5.0 and 2007: A Perfect Storm for Drupal?

The other night after a little prodding from Drumm, I spent a couple hours reviewing patches for Drupal 5.0. My #drupal karma has been off for a while, and I needed a good excuse to start to get my hands dirty with the next version, so I'm glad he harassed me into helping out.

But man oh man, was I impressed when I installed 5.0 on my local sandbox. The "first impression" is simply worlds apart from the 4.x family of releases. It left me feeling really excited (wanting to contribute more), and inspired by this optimistic post by Gunner Langemark, I'm willing to hazard that 5.0 and 2007 could be a sort of Perfect Storm or Tipping Point for the project. Here's why:

A Quantum-Leap in Usability
As Dries outlined earlier this year in Vancouver, Drupal is ahead of the pack in features and capability, but has been lagging in usability.

This usability gap is now being closed. While Drupal remains more complex, and thus has a longer learning curve, that curve is flattening. The improved "first impression" of a stock install, a revamped admin interface, and the addition of the jQuery library are some of the more obvious advances here, but a general shift in consciousness towards usability is yielding results across the board.

Some examples are in order. Check out these screenshots of 4.x's stock "Bluemarine" theme:

Bluemarine

Vs. 5.0's default "Garland":

Garland

Also, check out the difference in how the first admin screen is structured. Here's the old 4.x version which displays confusing (and generally non-interesting) list of recent watchdog log items:

4.x admin

Vs. the 5.0 admin screen, which presents nice categories of tasks for administrators:

5.0 admin

The cumulative impact of these usability changes will be huge in terms of growing the overall userbase and turning many more people on to the platform's power. Bravo to the core team for making some strong choices in this regard!

Install Profiles = Drupal Products
Part of the new first-impression is the relative ease with which the default database structure loads. No longer does setting up Drupal require messing with phpMyAdmin or a command-line database session:

5.0 db config

That's a big step forward in and of itself, but there's a lot more value in this system than just making it simpler to get a vanilla install up and running.

Drupal is special because it so well-engineered as a framework. It is stable, flexible, versatile and extensible. You can use it to emulate virtually any existing website. It just takes the right combination of contributed modules, configuration, a good theme, and a little planning.

If you're good, this takes a couple of weeks at most. That's huge potential power.

The presence of an install profile system crystalizes this potential. It gives experts like me a solid way to distribute our own site recipies -- what we at Chapter Three like to call Drupal Products -- so that they can be easily evaluated, utilized and improved upon by others.

The creating of a marketplace for Drupal Products will increase the pace of innovation while simultaneously lowering the barrier to entry for new and emerging players to get a taste of advanced Drupal functionality. It will drive quality, and open many higher-end/ambitious eyes to the value of building their website on Drupal's open platform.

Professional Class Hits Critical Mass
I may be biased on this because I've just started a company and am doing pretty well, but it seems like the community of Drupal professionals (that is, people who make a living around the project) is continuing to grow at an incredible rate. The signs are everywhere:

drupal community growth

There are now close to 1,000 self-identified Drupal service providers, and look at how CVS accounts and projects are spiking! Could it be that people are growing tired of the Ruby on Rails hype machine and turning an eye to big D?

drupal vs rails

The trends are good. I see more and more client-sponsored contributions, more and bigger Drupal-centric companies, more new faces in development chat, and every shop I know -- including us -- is desparate to bring on new talent. This all signals another year of robust growth for the Drupal economy: more jobs, more high quality work, more evangelism and training.

There's nothing like being able to bring home the bacon to give something value and longevity. I think in 2007 we'll see more innovative entrepreneurial groups spring up (somewhat like Lullabot did, more power to 'em) as high-capacity professionals and new kids on the block alike turn on to what the Droop has to offer and decide to go pro.

The Perfect Storm
These three broad trends lead me to believe that behind the banner of 5.0, we could be on the brink of a "perfect storm" for Drupal in 2007, leading to a greatly increased public profile for the project both within the technology/open-source community and among the public at large:

  • With gains in usability, the platform will shed much of its reputation as a "geeks-only" tool.
  • With the proliferation of install profiles, the real muscle of the system will be available to less-expert users.
  • More users and more power-users drive an explosion of new and better sites, and also bring new developers on board.
  • A growing Drupal economy creates jobs for new developers and supports training activities -- both formal teaching events and on-the-job apprenticeships -- to build capacity.
  • The proliferation of Drupal shops also means more targeted evangelism within industry verticals, more productization, and more high-quality sales and marketing efforts building buzz around the brand.

This all serves to pump more creative energy, talent, interest and paying development back into the core platform, driving further waves of growth and innovation. In real terms the sky's the limit for now.

"Web 3.0?" Why stop there? Check out Garland's ability to shift color schemes with a live preview:

color config

Now that's what I call cool.

The virtuous cycle of Drupal growth doesn't seem to be headed for a breakdown any time soon, and the continued vibrance of the culture and community surrounding the project lead me to believe that these coming waves of growth (while sure to contain some turbulence) should be mostly positive and sustainable.

It's a good time to Drupal!

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