The evolution of Acquia's product strategy

Four months ago, I shared that Acquia was on the verge of a shift equivalent to the decision to launch Acquia Fields and Drupal Gardens in 2008. As we entered Acquia's second decade, we outlined a goal to move from content management to data-driven customer journeys. Today, Acquia announced two new products that support this mission: Acquia Journey and Acquia Digital Asset Manager (DAM).

Last year on my blog, I shared a video that demonstrated what is possible with cross-channel user experiences and Drupal. We showed a sample supermarket chain called Gourmet Market. Gourmet Market wants its customers to not only shop online using its website, but to also use Amazon Echo or push notifications to do business with them. The Gourmet Market prototype showed an omnichannel customer experience that is both online and offline, in store and at home, and across multiple digital touchpoints. The Gourmet Market demo video was real, but required manual development and lacked easy customization. Today, the launch of Acquia Journey and Acquia DAM makes building these kind of customer experiences a lot easier. It marks an important milestone in Acquia's history, as it will accelerate our transition from content management to data-driven customer journeys.

A continuous journey across multiple digital touch points and devices

Introducing Acquia Journey

I've written a great deal about the Big Reverse of the Web, which describes the transition from "pull-based" delivery of the web, meaning we visit websites, to a "push-based" delivery, meaning the web comes to us. The Big Reverse forces a major re-architecture of the web to bring the right information, to the right person, at the right time, in the right context.

The Big Reverse also ushers in the shift from B2C to B2One, where organizations develop a one-to-one relationship with their customers, and contextual and personalized interactions are the norm. In the future, every organization will have to rethink how it interacts with customers.

Successfully delivering a B2One experience requires an understanding of your user's journey and matching the right information or service to the user's context. This alone is no easy feat, and many marketers and other digital experience builders often get frustrated with the challenge of rebuilding customer experiences. For example, although organizations can create brilliant campaigns and high-value content, it's difficult to effectively disseminate marketing efforts across multiple channels. When channels, data and marketing software act in different silos, it's nearly impossible to build a seamless customer experience. The inability to connect customer profiles and journey maps with various marketing tools can result in unsatisfied customers, failed conversion rates, and unrealized growth.

An animation showing Acquia's journey building solution

Acquia Journey delivers on this challenge by enabling marketers to build data-driven customer journeys. It allows marketers to easily map, assemble, orchestrate and manage customer experiences like the one we showed in our Gourmet Market prototype.

It's somewhat difficult to explain Acquia Journey in words — probably similar to trying to explain what a content management system does to someone who has never used one before. Acquia Journey provides a single interface to define and evaluate customer journeys across multiple interaction points. It combines a flowchart-style journey mapping tool with unified customer profiles and an automated decision engine. Rules-based triggers and logic select and deliver the best-next action for engaging customers.

One of the strengths of Acquia Journey is that it integrates many different technologies, from marketing and advertising technologies to CRM tools and commerce platforms. This makes it possible to quickly assemble powerful and complex customer journeys.

Implementing getBestNextExperience() creates both customer and business value

Acquia Journey will simplify how organizations deliver the "best next experience" for the customer. Providing users with the experience they not only want, but expect will increase conversion rates, grow brand awareness, and accelerate revenue. The ability for organizations to build more relevant user experiences not only aligns with our customers' needs but will enable them to make the biggest impact possible for their customers.

Acquia's evolving product offering also puts control of user data and experience back in the hands of the organization, instead of walled gardens. This is a step toward uniting the Open Web.

Introducing Acquia Digital Asset Manager (DAM)

Digital asset management systems have been around for a long time, and were originally hosted through on-premise servers. Today, most organizations have abandoned on-premise or do-it-yourself DAM solutions. After listening to our customers, it became clear that large organizations are seeking a digital asset management solution that centralizes control of creative assets for the entire company.

Many organizations lack a single-source of truth when it comes to managing digital assets. This challenge has been amplified as the number of assets has rapidly increased in a world with more devices, more channels, more campaigns, and more personalized and contextualized experiences. Acquia DAM provides a centralized repository for managing all rich media assets, including photos, videos, PDFs, and other corporate documents. Creative and marketing teams can upload and manage files in Acquia DAM, which can then be shared across the organization. Graphic designers, marketers and web managers all have a hand in translating creative concepts into experiences for their customers. With Acquia DAM, every team can rely on one dedicated application to gather requirements, share drafts, consolidate feedback and collect approvals for high-value marketing assets.

On top of Drupal's asset and media management capabilities, Acquia DAM provides various specialized functionality, such as automatic transcoding of assets upon download, image and video mark-up during approval workflows, and automated tagging for images using machine learning and image recognition.

A screenshot of Acquia's Digital Asset Management solution
By using a drag-and-drop interface on Acquia DAM, employees can easily publish approved assets in addition to searching the repository for what they need.

Acquia DAM seamlessly integrates with both Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 (using Drupal's "media entities"). In addition to Drupal, Acquia DAM is built to integrate with the entirety of the Acquia Platform. This includes Acquia Lift and Acquia Journey, which means that any asset managed in the Acquia DAM repository can be utilized to create personalized experiences across multiple Drupal sites. Additionally, through a REST API, Acquia DAM can also be integrated with other marketing technologies. For example, Acquia DAM supports designers with a plug in to Adobe Creative Cloud, which integrates with Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator.

Acquia's roadmap to data-driven customer journeys

Some of the most important market trends in digital for 2017

Throughout Acquia's first decade, we've been primarily focused on providing our customers with the tools and services necessary to scale and succeed with content management. We've been very successful with helping our customers scale and manage Drupal and cloud solutions. Drupal will remain a critical component to our customer's success, and we will continue to honor our history as committed supporters of open source, in addition to investing in Drupal's future.

However, many of our customers need more than content management to be digital winners. The ability to orchestrate customer experiences using content, user data, decisioning systems, analytics and more will be essential to an organization's success in the future. Acquia Journey and Acquia DAM will remove the complexity from how organizations build modern digital experiences and customer journeys. We believe that expanding our platform will be good not only for Acquia, but for our partners, the Drupal community, and our customers.

Acquia's product strategy for 2017 and beyond

Hermès using Drupal

Hermes

Since its founding in 1837, Hermès has defined luxury. Renowned as an iconic brand within the fashion industry, Hermès is now setting the trend for how customers shop online. This week, Hermès launched its new site in Drupal!

Hermès married the abilities of Drupal as a CMS and Magento as an eCommerce engine to provide their customers with highly engaging shopping experiences. Hermès' new site is a great example of how iconic brands can use Drupal to power ambitious digital experiences. If you are in the mood for some retail therapy, check out https://www.hermes.com!

Drupal looking to adopt React

Drupal react

Last week at DrupalCon Vienna, I proposed adding a modern JavaScript framework to Drupal core. After the keynote, I met with core committers, framework managers, JavaScript subsystem maintainers, and JavaScript experts in the Drupal community to discuss next steps. In this blog post, I look back on how things have evolved, since the last time we explored adding a new JavaScript framework to Drupal core two years ago, and what we believe are the next steps after DrupalCon Vienna.

As a group, we agreed that we had learned a lot from watching the JavaScript community grow and change since our initial exploration. We agreed that today, React would be the most promising option given its expansive adoption by developers, its unopinionated and component-based nature, and its well-suitedness to building new Drupal interfaces in an incremental way. Today, I'm formally proposing that the Drupal community adopt React, after discussion and experimentation has taken place.

Two years ago, it was premature to pick a JavaScript framework

Three years ago, I developed several convictions related to "headless Drupal" or "decoupled Drupal". I believed that:

  1. More and more organizations wanted a headless Drupal so they can use a modern JavaScript framework to build application-like experiences.
  2. Drupal's authoring and site building experience could be improved by using a more modern JavaScript framework.
  3. JavaScript and Node.js were going to take the world by storm and that we would be smart to increase the amount of JavaScript expertise in our community.

(For the purposes of this blog post, I use the term "framework" to include both full MV* frameworks such as Angular, and also view-only libraries such as React combined piecemeal with additional libraries for managing routing, states, etc.)

By September 2015, I had built up enough conviction to write several long blog posts about these views (post 1, post 2, post 3). I felt we could accomplish all three things by adding a JavaScript framework to Drupal core. After careful analysis, I recommended that we consider React, Ember and Angular. My first choice was Ember, because I had concerns about a patent clause in Facebook's open-source license (since removed) and because Angular 2 was not yet in a stable release.

At the time, the Drupal community didn't like the idea of picking a JavaScript framework. The overwhelming reactions were these: it's too early to tell which JavaScript framework is going to win, the risk of picking the wrong JavaScript framework is too big, picking a single framework would cause us to lose users that favor other frameworks, etc. In addition, there were a lot of different preferences for a wide variety of JavaScript frameworks. While I'd have preferred to make a bold move, the community's concerns were valid.

Focusing on Drupal's web services instead

By May of 2016, after listening to the community, I changed my approach; instead of adding a specific JavaScript framework to Drupal, I decided we should double down on improving Drupal's web service APIs. Instead of being opinionated about what JavaScript framework to use, we would allow people to use their JavaScript framework of choice.

I did a deep dive on the state of Drupal's web services in early 2016 and helped define various next steps (post 1, post 2, post 3). I asked a few of the OCTO team members to focus on improving Drupal 8's web services APIs; funded improvements to Drupal core's REST API, as well as JSON API, GraphQL and OpenAPI; supported the creation of Waterwheel projects to help bootstrap an ecosystem of JavaScript front-end integrations; and most recently supported the development of Reservoir, a Drupal distribution for headless Drupal. There is also a lot of innovation coming from the community with lots of work on the Contenta distribution, JSON API, GraphQL, and more.

The end result? Drupal's web service APIs have progressed significantly the past year. Ed Faulkner of Ember told us: "I'm impressed by how fast Drupal made lots of progress with its REST API and the JSON API contrib module!". It's a good sign when a core maintainer of one of the leading JavaScript frameworks acknowledges Drupal's progress.

The current state of JavaScript in Drupal

Looking back, I'm glad we decided to focus first on improving Drupal's web services APIs; we discovered that there was a lot of work left to stabilize them. Cleanly integrating a JavaScript framework with Drupal would have been challenging 18 months ago. While there is still more work to be done, Drupal 8's available web service APIs have matured significantly.

Furthermore, by not committing to a specific framework, we are seeing Drupal developers explore a range of JavaScript frameworks and members of multiple JavaScript framework communities consuming Drupal's web services. I've seen Drupal 8 used as a content repository behind Angular, Ember, React, Vue, and other JavaScript frameworks. Very cool!

There is a lot to like about how Drupal's web service APIs matured and how we've seen Drupal integrated with a variety of different frameworks. But there is also no denying that not having a JavaScript framework in core came with certain tradeoffs:

  1. It created a barrier for significantly leveling up the Drupal community's JavaScript skills. In my opinion, we still lack sufficient JavaScript expertise among Drupal core contributors. While we do have JavaScript experts working hard to maintain and improve our existing JavaScript code, I would love to see more experts join that team.
  2. It made it harder to accelerate certain improvements to Drupal's authoring and site building experience.
  3. It made it harder to demonstrate how new best practices and certain JavaScript approaches could be leveraged and extended by core and contributed modules to create new Drupal features.

One trend we are now seeing is that traditional MV* frameworks are giving way to component libraries; most people seem to want a way to compose interfaces and interactions with reusable components (e.g. libraries like React, Vue, Polymer, and Glimmer) rather than use a framework with a heavy focus on MV* workflows (e.g. frameworks like Angular and Ember). This means that my original recommendation of Ember needs to be revisited.

Several years later, we still don't know what JavaScript framework will win, if any, and I'm willing to bet that waiting two more years won't give us any more clarity. JavaScript frameworks will continue to evolve and take new shapes. Picking a single one will always be difficult and to some degree "premature". That said, I see React having the most momentum today.

My recommendations at DrupalCon Vienna

Given that it's been almost two years since I last suggested adding a JavaScript framework to core, I decided to bring the topic back in my DrupalCon Vienna keynote presentation. Prior to my keynote, there had been some renewed excitement and momentum behind the idea. Two years later, here is what I recommended we should do next:

  • Invest more in Drupal's API-first initiative. In 2017, there is no denying that decoupled architectures and headless Drupal will be a big part of our future. We need to keep investing in Drupal's web service APIs. At a minimum, we should expand Drupal's web service APIs and standardize on JSON API. Separately, we need to examine how to give API consumers more access to and control over Drupal's capabilities.
  • Embrace all JavaScript frameworks for building Drupal-powered applications. We should give developers the flexibility to use their JavaScript framework of choice when building front-end applications on top of Drupal — so they can use the right tool for the job. The fact that you can front Drupal with Ember, Angular, Vue, React, and others is a great feature. We should also invest in expanding the Waterwheel ecosystem so we have SDKs and references for all these frameworks.
  • Pick a framework for Drupal's own administrative user interfaces. Drupal should pick a JavaScript framework for its own administrative interface. I'm not suggesting we abandon our stable base of PHP code; I'm just suggesting that we leverage JavaScript for the things that JavaScript is great at by moving relevant parts of our code from PHP to JavaScript. Specifically, Drupal's authoring and site building experience could benefit from user experience improvements. A JavaScript framework could make our content modeling, content listing, and configuration tools faster and more application-like by using instantaneous feedback rather than submitting form after form. Furthermore, using a decoupled administrative interface would allow us to dogfood our own web service APIs.
  • Let's start small by redesigning and rebuilding one or two features. Instead of rewriting the entirety of Drupal's administrative user interfaces, let's pick one or two features, and rewrite their UIs using a preselected JavaScript framework. This allows us to learn more about the pros and cons, allows us to dogfood some of our own APIs, and if we ultimately need to switch to another JavaScript framework or approach, it won't be very painful to rewrite or roll the changes back.

Selecting a JavaScript framework for Drupal's administrative UIs

In my keynote, I proposed a new strategic initiative to test and research how Drupal's administrative UX could be improved by using a JavaScript framework. The feedback was very positive.

As a first step, we have to choose which JavaScript framework will be used as part of the research. Following the keynote, we had several meetings at DrupalCon Vienna to discuss the proposed initiative with core committers, all of the JavaScript subsystem maintainers, as well as developers with real-world experience building decoupled applications using Drupal's APIs.

There was unanimous agreement that:

  1. Adding a JavaScript framework to Drupal core is a good idea.
  2. We want to have sufficient real-use experience to make a final decision prior to 8.6.0's development period (Q1 2018). To start, the Watchdog page would be the least intrusive interface to rebuild and would give us important insights before kicking off work on more complex interfaces.
  3. While a few people named alternative options, React was our preferred option, by far, due to its high degree of adoption, component-based and unopinionated nature, and its potential to make Drupal developers' skills more future-proof.
  4. This adoption should be carried out in a limited and incremental way so that the decision is easily reversible if better approaches come later on.

We created an issue on the Drupal core queue to discuss this more.

Conclusion

Drupal supporting different JavaScript front ends
Drupal should support a variety of JavaScript libraries on the user-facing front end while relying on a single shared framework as a standard across Drupal administrative interfaces.

In short, I continue to believe that adopting more JavaScript is important for the future of Drupal. My original recommendation to include a modern JavaScript framework (or JavaScript libraries) for Drupal's administrative user interfaces still stands. I believe we should allow developers to use their JavaScript framework of choice to build front-end applications on top of Drupal and that we can start small with one or two administrative user interfaces.

After meeting with core maintainers, JavaScript subsystem maintainers, and framework managers at DrupalCon Vienna, I believe that React is the right direction to move for Drupal's administrative interfaces, but we encourage everyone in the community to discuss our recommendation. Doing so would allow us to make Drupal easier to use for site builders and content creators in an incremental and reversible way, keep Drupal developers' skills relevant in an increasingly JavaScript-driven world, move us ahead with modern tools for building user interfaces.

Special thanks to Preston So for contributions to this blog post and to Matt Grill, Wim Leers, Jason Enter, Gábor Hojtsy, and Alex Bronstein for their feedback during the writing process.

State of Drupal presentation (September 2017)

Group photo

Yesterday, I shared my State of Drupal presentation at DrupalCon Vienna. In addition to sharing my slides, I wanted to provide some more detail on how Drupal is evolving, who Drupal is for, and what I believe we should focus on.

Drupal is growing and changing

I started my keynote by explaining that Drupal is growing. Over the past year, we've witnessed a rise in community engagement, which has strengthened Drupal 8 adoption.

This is supported by the 2017 Drupal Business Survey; after surveying 239 executives from Drupal agencies, we can see that Drupal 8 has become the defacto release for them and that most of the Drupal businesses report to be growing.

Drupal agencies report that most Drupal projects are using Drupal 8 now
Most Drupal agencies have growing businesses

While the transition from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 is not complete, Drupal 8's innovation continues to accelerate. We've seen the contributed modules ecosystem mature; in the past year, the number of stable modules has more than doubled. Additionally, there are over 4,000 modules in development.

We saw a 2x increase in stable contributed modules

In addition to growth, both the vendor and technology landscapes around Drupal are changing. In my keynote, I noted three primary shifts in the vendor landscape. Single blogs, portfolio sites and brochure sites, which represent the low end of the market, are best served by SaaS tools. On the other side of the spectrum, a majority of enterprise vendors are moving beyond content management into larger marketing suites. Finally, the headless CMS market segment is growing rapidly, with some vendors growing at a rate of 500% year over year.

There are also significant changes in the technology landscape surrounding Drupal, as a rising number of Drupal agencies have also started using modern JavaScript technologies. For example, more than 50% of Drupal agencies are also using Node.js to support the needs of their customers.

What other technologies do Drupal agencies use?

While evolving vendor and technology landscapes present many opportunities for Drupal, it can also introduce uncertainty. After listening to many people in the Drupal community, it's clear that all these market and technology trends, combined with the long development and adoption cycle of Drupal 8, has left some wondering what this all means for Drupal, and by extension also for them.

Drupal is no longer for simple sites

Over the past year, I've explained why I believe Drupal is for ambitious digital experiences, in both my DrupalCon Baltimore keynote and on my blog. However, I think it would be valuable to provide more detail on what I mean by "ambitious digital experiences". It's important that we all understand who Drupal is for, because it drives our strategy, which in turn allows us to focus our efforts.

Today, I believe that Drupal is no longer for simple sites. Instead, Drupal's sweetspot is sites or digital experiences that require a certain level of customization or flexibility — something I refer to as "richness".

Drupal is no longer for simple sites, but for sites with medium-to-high richness

Ambitious is much more than just enterprise

This distinction is important because I often find that the term "ambitious" becomes conflated with "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 nonprofits can be equally ambitious in what they'd like to accomplish and Drupal can be an incredible solution for them.

An example of this could be a small business that manages 50 rental properties. While they don't have a lot of traffic (reach), they require integrations with an e-commerce system, a booking system, and a customer support tool to support their business. Their allotted budget is $50,000 or less. This company would not be considered an enterprise business; however, Drupal would be a great fit for this use case. In many ways, the "non-enterprise ambitious digital experiences" represent the majority of the Drupal ecosystem. As I made clear in my presentation, we don't want to leave those behind.

Drupal is for digital ambitious experiences

Addressing the needs of smaller organizations

The Drupal ecosystem majority are organizations with sites that require medium-to-high richness, which SaaS builders cannot support. However, they also don't need to scale at the level of enterprise companies. As the Drupal community continues to consider how we can best support this majority, a lot of smaller Drupal agencies and end-users have pointed out that they would benefit from the following two things:

  1. Powerful site building tools. They want easy-to-use site building tools that are simple to learn, and don't require dozens of contributed modules to be installed and configured. They would also prefer to avoid writing a lot of custom code because their clients have smaller budgets. Great examples of tools that would improve site building are Drupal's upcoming layout builder, workspaces and media library. To make some of Drupal's own administrative UIs more powerful and easier to use, I proposed that we add a modern JavaScript to core.
  2. Easier updates and maintenance. While each Drupal 8 site benefits from continuous innovation, it also needs to be updated more often. The new Drupal 8 release cycle has monthly patch releases and 6-month minor releases. In addition, organizations have to juggle ad-hoc updates from contributed modules. In addition, site updates has often become more complex because our dependency on third-party libraries and because not everyone can use Composer. Many smaller users and agencies would benefit tremendously from auto-updates because maintaining and updating their Drupal 8 sites can be too manual, too complex and too expensive.

The good news is that we have made progress in both improving site builder tools and simplifying updates and maintenance. Keep an eye on future blog posts about these topics. In the meantime, you can watch a recording of my keynote (starting at 22:10), or you can download a copy of my slides (56 MB).

Announcing Node.js on Acquia Cloud

Today, Acquia announced that it expanded Acquia Cloud to support Node.js, the popular open-source JavaScript runtime. This is a big milestone for Acquia as it is the first time we have extended our cloud beyond Drupal. I wanted to take some time to explain the evolution of Acquia's open-source stack and why this shift is important for our customers' success.

From client-side JavaScript to server-side JavaScript

JavaScript was created at Netscape in 1995, when Brendan Eich wrote the first version of JavaScript in just 10 days. It took around 10 years for JavaScript to reach enterprise maturity, however. Adoption accelerated in 2004 when Google used JavaScript to build the first release of Gmail. In comparison to e-mail competitors like Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail, Gmail showed what was possible with client-side JavaScript, which enables developers to update pages dynamically and reduces full-page refreshes and round trips to the server. The benefit is an improved user experience that is usually faster, more dynamic in its behavior, and generally more application-like.

In 2009, Google invented the V8 JavaScript engine, which was embedded into its Chrome browser to make both Gmail and Google Maps faster. Ryan Dahl used the V8 run-time as the foundation of Node.js, which enabled server-side JavaScript, breaking the language out of the boundaries of the browser. Node.js is event-driven and provides asynchronous, non-blocking I/O — things that help developers build modern web applications, especially those with real-time capabilities and streamed data. It ushered in the era of isomorphic applications, which means that JavaScript applications can now share code between the client side and server side. The introduction of Node.js has spurred a JavaScript renaissance and contributed to the popularity of JavaScript frameworks such as AngularJS, Ember and React.

Acquia's investment in Headless Drupal

In the web development world, few trends are spreading more rapidly than decoupled architectures using JavaScript frameworks and headless CMS. Decoupled architectures are gaining prominence because architects are looking to take advantage of other front-end technologies, most commonly JavaScript based front ends, in addition to those native to Drupal.

Acquia has been investing in the development of headless Drupal for nearly five years, when we began contributing to the addition of web service APIs to Drupal core. A year ago, we released Waterwheel, an ecosystem of software development kits (SDKs) that enables developers to build Drupal-backed applications in JavaScript and Swift, without needing extensive Drupal expertise. This summer, we released Reservoir, a Drupal distribution for decoupled Drupal. Over the past year, Acquia has helped to support a variety of headless architectures, with and without Node.js. While not always required, Node.js is often used alongside of a headless Drupal application to provide server-side rendering of JavaScript applications or real-time capabilities.

Managed Node.js on Acquia Cloud

Previously, if an organization wanted to build a decoupled architecture with Node.js, it was not able to host the Node.js application on Acquia Cloud. This means that the organization would have to run Node.js with a separate vendor. In many instances, this requires organizations to monitor, troubleshoot and patch the infrastructure supporting the Node.js application of their own accord. Separating the management of the Node.js application and Drupal back end not only introduces a variety of complexities, including security risk and governance challenges, but it also creates operational strain. Organizations must rely on two vendors, two support teams, and multiple contacts to build decoupled applications using Drupal and Node.js.

To eliminate this inefficiency, Acquia Cloud can now support both Drupal and Node.js. Our goal is to offer the best platform for developing and running Drupal and Node.js applications. This means that organizations only need to rely on one vendor and one cloud infrastructure when using Drupal and Node.js. Customers can access Drupal and Node.js environments from a single user interface, in addition to tools that enable continuous delivery, continuous integration, monitoring, alerting and support across both Drupal and Node.js.

Acquia Cloud now supports Node.js for Headless Drupal
On Acquia Cloud, customers can access Drupal and Node.js environments from a single user interface.

Delivering on Acquia's mission

When reflecting on Acquia's first decade this past summer, I shared that one of the original corporate values our small team dreamed up was to "empower everyone to rapidly assemble killer websites". After ten years, we've evolved our mission to "build the universal platform for the world's greatest digital experiences". While our focus has expanded as we've grown, Acquia's enduring aim is to provide our customers with the best tools available. Adding Node.js to Acquia Cloud is a natural evolution of our mission.

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