Dries Buytaert is the founder and project lead of Drupal, an open source content management system. He is co-founder and chief technology officer of Acquia, a venture-backed software company that offers products and services for Drupal. Dries is also working on Mollom, a service that helps you identify content quality and that stops website spam.
As an organisational member of the Drupal Association, NuBlue provide Drupal hosting for a number of sites built on the Drupal platform. Therefore I was very excited to have the opportunity to speak to Dries Buytaert.
In this interview, Dries talks about the launch of Drupal 7 and how the Drupal community has responded to this, the role he plays in Drupal, how mobile is influencing the future of Drupal, and Drupal Commons and Gardens.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you became involved in the world of Content Management Systems?
Sort of by accident in a way, I am an engineer by education so studied computer science at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. Then I went to work for a start up as an embedded software engineer, nothing to do with the web. Then I went back to University of Ghent to do a PhD in Computer Science so all the work that I did professionally had nothing to do with the web, and nothing to do with Drupal. But when I was in college in Antwerp I started a message board to exchange messages on our intranet in our student dorm, essentially that has evolved into Drupal. I started a message board for my own purpose and kept working on it for the next 10 years! So it was sort of by accident in the sense that it was a hobby project that evolved into something much larger than I ever really anticipated or dreamt of.
How would you sell Drupal to a developer who doesn’t know what it is/does?
I usually describe Drupal as a number of different things. First of all it’s an open source content management system so obviously software that allows you to build websites. That is the most basic description that I can give. But it is also a content management framework meaning that it’s a tool for developers, which developers can use to build pretty much any type of web application. Thirdly, I usually say that Drupal is a large community of passionate contributors and users. There is the technology piece of Drupal but also the community piece. The community is very important too.
What role does the Drupal Community play to help shape the features and functions of Drupal?
When I started I was the only developer but right now there are thousands of developers that contribute to Drupal in many different capacities. For example if you just look at Drupal 7 which has just been released, just for the core I accepted batches from a thousand different developers. Some developers contributed many batches, others only one. Then of course there are almost 7000 contributed modules or extensions that people can download and install, and each of those extensions are also developed by developers. If you add everything up its thousands of developers that are contributing to Drupal. We collaboratively and collectively set the direction of the product.
How have the community responded to the launch of Drupal 7?
I have got quite a lot of feedback, it is extremely positive. We had a very large release party…almost 300 release parties all round the world, so almost in every city in the world there was a local release party.
I saw you had the projection on the KPN building…that was pretty cool.
Yes that is a good example of why it is cool to have a large community because people do all sorts of crazy and fun things.
What was the key focus when developing Drupal 7?
We focused on a lot of different things. We worked on Drupal 7 for almost three years. Three years and a thousand people that means we have been able to do a lot.
I would say the number one improvement is in terms of usability. Drupal is often criticised as being harder to use compared to some other open source alternatives and I think that is rightfully so. On the one hand Drupal offers more features and functionality so some of the complexity is inherent to what Drupal does. At the same time there were a lot of things that could be improved so we spent a lot of time working on usability. We took a very holistic look at Drupal and improved the admin interface, we improved the information architecture so the way menu’s are laid out, we improved the terminology of some of the labels and all sorts of things…so it’s a very huge change touching every part of Drupal.
The feedback on that has been incredible, people just love the new user interface. That would be the number one thing. We have also done a lot of work on scalability as well to make it possible to run Drupal on even bigger websites. We have a made a lot of improvements to the framework as well, so much better APIs, more consistent APIs, lots of clean up and extensions to the old APIs. Another big big thing which is CCK, it is probably the module that gives Drupal a unique advantage over other solutions, so we moved that module into Drupal 7 core so now it’s part of every Drupal install going forwards. That is going to be a very big deal for people that know Drupal.
What Drupal implementation are you most proud of and why?
There are many Drupal sites that I am really proud of, sometimes these are big websites but also often these are very small sites. For example I am very proud that The White House has got a website made on Drupal. Also there are a lot of small sites that are very motivating for me, like a site to help women with breast cancer, it could be a very small site organised by an individual and that is also very rewarding. The fact that Drupal empowers individuals and often non technical individuals to build a website to share and connect with other people online is something that I am very proud of.
Has the development of Drupal followed your original vision for it?
In many ways yes and a lot of the core DNA of the initial Drupal release is still in place. I think it is a very social product, it is a very modular framework. At the same times there are all sorts of things I could have never anticipated, features that were contributed by people in the community.
What influence do you still have on the development of Drupal as its founder?
I am the project lead and one of my roles is to be the gatekeeper of Drupal core. That means I review all of the submissions/changes that people propose and I get to decide which changes go into the next version of Drupal. That gives me a lot of control over both the quality, the architecture and the design but also the features and functionality that will be part of the next version of Drupal.
You mentioned in your blog that one of your objectives for 2011 is to write a small iPhone or Android application that connects with Drupal. Have you started developing this?
I am trying to find the time but I don’t think that will happen before DrupalCon Chicago. I think mobile is obviously becoming very important, a few years ago the iPad didn’t exist and today it’s the most popular consumer electronics device being sold. Mobile is exploding and that of course begs the question in a world of handheld and tablet devices what do we need to do to make Drupal the go to platform. There are a lot of things that Drupal already does to make it very easy to use on mobile applications but I think there is more that we can do. I think it is particularly important because we might be going to a world where instead of designing for desktop websites first, you might end up designing for mobile first and then desktop websites second. I think that mobile should be a very big thing for us, we should become the number one platform to build mobile web applications.
What was the inspiration behind Drupal Commons and how do you see this developing in relation to Drupal?
A lot of large organisations like Intel and Nike are using Drupal to build very social websites to interact with their users and so forth. All of those organisations take Drupal and then they assemble 50 to 150 different contributed modules to build this social platform they need to interact with their customers and users. So Drupal Commons is specifically designed to take as many of those steps away so that you have the solution ready that you can download and install, something that is ready to go vs something that you may need to spend a few weeks on to put it all together. It is really meant to reduce the time to market and to increase the adoption of Drupal as a collaborative solution.
How do you see the web evolving over the next 5 years? How does this influence the other products/services you are working on such at Drupal Commons and Mollom?
I think the web will be much more complex so I think the need for content management systems and the need for products and services around that will help you manage that complexity as it grows. So we talked a little about mobile, well I think the future is more complex because there will be multiple different channels and multiple different devices. From phones, to tablets, to desktops; and building websites for each of those isn’t going to make it easier. So being able to deal with the growing complexity of the web is going to be a key challenge and I think Drupal is uniquely positioned to play a very big part of that. At Acquia we offer a number of services through the Acquia network to help people do these kind of things. We have a larger partnership with Mobify to make it very easy for people to build mobile applications.
Mollom is separate, it started as personal project that I developed for use on my own website really then I figured it might be useful for other people so made it available as a product. Now it’s a small company on its own. It is already growing very rapidly, we are already protecting over 40,000 websites. The web is becoming more and more social with more interaction. I think because the web is becoming more social the need to help companies manage those interactions and help them moderate all of the post and comments will only increase and Mollom’s role is to help make that easier.
Can you tell me about Drupal Gardens?
Drupal Gardens is essentially Drupal as a service so what that means is its designed for organisations that want to build smaller websites and build them very quickly, really in hours versus weeks or months. So Drupal Gardens provides a very easy platform to build micro sites. It’s fully hosted so Acquia takes care of maintenance and security. It’s similar to wordpress.com in that sense except it’s built on Drupal. It comes with the power and flexibility of Drupal. It’s not really targeted at the blogger, it’s for people that want to have powerful interactive websites build from Drupal.
I would like to say thank you to Dries for taking the time to talk to us.
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