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Setting higher standards for corporate contributions to Drupal

Last week I made a comment on Twitter that I'd like to see Pantheon contribute more to Drupal core. I wrote that in response to the announcement that Pantheon has raised a $30 million Series C. Pantheon has now raised $50 to $60 million dollars of working capital (depending on Industry Ventures' $8.5M) and is in a special class of companies. This is an amazing milestone. Though it wasn't meant that way, Pantheon and Acquia compete for business and my Tweet could be read as a cheap attack on a competitor, and so it resulted in a fair amount of criticism. Admittedly, Pantheon was neither the best nor the only example to single out. There are many companies that don't contribute to Drupal at all – and Pantheon does contribute to Drupal in a variety of ways such as sponsoring events and supporting the development of contributed modules. In hindsight, I recognize that my tweet was not one of my best, and for that I apologize.

Having said that, I'd like to reiterate something I've said before, in my remarks at DrupalCon Amsterdam and many times on this blog: I would like to see more companies contribute more to Drupal core – with the emphasis on "core". Drupal is now relied upon by many, and needs a strong base of commercial contributors. We have to build Drupal together. We need a bigger and more diverse base of organizations taking on both leadership and contribution.

Contribution to Drupal core is the most important type of contribution in terms of the impact it can make. It touches every aspect of Drupal and all users who depend on it. Long-term and full-time contribution to core is not within everyone's reach. It typically requires larger investment due to a variety of things: the complexity of the problems we are solving, our need for stringent security and the importance of having a rigorous review-process. So much is riding on Drupal for all of us today. While every module, theme, event and display of goodwill in our community is essential, contributions to core are quite possibly the hardest and most thankless, but also the most rewarding of all when it comes to Drupal's overall progress and success.

I believe we should have different expectations for different organizations based on their maturity, their funding, their profitability, how strategic Drupal is for them, etc. For example, sponsoring code sprints is an important form of contribution for small or mid-sized organizations. But for any organization that makes millions of dollars with Drupal, I would hope for more.

The real question that we have to answer is this: at what point should an organization meaningfully contribute to Drupal core? Some may say "never", and that is their Open Source right. But as Drupal's project lead it is also my right and responsibility to encourage those who benefit from Drupal to give back. It should not be taboo for our community to question organizations that don't pull their weight, or choose not to contribute at all.

For me, committing my workdays and nights to Drupal isn't the exhausting part of my job. It's dealing with criticism that comes from false or incomplete information, or tackling differences in ideals and beliefs. I've learned not to sweat the small stuff, but it's on important topics like giving back that my emotions and communication skills get tested. I will not apologize for encouraging organizations to contribute to Drupal core. It's a really important topic and one that I'm very passionate about. I feel good knowing that I'm pushing these conversations from inside the arena rather than from the sidelines, and for the benefit of the Drupal project at large.

Drupal is for ambitious digital experiences

What feelings does the name Drupal evoke? Perceptions vary from person to person; where one may describe it in positive terms as "powerful" and "flexible", another may describe it negatively as "complex". People describe Drupal differently not only as a result of their professional backgrounds, but also based on what they've heard and learned.

If you ask different people what Drupal is for, you'll get many different answers. This isn't a surprise because over the years, the answers to this fundamental question have evolved. Drupal started as a tool for hobbyists building community websites, but over time it has evolved to support large and sophisticated use cases.

Perception is everything

Perception is everything; it sets expectations and guides actions and inactions. We need to better communicate Drupal's identity, demonstrate its true value, and manage its perceptions and misconceptions. Words do lead to actions. Spending the time to capture what Drupal is for could energize and empower people to make better decisions when adopting, building and marketing Drupal.

Truth be told, I've been reluctant to define what Drupal is for, as it requires making trade-offs. I have feared that we would make the wrong choice or limit our growth. Over the years, it has become clear that not defining what Drupal is used for leaves more people confused even within our own community.

For example, because Drupal evolved from a simple tool for hobbyists to a more powerful digital experience platform, many people believe that Drupal is now "for the enterprise". While I agree that Drupal is a great fit for the enterprise, I personally never loved that categorization. It's not just large organizations that use Drupal. Individuals, small startups, universities, museums and non-profits can be equally ambitious in what they'd like to accomplish and Drupal can be an incredible solution for them.

Defining what Drupal is for

Rather than using "for the enterprise", I thought "for ambitious digital experiences" was a good phrase to describe what people can build using Drupal. I say "digital experiences" because I don't want to confine this definition to traditional browser-based websites. As I've stated in my Drupalcon New Orleans keynote, Drupal is used to power mobile applications, digital kiosks, conversational user experiences, and more. Today I really wanted to focus on the word "ambitious".

"Ambitious" is a good word because it aligns with the flexibility, scalability, speed and creative freedom that Drupal provides. Drupal projects may be ambitious because of the sheer scale (e.g. The Weather Channel), their security requirements (e.g. The White House), the number of sites (e.g. Johnson & Johnson manages thousands of Drupal sites), or specialized requirements of the project (e.g. the New York MTA powering digital kiosks with Drupal). Organizations are turning to Drupal because it gives them greater flexibility, better usability, deeper integrations, and faster innovation. Not all Drupal projects need these features on day one -- or needs to know about them -- but it is good to have them in case you need them later on.

"Ambitious" also aligns with our community's culture. Our industry is in constant change (responsive design, web services, social media, IoT), and we never look away. Drupal 8 was a very ambitious release; a reboot that took one-third of Drupal's lifespan to complete, but maneuvered Drupal to the right place for the future that is now coming. I have always believed that the Drupal community is ambitious, and believe that attitude remains strong in our community.

Last but not least, our adopters are also ambitious. They are using Drupal to transform their organizations digitally, leaving established business models and old business processes in the dust.

I like the position that Drupal is ambitious. Stating that Drupal is for ambitious digital experiences however is only a start. It only gives a taste of Drupal's objectives, scope, target audience and advantages. I think we'd benefit from being much more clear. I'm curious to know how you feel about the term "for ambitious digital experiences" versus "for the enterprise" versus not specifying anything. Let me know in the comments so we can figure out how to collectively change the perception of Drupal.

PS: I'm borrowing the term "ambitious" from the Ember.js community. They use the term in their tagline and slogan on their main page.

Microsoft buys LinkedIn: the value of data

In my latest SXSW talk, I showed a graphic of each of the major technology giants to demonstrate how much of our user data each company owned.

Microsoft linkedin data

I said they won't stop until they know everything about us. Microsoft just bought LinkedIn, so here is what happened:

Data ownership

By acquiring the world's largest professional social network, Microsoft gets immediate access to data from more than 433 million LinkedIn members. Microsoft fills out the "social graph" and "interests" circles. There is speculation over what Microsoft will do with LinkedIn over time, but here is what I think is most likely:

  • With LinkedIn, Microsoft could build out its Microsoft Dynamics CRM business to reinvent the sales and marketing process, helping the company compete more directly with SalesForce.
  • LinkedIn could allow Microsoft to implement a "Log in with LinkedIn" system similar to Facebook Connect. Microsoft could turn LinkedIn profiles into a cross-platform business identity to better compete with Google and Facebook.
  • LinkedIn could allow Microsoft to build out Cortana, a workplace-tailored digital assistant. One scenario Microsoft referenced was walking into a meeting and getting a snapshot of each attendee based on his or her LinkedIn profile. This capability will allow Microsoft to better compete against virtual assistants like Google Now, Apple Siri and Amazon Echo.
  • LinkedIn could be integrated in applications like Outlook, Skype, Office, and even Windows itself. Buying LinkedIn helps Microsoft limit how Facebook and Google are starting to get into business applications.

Data is eating the world

In the past I wrote that data, not software, is eating the world. The real value in technology comes less and less from software and more and more from data. As most businesses are moving applications into the cloud, a lot of software is becoming free, IT infrastructure is becoming a metered utility, and data is what is really makes or breaks business results. Here is one excerpt from my post: "As value shifts from software to the ability to leverage data, companies will have to rethink their businesses. In the next decade, data-driven, personalized experiences will continue to accelerate, and development efforts will shift towards using contextual data.". This statement is certainly true in Microsoft / LinkedIn's case.

Microsoft linkedin graphs
Source: Microsoft.

If this deal shows us anything, it's about the value of user data. Microsoft paid more than $60 per registered LinkedIn user. The $26.2 billion price tag values LinkedIn at about 91 times earnings, and about 7 percent of Microsoft's market cap. This is a very bold acquisition. You could argue that this is too hefty a price tag for LinkedIn, but this deal is symbolic of Microsoft rethinking its business strategy to be more data and context-centric. Microsoft sees that the future for them is about data and I don't disagree with that. While I believe acquiring LinkedIn is a right strategic move for Microsoft, I'm torn over whether or not Microsoft overpaid for LinkedIn. Maybe we'll look back on this acquisition five years from now and find that it wasn't so crazy, after all.

Demandware acquisition heats up the customer experience market

The battle for the marketing cloud just got way more interesting. This week, Salesforce announced its acquisition of Demandware for $2.8B in cash. It will enable Salesforce to offer a "Commerce Cloud" alongside its sales and marketing solutions.

The large platform companies like Oracle and Adobe are trying to own the digital customer experience market from top to bottom by acquiring and integrating together tools for marketing, commerce, customer support, analytics, mobile apps, and more. Oracle's acquisition of Eloqua, SAP's acquisition of hybris and Salesforce's acquisitions of ExactTarget were earlier indicators of market players consolidating SaaS apps for customer experience onto their platforms.

In my view, the Demandware acquisition is an interesting strategic move for Salesforce that aligns them more closely as a competitor to marketing stack mega-vendors such as Adobe, Oracle and IBM. Adding a commerce solution to its suite, makes it easier for Salesforce's customers to build an integrated experience and see what their customers are buying. There are advantages to integrated solutions that have a single system of record about the customer. The Demandware acquisition also makes sense from a technology point of view; there just aren't many Java-based commerce platforms that are purely SaaS-based, that can operate at scale, and that are for sale.

However, we've also seen this movie before. When big companies acquire smaller, innovative companies, over time the innovation goes away in favor of integration. Big companies can't innovate fast enough, and the suite lock-in only benefits the vendor.

There is a really strong case to be made for a best-of-breed approach where you choose and integrate the best software from different vendors. This is a market that literally changes too much and too fast for any organization to buy into a single mega-platform. From my experience talking to hundreds of customer organizations, most prefer an open platform that integrates different solutions and acts as an orchestration hub. An open platform ultimately presents more freedom for customers to build the exact experiences they want. Open Source solutions, like Drupal, that have thousands of integrations, allow organizations to build these experiences in less time, with a lower overall total cost of ownership, more flexibility and faster innovation.

Adobe clearly missed out on buying Demandware, after it missed out on buying Hybris years ago. Demandware would have fit in Adobe's strategy and technology stack. Now Adobe might be the only mega-platform that doesn't have an embedded commerce capability. More interestingly, there don't appear to be large independent commerce operators left to buy.

I continue to believe there is a great opportunity for new independent commerce platforms, especially now Salesforce and Demandware will spend the next year or two figuring out the inevitable challenges of integrating their complex software solutions. I'd love to see more commerce platforms emerge, especially those with a modern micro-services based architecture, and an Open Source license and innovation model.

Video: Can we save the open web?

In March, I did a presentation at SxSW that asked the audience a question I've been thinking about a lot lately: "Can we save the open web?".

The web is centralizing around a handful of large companies that control what we see, limit creative freedom, and capture a lot of information about us. I worry that we risk losing the serendipity, creativity and decentralization that made the open web great.

The open web closing

While there are no easy answers to this question, the presentation started a good discussion about the future of the open web, the role of algorithms in society, and how we might be able to take back control of our personal information.

I'm going to use my blog to continue the conversation about the open web, since it impacts the future of Drupal. I'm including the video and slides (PDF, 76 MB) of my SxSW presentation below, as well as an overview of what I discussed.

Here are the key ideas I discussed in my presentation, along with a few questions to discuss in the comments.

Idea 1: An FDA-like organization to provide oversight for algorithms. While an "FDA" in and of itself may not be the most ideal solution, algorithms are nearly everywhere in society and are beginning to impact life-or-death decisions. I gave the example of an algorithm for a self-driving car having to decide whether to save the driver or hit a pedestrian crossing the street. There are many other life-or-death examples of how unregulated technology could impact people in the future, and I believe this is an issue we need to begin thinking about now. What do you suggest we do to make the use of algorithms fair and trustworthy?

Idea 2: Open standards that will allow for information-sharing across sites and applications. Closed platforms like Facebook and Google are winning because they're able to deliver a superior user experience driven by massive amounts of data and compute power. For the vast majority of people, ease-of-use will trump most concerns around privacy and control. I believe we need to create a set of open standards that enable drastically better information-sharing and integration between websites and applications so independent websites can offer user experiences that meet or exceeds that of the large platforms. How can the Drupal community help solve this problem?

Idea 3: A personal information broker that allows people more control over their data. In the past, I've written about the idea for a personal information broker that will give people control over how, where and for how long their data is used, across every single interaction on the web. This is no small feat. An audience member asked an interesting question about who will build this personal information broker -- whether it will be a private company, a government, an NGO, or a non-profit organization? I'm not really sure I have the answer, but I am optimistic that we can figure that out. I wish I had the resources to build this myself as I believe this will be a critical building block for the web. What do you think is the best way forward?

Ultimately, we should be building the web that we want to use, and that we want our children to be using for decades to come. It's time to start to rethink the foundations, before it's too late. If we can move any of these ideas forward in a meaningful way, they will impact billions of people, and billions more in the future.


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