Boris Mann’s Personal Blog

Jan 2021

Reflecting on 20 years of Drupal & my personal mission

Dries, founder of the Drupal project, posted his thoughts and wishes from 20 years.

He included 3 birthday wishes.

The first one, never stop evolving1, includes this passage:

First and foremost, we’ve been focused on a problem that existed 20 years ago, exists today, and will exist 20 years from now: people and organizations need to manage content. Working on a long-lasting problem certainly helps you stay relevant.

So, roughly, the short phrase for this is “content management”. It was very interesting to read this, because it’s not at all the reason I contributed to the Drupal project.

I got involved using it personally, joined the mailing list, and starting contributing. It was my first open source project and community and I learned so much and have so much to be thankful for to the project, to Dries, and to all the wonderful people I got to meet.

My first contributions were around CSS class names and the recipe module.

Anyway: I got involved and built a company around Drupal because I wanted to enable personal publishing. Not the content management part, but rather giving individuals and groups agency over their content: using open source software to publish their own words online. Without having to go through mass media of a newspaper or other publisher, which is all there was at the time.2

I’m still on that same mission, in part because of Drupal being built as a full stack LAMP application: much too hard to host and maintain by individuals. This reduces user agency: you’re relying on someone else to have the knowledge and expertise and trust to run and maintain a server stack, and hopefully back up your content.

I’m pleased that people are in part solving this by banding together as co-ops and collectives.3. Some of the first worker cooperatives that I was exposed to were building on Drupal, like Agaric, or Vancouver’s CanTrust Hosting Co-op.

My goal: a user with a smartphone as their only computing device should be able to create and publish directly, and participate in the web.

Alongside of this is an understanding that humans make software and can be supported directly, which wish #3 is about.

Wish #2 is continued focus on ease of use, with a specific mention of out-of-the-box experience.

I hacked together SQL queries and config files to invent install profiles for Drupal, with many more capable people doing an actual good job of this afterwards ;)

Mostly, the Drupal community hasn’t internalized what it wants to be out of the box. Modules rather than products. It has gotten better, but there is a lot more to do here.4

And, the immense gravitational force of Dries’ commercial company Acquia being focused on (enterprise) content management pulls things in that direction. This is also at odds with my personal interest in individuals and groups, who have very different needs

This is not really this category, but I have been reflecting on it so will include it here:

At the time (in the early 2000s) I had little to no awareness of the concept of equality and inclusion. Around me I saw mostly white, young, and primarily male faces. I was - and am! - so privileged to be able to spend time participating in OSS communities.

This, too, is usability and ease of use.

Wish #3 resonated most strongly with me and I think Dries and I are very aligned on this goal: Economic systems to sustain and scale Open Source.

He links to a shop local analogy: think about the software you use, and understand that choosing software with an open source license pays dividends for you and the people around you.

Related to privilege, I am thinking a lot about “open source as a job”. I have long tried to get open source devs paid in different ways. Now, I think it’s time to have apps as a small business. Can we enable devs from around the globe to earn a living from building and maintaining apps? Yes, we can, and we must — and move past just North America and Western Europe as the focus for this.

All of the things I’ve mentioned are a core part of Fission, my current company:

  1. User owned content and personalization of apps
  2. Out of the box components for users and developers to build apps
  3. A model for users to participate with and support developers directly, so devs can have “open source as a job”

I am so glad to have met Dries and have him as a friend, so we can continue to work together, debate, and argue over priorities over how our missions overlap ;)

Dries is one of the very few people on the planet with 20 years of history of guiding a large open source project, and the changes and awareness of issues related to this that has happened over that time.

Congrats to him, to the entire Drupal community. Here’s to another 20.

  1. A Drupal phrase is “The Drop is Always Moving” – because Drupal’s logo looks like a drop, and it’s always evolving. When new services or protocols launched, the Drupal community usually had a module supporting it in weeks or days. ↩︎

  2. Dries did message me after I posted and said basically “Yes! This too!”, as well as “blogging is about sparking conversations”. ↩︎

  3. I wrote about the Social.Coop collective I joined recently. ↩︎

  4. I should be more positive here. There are 139 actively maintained distributions for Drupal 8. Next up: solid financial support models for a wide range of distros. ↩︎