gov project makes it possible for any developer, anywhere, to create a civic app. These apps have made us see our cities and towns in a different light.
Open City is one example of a group of local volunteers who create Open Source apps using government data. While the group is based in Chicago, the idea is that any city can grab code from an Open City app and make it their own.
Here are a few interesting examples: Clear Streets tracks a city's plows in real time. Living outside of Boston, I know we could use an app like that! Crime in Chicago lets citizens compare crime statistics in certain areas of town, which could be useful for people making decisions about where to move their families.
What is perhaps the most gratifying is that as open-source developers, we can collaborate on projects and help people around the world. It's part of what gets us out of bed in the morning. Earlier this year, participants in DrupalCon Portland launched a website in 24 hours to help people in Moore, Oklahoma, find transportation and housing after the tornado. Two weeks later, the site was discovered on Twitter in Germany and was repurposed to help people affected by the flooding in northern Europe. This type of project inspires us all to see how technology can make an immediate difference.
Other events, such as the National Day for Civic Hacking, encourage developers to use open government data to "collaboratively create, build, and invent". The idea that hackathons can help build and create a healthy, citizen-powered technology ecosystem within government is relatively new, and full of promise. Tim O'Reilly believes that government can escape the "vending machine" mentality (citizens put in tax dollars and get out services) by thinking of "Government as a Platform" for participation. I couldn't agree more.
Open Source ideals are already spreading in governments throughout the world, with good reason. A global network of developers is motivated to help. It's one of the best examples of civic engagement. As digital citizens, we all now have the power to contribute. One person's time and talent can make a huge difference. That is a movement I'm proud to be a part of.
(I originally wrote this blog post as a guest article for VentureBeat. I'm cross-posting it to my blog.)