Long haul: late night SFO -> PHL, Drupal and the future of the web

Submitted by jpamental on
Topics:  drupal

I just spent the past 3 days in San Francisco for DrupalCon, and after such an intense immersion it does warrant some reflection. What better time than 6 hours on a plane, right? John Mayer playing on my iPhone doesn’t hurt either. There are many standout memories of the past 72 hours (almost to the minute since I landed in SFO Sunday night), but some stand taller. I’ve always been a William Gibson fan, and Tim O’Reilly quoted him well in his keynote yesterday:

“The future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”

This was wrapped in a sometimes heady discourse on open source, (hopefully) open data, a little politics and closed with an admonition to ‘make stuff that matters.’ (Tim’s slides here: http://slidesha.re/buKnvj)

The day before, Dries opened his keynote to a reception that could almost rival Steve Jobs. Over 2,500 people, lights, projectors. Pretty surreal. He had some great stories and some great analytics, though I think he could take a cue from Mr. Jobs in how he chose to present some of them. Drupal faces challenges for sure, but its momentum over the past 2 1/2 years since I started using it is nothing short of amazing. While Wordpress (understandably) has a much larger install base as does Joomla (that one I can’t figure out), combined they account for roughly 10% of the sites on the internet. Rough estimates put the number of Drupal-powered sites at almost 500,000. That’s a boatload of websites, and considering the number of platforms out there (and the number of really crappy, static and often orphaned HTML-based sites), the fact that one in ten are powered by one of three open-source PHP-driven platforms is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Challenges aside, the trajectory is impressive: Drupal jobs proliferating, Drupal success stories abounding, and the number of Universities in attendance all point to ever-strengthening visibility, acceptance and demand. (Dries’ keynote video on archive.org)

These two keynotes were quite different: one with it’s head in the cloud (literally - Tim was talking about the future of open source in the cloud) and one rooted in some numbers and thoughts of locking us in the room, splitting us up in teams of 30 or so to knock out the remaining 100 bugs on the list standing between now and the release of Drupal 7. Both stirred me. Dries did ask one question that leapt skyward: he asked anyone who felt that Drupal had in some way changed their life to stand. I was one of the overwhelming majority on their feet, and I’m proud to say it. I saw that what Drupal offered me as a designer and web strategist was a way to knock the technology over to the ‘done’ column. Not done as in no effort required, but done in the sense that it’s solved: Drupal provides such a solid and comprehensive foundation for virtually every site I work on that I don’t have to question it: I know it will work. I’ve thrown literally 10s of thousands of users at it, millions of page views per month and some rather fiendishly complex structures of content and not once - even once - have I or my clients been left wanting. I spent years building content systems, web apps and other dynamic solutions in a variety of platforms and have NEVER had so little trouble sleeping at night. There has never been a reason to build from scratch ever since.

Drupal might have seemed to some as a gamble to standardize on 2 1/2 years ago, but to me it made absolute sense. Looking back I feel a comforting sense of certainty that this was indeed the right move and seems ever more so with each passing day, each additional success. With Drupal 7 embracing a vastly overhauled experience for content administrators, modern and forward-looking support for data engines and abstraction, semantic web technologies like RDFa it’s a clearer case than ever. It’s really good stuff and I can’t wait to put it in production after spending quite a lot of time working with the early versions.

Tim’s William Gibson quote made me think about what sent me to DrupalCon on such short notice: my involvement in Newschoolyard. We’ve seen what the market has for schools: high costs to start, relatively poor or at best common functionality and recurring fees that rival or surpass tuition rates. For school systems, especially public ones, this is a future that is more than just unevenly distributed: it’s simply unattainable. With Drupal, there’s a chance to change that. A robust environment, experienced architects, developers and designers can bring about a platform that just about any school can afford, and an open source version for those with human resources rather than any financial ones. That brings me around to Tim’s closing directive, and is exactly why I quit the agency where I worked up until 6 months ago: to make something that matters.

To be honest I’ve never had to try to hard to find work in this industry. I’ve had a handful of great jobs, have worked for myself off an on over the past 15 years and love what I do. But while I like some of the more commercial work that I’ve been doing, Newschoolyard has soul. Listening to the literally dozens of educators at the conference only strengthened my conviction that this is the right thing to do, and a step towards even bigger contributions back to the Drupal community and to educational institutions. Lip service to the greater good just isn’t good enough. My cousin Kevin, with whom I stayed while in SF, has his own agency working exclusively with non-profits and I can see does a lot of good while he’s doing well. That’s the real deal. That’s what I see in Newschoolyard. It’s also what I see Drupal enable me to do: provide top-shelf technology and service efficiently and affordably, so clients can get the best out of my time helping the with strategy and design.

So here’s to doing good. And thanks to Kevin for the inspiration; thanks to Drupal for the tools and the community; and above all - thank you Mark for the opportunity to be a part of this project. It’s inspired, and inspiring, and I’m proud to be a part.


Thank you Jason.  I wish I was able to be there.  Your comments on the conference help me to realize that I picked the right CMS two years ago when I made my first Drupal website for our school ( http://www.hpa.edu ).  We will be using Newschoolyard for our next version (why reinvent the wheel?).  I can't wait to see what you all produce for your distribution.  Will it be Drupal 7 that you use, or will you stick with the proven D6?

jpamental's picture

We're really excited to work with you - the site you have has some beautiful imagery!

As for versions in our platform - we'll be deploying initially in Drupal 6, but I'm actively working with and testing 7 already and hope to have a viable 7 option as quickly as possible. Just not enough modules far enough along to try and launch with it, but it is indeed tremendously promising.