5 Things You Need To Know About Drupal in 2015

Sep 03, 2015

Although it’s only September, we here at Digital Bridge Solutions have pretty much wrapped up our participation in Drupal-related conferences for 2015. We hit 3 sizable Drupal events (DrupalCon LA, MADCamp, DrupalNorth) in addition to participating in dozens of meetups and sprints. Along the way we did a couple session presentations on Drupal Commerce (is “Drupal Commerce a REAL eCommerce Platform” and “Truly Scalable eCommerce With Drupal Commerce”), and we look forward to continued evangelization of Drupal as an eCommerce platform.

For those out there that do not attend as many Drupal community events as we do, I wanted to share 5 big learnings on the state of the Drupal ecosystem garnered from this year’s events:

  1. The rate of attendee growth at DrupalCon North America is slowing... why?.

For the past 7 years or so, the attendance at the North American DrupalCon conference has seen substantial year-over-year growth (sometimes more than doubling from on year to the next). This had to be a nightmare for conference organizers, and we are all very appreciative of the work that goes into putting these things on given this uncertainty. However, this year was the first year on record where the DrupalCon attendance actually DROPPED vs. the prior year. So what does this mean?

Is Drupal dying?

No, of course not! Drupal is not dying, and the community isn’t shrinking. Quite the opposite. I actually think the attendance plateau this is a sign of maturation for the platform and the community. Growth is slowing yes, but some of this is attributable to the fact that the community itself is now large. The larger a community is, the harder it is to maintain high growth rates (just ask Apple or Wal-Mart). I believe that what we are seeing in the Drupal ecosystem are fewer new entrants, both from an agency and individual standpoint. However, the new entrants that we are seeing are larger, more seasoned, and more capable.

Drupal isn’t dying, it's growing up. Just like when a child goes through adolescence and transitions to adulthood, the rate of physical growth slows, but the rate of capability increases. If your organization uses Drupal (or is thinking about Drupal), this maturation and slowing of growth is a good thing, not a cause for concern. Things are about to get interesting…

  1. Agencies and service providers are rationalizing their Drupal conference expenses.

Not only is there slowing attendee growth, but there are also fewer big tradeshow booths. Most agencies and providers are maintaining or even decreasing the percentage of their team that they take to these events (us included). Everyone now understands that these events are not big buyer/seller matchmaking opportunities, so spending a lot of coin to be the biggest peacock at the zoo does not have a huge ROI from a new business standpoint.

Everyone seems to be looking at DrupalCon less as “Drupal prom” and more as a casual gathering of friends… so put the champagne away, grab a six-pack, and get down to the nuts and bolts of sharing useful information with your peers. Few companies did the “multi-story structure-thing” with their booths, with one notable exception…

  1. Introducing the first “Big Drupal Agency”!

FFW, the entity created by the merger of ProPeople and Blink Reaction, was definitely the belle of the ball at DrupalCon LA this year. Big booth, big announcements, big fancy ad reel played to kick off the conference. Very smart, personable, and talented folks at the helm there and we wish them well. The need for a big Drupal agency makes sense, as Drupal gets more prevalent in the Enterprise sector; these clients need a multi-faceted, enterprise-scale service provider to face off with.

However, those of us who have been around the block a few times can’t help but recall the wave of agency consolidations in the late 1990’s / early 2000’s that occurred to help enterprises adapt their business models (or create new ones) to account for this new thing called “the Internet”. The last time I remember a digital agency rollup making a big splash with “make a statement” ads was the ill-fated MarchFirst. That story did not end well, not only for MarchFirst but for Scient, Viant, iXL, and all the other new media agencies that tried to get big fast to seize upon the perceived new market opportunity.

Certainly what is going on at FFW is nowhere near the size, scope, and risk level of MarchFirst, and there is not (we hope) the type of massive industry downturn on the horizon like the dot-com bubble that wiped out most of the “Fast Five” internet consultancies. But it does give one pause…

Yes, Drupal is growing up, and gaining acceptance in the enterprise sector, but is the space ready for a 500 person multi-national agency? We sure hope so, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

  1. The PUSH Internet – what does it mean for you?

Dries (Drupal’s founding father) has been generating a lot commotion recently for his writings on the “push-based” web. The gist of it is that over the next 10 years, the modality of searching and/or browsing for content on the web will be outdated, and that relevant content will be “pushed” to you based on your stated and observed preferences. Tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are already incorporating this type of radical personalization into their products and services.

I happen to think that Dries is right. I also happen to think that what he is talking about is extremely complex and difficult. The “push” internet is like adaptive content on steroids, it’s social, contextual (to time, place, and device), and integrated with all of your digital accounts and tools. It’s currently the realm of huge, billion-dollar organizations with proprietary technologies and armies of PhDs to do their bidding.

So what does this mean if you are a company that does not have unlimited resources, and you just want more people to look at (or buy) your stuff online? Should you chuck everything and undertake a massive adaptive design project so that you can figure out what content your users want, when, and where?

Not so fast. It’s all too easy to tie yourself in knots trying to define (let alone code for) all of the different scenarios that a user could be accessing your content in. Karen McGrane gave the most clear-eyed assessment of this at the recent DrupalNorth conference. In her talk she identifies several large, well-resourced organizations that think in sophisticated ways about their content that eventually concluded that adaptive content strategies (serving up specialized content and layouts based on user, context, device, etc.) were just too difficult to maintain.

Karen suggests that sometimes your best bet is to just be smart about defining your content types and making your content easy to parse, regardless of device or context. I would add to this making sure that your content is easily index-able by, and sharable to, these other billion dollar “push” platforms. Less stress, headache, risk, money, and complexity for you, and a user experience that meets your users’ need for at least the next 5 years…

  1. Drupal 8 Accelerate!

The release of Drupal 8 has been foreshadowed for some time now, but in 2015 the weight of expectation for its release has become increasingly heavy. All of us in the community are feeling it.

It’s not so much the impatience for the new features and capabilities associated with Drupal 8 (e.g. better content administrator experience, more “out of the box” features / modules, incorporation of advanced development frameworks, etc.), these are definitely valuable, but the pressure really boils down to the Drupal community’s ability to deliver.

Delayed software releases are certainly not an issue exclusive to Drupal (just ask Microsoft), but if we in the community want to continue the growth of the Drupal platform into the enterprise sector, then we are going to need to show that we can produce value-added major software releases with some predictability. Beyond Linux, there is not a ton of precedent for a community-driven open source platform with a large, globally distributed community being able to define a product roadmap and deliver on it. However, the Drupal ecosystem is answering the call in a big way this year to show that we can and will do just that.

The Drupal 8 Accelerate Fund has been created to allow the major contributors working on a volunteer basis to focus their attention fully on the release, and firms like ours are contributing dollars and resources to resolving and testing open issues to get Drupal 8 ready for general release.

The global community is aware of what is at stake and is energized; we are all committed to showing that Drupal is a platform that can relied on to deliver on its product roadmap promises. And if your organization is currently using (or considering) Drupal, this is a very good thing!   

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