June 29th, 2016
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’s 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’ve feared that we’d make the wrong choice or limit our growth. Over the years, it’s 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’s now coming. I’ve always believed that the Drupal community is ambitious, and I 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 clearer. 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.