You are here

Opinion

From content management to digital experience management

Happy 13th birthday Drupal! It’s hard to believe so much has happened with Drupal when it really just started as a little hobby project. I'm super proud of what we accomplished. After all these years, it continues to be a passion and labor of love to grow, maintain and sustain the larger community.

A birthday presents us with a great time to look back and reflect. Though there are many things we could reflect on, I'd like to use this post to look at the bigger picture and share my perspective on the market. This means this blog post mainly offers a business perspective rather than a technical perspective.

From web to digital

Drupal was grown out of my own interest in the web. Today, it is a critical component of many organizations’ operations. For most organizations, having an online presence -- like a website or mobile application -- is an essential part of running their business, and it only continues to grow in importance. The rise of mobile and social media means we no longer talk about having a “website” or having a “web application;” instead we talk about the totality of the “digital experience.” Providing visitors or customers with a great digital experience is no longer a nice-to-have; it is a make-or-break point.

From content to experiences

For Acquia, creating high quality content and driving traffic to our site was the #1 way to generate new leads in 2013. This is true for the vast majority of organizations; high-quality, valuable content remains important. Five years ago, this meant if you had a business, and you didn't have a blog, it was time to start one. Today, it involves so much more than creating pages or cranking out new sites; you create and manage your content, and find ways to promote and reuse it across multiple channels to generate awareness and reach more people. You track and measure all of your efforts and try to optimize the content for different users. Content is gold, but delivering the right content to the right user at the right moment in the right format is platinum. It's no longer just about publishing content; it’s about managing the entire experience of a site visitor or user over time.

From mobile to context

Just like in the last half decade or so, "mobile" has completely redefined the internet, in the next half decade or so, "contextualization" will redefine it once again. The next big challenge, and opportunity, for Drupal, is figuring out how to make it a platform not just for content creators to deliver essentially the same content to users in their preferred language on their preferred device, but a platform for content creators to deliver the most appropriate content to each individual user.

Digital experience platform

The short of it is that Content Management Systems (CMSs) have evolved into technology platforms that manage complex, contextual digital experiences. Managing the totality of a visitor's interactions is complex and requires an array of tools. Just as creating optimal mobile experiences involves multiple approaches and technologies, from responsive design to native apps, from leveraging browser capabilities to leveraging best-practice javascript and PHP libraries, so too creating optimal personalized digital experiences will involve a mix of approaches and technologies, from building some APIs and capabilities into Drupal itself, to integrating with other tools.

As the Drupal community, we need to stop thinking of Drupal as a "content management platform" and start looking at it as a "digital experience platform" used to create ideal visitor experiences. This means publishing content that is easily accessible on multiple devices, and ensuring the site can be easily integrated with other tools, such as social media sites and customer relationship, e-mail and campaign management systems. We've been doing this for many years but it doesn't hurt to recognize the trend, double down on it and evolve our vocabulary.

You may have heard me talk about Web Experience Management (WEM) in the past, but we should move away from that term. The fact is that “web” doesn’t capture all the possible touch-points for Drupal, be it a website, mobile device, game console, wearable device, or something else.

Creating better interfaces to develop structured content, and delivering that content to a variety of devices and channels, is an important part of creating ideal customer experiences. Another important part is the ability to personalize what content to present to a user. Though it will be interesting to see how CMSs facilitate this direction, it seems imperative that CMSs deliver tools to empower content creators to not only create great content, but to also help them make decisions about what content to deliver to whom, when and in what format. Over time, these content decisions will become more data-driven and automated, and less opinion-based and manual.

Top features in CMSs over time
2000 2005 2010 2015
  • Static content
  • Separate content from design
  • Animated GIFs
  • WYSIWYG authoring
  • Dynamic content
  • Publishing workflows
  • User generated content
  • Modular architecture
  • Syndication
  • Search
  • Social media integration
  • WYSIWYG page design
  • Collaboration tools
  • Rich media integration
  • Lead generation tools
  • Customer intelligence
  • Context-aware
  • Multi-device
  • Service-enabled / APIs
  • Multi-site platform governance
  • PaaS/SaaS

Few CMSs are actually growing in market share; our industry will continue to consolidate further in 2014. The fact most CMSs become less and less relevant isn’t a surprise since CMSs are becoming more complicated. The CMSs that will survive are those that (1) are able to keep up with the speed of the Internet and (2) offer the least amount of friction to adopt. Open source CMSs that foster a healthy community are well positioned to win in the long run. Drupal's biggest challenge going forward is to create a user experience that gets out of a user's way and lets them do their business regardless of how simple or complex their task is. This is why I'm so passionate about in-place editing, and usability in general, but also creating a great developer experience. It's important that we continue to focus on those goals in 2014 and beyond.

For a long time, there has been somewhat of a misconception about Drupal’s viability for the largest, most complex deployments. Analysts, technology decision makers and proprietary competitors such as Sitecore and Adobe will claim that Drupal is great for simple sites but lacks the scale and depth of features needed for enterprise deployments. They're wrong! They only have to look at how GE, White House, MSNBC and many others are using Drupal. Drupal 8 is in a great position to take this "digital experience management" to the next level and to further cement Drupal's reputation; from the mobile improvements, to the authoring experience improvements, to APIs, to getting even better at structured content, Drupal 8 is set up for growth.

We've come a long way in the past 13 years. I'm immensely proud of our community for making this awesome contribution to the betterment of the internet for everyone. But we also have a lot of work ahead as the internet, just like the drop, is always moving. Drupal 8 will continue to help democratize web publishing and digital experience management. This is exciting since we can bring these tools to the masses (including individuals, small and large organizations) rather than only being available to those that can afford the million dollar license fees sold by proprietary software vendors. Happy birthday, Drupal!

Entrepreneurs, not the government, will save Europe's economy

(I originally wrote this blog post as a guest article for The Next Web (English) and De Tijd (Dutch). I'm cross-posting it to my blog.)

If Steve Jobs was adopted by a Belgian family rather than an American family, it's extremely possible he may have ended up working in a bank instead of co-founding Apple. Why? Because starting a company and growing it is hard no matter where you are, but the difficulty is magnified in Europe, where people are divided by geography, regulation, language and cultural prejudice.

While entrepreneurship and startups have spread tremendously in Europe, a lot of aspiring young entrepreneurs leave Europe for the United States. Very little will stop a true entrepreneur from trying to reach his or her goals, including uprooting their entire life and moving it across the ocean to optimize their chances of success. From my interactions with them, the United States' gravitational pull is only getting stronger.

So, what can Europe do about it? Here are my three recommendations.

Focus on creating large companies

Europe produces plenty of small businesses: restaurants, small technology firms, clothing stores, hair salons, and so on. What it doesn't produce enough of are innovative companies that grow quickly and end up big. It's a problem.

Look at the 500 largest companies in the world (Fortune Global 500). According to Bruegel, a European think tank devoted to international economics, Europe created three new, large companies between 1975 and today. The U.S. created 26.

That number is even more incredible when you take into account the fact that Europe has about twice the population of the U.S. The reality is if Europe were to be competitive, it has to produce 25 times more large companies than it does today.

Access to capital continues to be a challenge in Europe. Getting seed capital (1M EUR or less) has become easier, but raising significant money (25M EUR and more) to turn your company in a global business continues to be difficult. Large companies also provide an important 'exit strategy' for startups. Without a vibrant exit market, it's harder to attract both entrepreneurs and investors.

Large companies also play an important role in creating successful innovation centers. They are catalysts for creating angel investors, for providing distribution, and serve as a breeding ground for talent and practiced management.

If you look at Silicon Valley, Hewlett Packard, among others, served that purpose in the early days, and more recently, a number of successful entrepreneurs have emerged from Google.

I recommend that European government stimulus focuses on companies that could become titans, not on small companies that won't move the needle. Too often, there are investments made in companies that have limited or no growth potential.

Level the playing field

Anyone who has built a global organization likely understands that European work regulations can shackle the growth of startups. Taxes are high, it's hard to acquire a European company, severance packages can be outrageous and it's extremely difficult to fire someone.

It only gets worse when you attempt to operate in multiple European countries, as anyone with the ambition to build a large company has to. Each country is different enough that it requires setting up a local legal entity, and having local accountants and local attorneys. Setting up and running these legal entities costs valuable time and money, a huge distraction that gets in the way of actually running and growing your business.

Europe needs to roll out unified labor laws that are competitive globally and unified across Europe. My biggest worry is the branches of government that try to promote entrepreneurship are not powerful enough to address Europe's labour rules.

Change our culture

A small business can be started anywhere in the world, but it takes a different level of ambition to aspire to become the next Apple. The biggest thing entrepreneurs need is the belief that it can be done, that it's worth taking the risk and putting in the hard work. Having the right culture unlocks the passion and dedication necessary to succeed.

Silicon Valley is a state of mind. To recreate Silicon Valley in Europe, Europe must first adopt Silicon Valley's culture. I believe Europe's culture would benefit from adopting part of the American Dream: the egalitarian belief that everyone is able to succeed through hard work, and that it is acceptable and encouraged to better oneself economically through hard work.

It doesn't mean Europe needs to give up its strong communal beliefs and its desire to look out for the greater good. I'm a firm believer that many modern businesses can "do well and do good". Businesses that generate value for their shareholders and that also have a positive impact on the world go beyond generating profits.

Our world does not lack business opportunities; there are plenty of people with needs that aren't met. Enabling entrepreneurship enables innovation, and innovation helps change the world. The entrepreneurs that succeed in building large businesses, especially those that are aligned with fixing the world's problems, will transform the lives of others for the better and introduce more opportunity on a global level.

Entrepreneurs, not the government, will change the world. It's time for Europe to help their companies grow.

The Assembled Web

(I originally wrote this blog post as a guest article for Forbes. I'm cross-posting it to my blog.)

To "assemble" means to build. Assembling also means that we come together. Sometimes, both aspects are true. When that happens and we work together to build, we are better off for it.

The open source community is a perfect example of this. When Linux creator Linus Torvalds spoke about how it felt to get contributions from a worldwide network of people, he remarked "I had hoisted myself up on the shoulders of giants". I'm lucky enough to feel the same way.

The Internet has created a culture of sharing, letting people connect and collaborate on areas of common interest. When I started developing Drupal in 2000 from my university dormitory in Antwerp, I never imagined I'd build a network of people who were interested in building a content management system with me. Yet word of my project spread, and before I knew it, I was getting contributions to my project from around the world. Soon I also was standing on the shoulders of giants.

We didn't know it at the time, but this founding group of Drupalists was creating the basis for the assembled web. The assembled web is the next stage in the evolution of the web. While the coded web will always continue to exist, it will be a minority.

Think of the assembled web almost as an app store model for creating a digital experience. For example, if you want your website to allow social comments to flow in from Facebook or Twitter, you can simply add a module that someone has already coded. If you want to add analytics, maps, or almost anything you can imagine — there's probably a module for that.

While the modules are built on a foundation of code, they require no coding to install and build with ... to assemble. Instead, the vision of a great digital experience can be accomplished by someone with no coding experience, who can now simply "snap" the pieces of a new web experience together.

So, why is the assembled web rising to prominence so quickly, and what does that mean for developers?

  • First, there are more websites now than ever before, and there's no sign of that growth slowing down. Ten years ago, a company had one website. Now, that same company might manage dozens or even hundreds of sites.
  • Second, the complexity of websites has skyrocketed. Applications, integrations with third-party systems, social media integration, and the mobile web have all driven this complexity. New technologies emerge and replace the old. For example, Flash has almost been driven to extinction, replaced by HTML5, CSS3 and other more modern standards.

These two trends, set against the way many sites are built today, make it difficult to keep up with the changing standards, much less innovate and move the digital experience forward.

There is only one way to keep up: do more with less. I first imagined the assembled web in 2005, when the widespread use of content management systems began to replace the webmaster role as we knew it. Webmasters were no longer hired to write HTML by hand, or upload code to an FTP. In a way, the CMS eliminated the middleman.

Beyond our own evolution as developers, outside forces have also fundamentally altered the web. Ten years ago, the global phenomenon of Facebook didn't exist. Twitter didn't exist. The iPhone had yet to be released and create the mobile ecosystem that we know today. Think about the amount of change that's happened in such a short period. Now what will the world, and the web, look like another 10 years from today? No one knows.

The best thing to do is to adopt a platform that can change at the pace of the web. Developers will be tasked with building new functionality, and expanding the world of possibilities that modules can deliver. The innovation that developers will bring is crucial, and will power the assembled web by lowering barriers and democratizing the experience of site building.

The assembled web doesn't just have implications for the way developers create websites. It will have a widespread impact on any person or organization that needs to keep up with rapidly changing external forces. That's pretty much everyone. Think about how the assembly line changed manufacturing the first time. And how 3D printing is changing it again now. We can build faster and smarter than ever before. Similarly, the assembled web gives more people the tools to build the web as we know it.

Anyone without coding experience will be able to use an open source CMS to assemble a site by simply snapping modules together. A marketer could build a site for a new product launch without relying on the engineering team. An entrepreneur could launch a company site without hiring a webmaster. This phenomenon frees up time for developers to create new ways to connect citizens to their governments, nonprofits to donors, businesses to customers, friends and family to each other. Launching a disruptive business idea or reacting to today's rapid market changes could be accomplished without technical assistance. Going from vision to realization, for the first time, would be a single step. This advantage would finally bring the speed of digital site building in line with the speed of the web.

This evolution isn't a scary thing for developers; it's an opportunity. The web has forced a constant reinvention of everything. Careers. The way we compete for business. Being more efficient in the way we assemble a website will allow us to focus on the things that matter more, like innovation and creativity. By standing on the shoulders of giants, we can make things look and operate more beautifully than we'd ever have expected.

I bought some Bitcoin and here is why

Over the past twelve months, I’ve become a bit of an obsessive follower of Bitcoin. It started after I read Satoshi Nakamoto’s original Bitcoin paper. It was a fascinating read and my first introduction to crypto-currencies. I even had a couple of lunches in Boston with Gavin Andresen, Bitcoin’s current project lead.

I was close to buying some Bitcoin when I first got interested, but backed off. It was too bad because Bitcoin's value increased from $13 a year ago to around $1,000 at the time wrote this: a 4,000% increase in 12 months. I didn't buy my first Bitcoins until a month ago. I bought them with some reluctance but I figured that people felt a certain reluctance when paper money first came along. But I bought them because to me it seemed like Bitcoin could work and also because I wanted to have a better understanding of what it was all about.

Bitcoin is a purely digital currency. There are no records of Satoshi's identity so no one knows who invented it, no one controls it and it is not backed by gold. It is something akin to a digital version of gold. It's fascinating. At the core of the Bitcoin system is a global, public log, called the "blockchain", that records all transactions between Bitcoin clients. A user can send Bitcoins to another user by forming a transaction and committing it to the blockchain. The blockchain is maintained not by a central body, like a central bank, but by a distributed network of computers, called "miners". Everyone can be a miner, and the miners collectively record and verify all transactions.

Compared to traditional banks, the advantages of Bitcoin are significant. Bitcoin payments can be made at any day of the week, any time of day to anywhere in the world. The fees and delays involved are small compared to those imposed by banks; pennies compared to dollars and minutes compared to days. And unlike paper money, it is unforgeable. Unlike gold, its supply is perfectly verifiable. It is also immune to inflation: governments can't print more Bitcoins to pay off their debts.

The design and architecture of Bitcoin is both a curse and a blessing. The lack of central authority governing Bitcoin raises questions. Governments tend to enjoy power of observation; it makes it easier to fight money laundering, tax evasion and other crimes. As Bitcoin continues to gain popularity, governments may grow increasingly resistant and attempt to shut down Bitcoin. And banks don't like Bitcoin either. Money transfer is an important part of their business; it has almost zero risk, almost zero cost, yet provides them billions of dollars in revenue. In a world where Bitcoin is universally accepted, banks may have a diminished role.

The jury is out on whether Bitcoin is a fantasy destined for failure, or whether Bitcoin will underpin the future of finance. Some predict the value of one Bitcoin could climb to hundreds of thousands of dollars if it becomes universally accepted. While I risk losing some money, it could also turn out to be a massive investment home-run. I felt that the risk/reward decision made it a bet worth taking.

I certainly don't advise you to buy Bitcoin as I'm skeptical that Bitcoin will succeed. I predict Bitcoin to have an extremely bumpy ride, and at best, to follow Gartner's hype cycle. If Bitcoin ends up collapsing, I will be disappointed but I won't feel stupid. I already sold some Bitcoin and recouped my original investment; I'm long with my remaining Bitcoin.

So is Bitcoin a case of speculative greed, or a utopian cyber-libertarian ideology? In a world where everything is going digital, why not currencies? Bitcoin makes it faster, cheaper and easier to store and transport value. It was designed to overcome problems faced with traditional currencies and banks. At a minimum, Bitcoin has created a lot of debate throughout the world, and has shaken a stagnant banking market. Longer term, the concept of a crypto-currency makes a lot of sense to me. It is massively beneficial for the world that we can transfer money easier, faster and cheaper. I find it hard to believe that a hundred years from now, we'd still be digging up gold, and that we wouldn't have a global, digital currency to replace it.

If you believe a digital currency is the future of money, I'll leave you with one question: how would one launch a world-wide crypto-currency like Bitcoin? It can't be owned by a commercial organization, and I simply can't imagine all the world's governments work together to build and launch something like this. Creative disruption often comes from the outside, and not from the inside. It pretty much has to happen in a grassroots way, not unlike the way the Internet was created. Even today after 30 years, the Internet operates without a central governing body and is comprised of independent, voluntarily networks. It works well and changed the world.

The blog post above is a Dutch opinion piece I wrote for the Belgian financial newspaper De Tijd.

To start an Open Source project or not?

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.

Pages

© 1999-2015 Dries Buytaert Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License.
Drupal is a Registered Trademark of Dries Buytaert.