Drupal Has Evolved To Become 'Less About The Product But More About Open Source'

Dries Buytaert
Founder And Lead Developer Of CMS Drupal

The web is big and is still growing.

While most of the web's content has been aggregated or shared through social media networks, let's not forget the sources of those information. From web apps to blogs and ordinary websites, they are either custom made, or created by using some sort of platforms.

Among those platforms, most are Content Management Systems, or CMS.

And one of the most popular CMS, is Drupal.

Originally created by Dries Buytaert as a message board "for myself, for me with my friends," Drupal became an open source project in 2001.

What began as a typo of Dutch word "dorp", in which Buytaert spelled it "drop", Drupal slowly became one of most popular CMS in the market,

20 years later, in 2021, Drupal has evolved to become beyond its original intention.

Dries Buytaert

In an interview, Buytaert said some of the things he would do differently if he starts the Drupal project in 2021.

"I would lead with a strong user experience."

"When I released the first version of Drupal it attracted like-minded people, meaning other developers, and we got a bit of tunnel vision, it was for developers by developers. In the last 20 years the world has changed, the primary end user for a content management system like Drupal is no longer a developer but a marketer, typically a less technical person. Because of that Drupal is still considered as a bit harder to use than competing systems."

Buytaert that is also CTO of Acquia, a cloud platform for marketing Drupal-powered websites, added that:

"The second thing is less about the product but more about open source. In the early days it was a renegade movement, anti-establishment. They kind of frowned on commercial involvement, maybe it was confused with proprietary. Today we've learned that commercial involvement in open source can be a great thing. Almost two-thirds of the contributions to Drupal come from commercial organizations, over 1,200 companies last year. If starting today, I would embrace that commercial involvement from the get-go. It means finding models that encourage organizations to contribute even more aggressively."

"Open source has won. It results in higher quality software at lower cost, no vendor lock-in, but the final challenge, the end boss, is that it's still hard to scale and sustain open-source projects."

But gone are the days that big projects can live on its own, and thrive in the wilderness of powerful competition with feature-packed systems and capabilities.

This is why Buytaert is evolving more into an API rather than staying an end-to-end CMS.

"There are trends that push that strategy. There's the evolution of a simple CMS to what we call a visual experience platform. Organizations integrate Drupal with a bunch of different backend technologies, maybe a CRM [customer relationship management], marketing automation tools. And Drupal users don't just deliver a page of content any more, they want to deliver experiences that are personalized. That requires an API-based approach."

"Similarly on the front end we see an explosion of JavaScript frameworks and adoption, and that also requires an API-based approach."

But because of this, Drupal can become more complex with its JavaScript that can eventually lead to heavyweight pages and less-clean HTML.

And when Drupal 8 was introduced, Drupal became more complex because upgrading from Drupal 7 was difficult.

APIs can break, for example. And among other issues, "it is worrisome," said Buytaert.

"The web is better when it's fast and simple. There are billions of people around the world where they still do not have fast internet. I see a lot of bloat. I know it's fun or sexy for web developers to build with all these frameworks, but people need to think critically."

And Drupal changed that through Drupal 9, which made the CMS simpler.

This is why Buytaert insisted that Drupal no longer deserves its "reputation of being a little hard to use."