Acquia, my Drupal startup

Big news today! I'm doing a Drupal startup.

The Drupal community does an incredible job building the Drupal technology and making sure that Drupal is on the forefront of the technical innovation. The Drupal Association does a great job supporting and protecting that community by improving our server infrastructure, by organizing Drupal conferences, by helping to protect the Drupal trademark. Last but not least, the Drupal consultants do an outstanding job developing websites and training people to use Drupal. Together we managed to create an incredibly successful project.

However, one piece is missing. Before we go there, let me provide a little more context.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the future of the web, and the future of Drupal in particular. I’ve also increasingly been spending time on what I want to do after I’m done with my PhD work. Since the two of those are coming together shortly, it’s time for me to start blogging about the next stages of Drupal, and my life.

The vision

First, Drupal 6 and Drupal 7 should be all about reaching out to more and different people. Making Drupal easier to use, easier to theme, easier to translate, and easier to develop for. Drupal 6 will do exactly that, and with Drupal 7 we should maintain that strategy. We want to make Drupal the best web content management platform; “the Linux of the web”.

The beauty of Drupal is that people can build powerful websites with little effort simply by combining different modules into one site; it is something we should continue to optimize for. I hope that that as a community you want to join me in putting (more of) the custom content types and (part of) views into Drupal core. But not just that; Drupal’s success arises from its community and the hundreds of contributed modules this community creates. We should continue to empower our contributors so they can continue to write great modules and deliver them in an exceptional way.

Second, with the rise of Facebook, Open Social, and friends, I’m not sure there is a future for (social community) websites that don’t provide an API. Starting with Drupal 7 we should also start to focus more on the ability to create, share and mash up managed content. The idea is to let Drupal be a data repository that can be accessed by tools and websites across the network. It is where custom content types, web service APIs, semantic web technologies and Drupal’s fine-grained access control mechanism come together. I want Drupal 7 to be a stepping stone when it comes to data mobility. This will allow people and companies to create value-added services that improve the users’ efficiency.

Third, when I examine the landscape of open source projects that have had big impact on the technology industry, I’ve concluded that projects which have had the biggest impact (usually) have a well-capitalized company behind them. Jboss, Linux and MySQL have all benefited not only technically, but the presence of a well-capitalized provider for those projects has made those projects palatable to users who might not have otherwise tried the software.

The company

So what is missing? It's two things: (i) a company that supports me in providing leadership to the Drupal community in exploring the vision I described above, and (ii) a company that is to Drupal what Ubuntu or RedHat are to Linux. If we want Drupal to grow by at least a factor of 10, keeping Drupal a hobby project as it is today, and taking a regular programming job at a big Belgian bank is clearly not going to cut it.

Thus, I'm starting a Drupal company whose current working name is 'Acquia'. Acquia's software products will include a number of Drupal distributions — for community networks, digital media properties, corporate websites, and others. In addition to providing Drupal distributions, Acquia will build the Drupal-tuned analogue of the RedHat Network, over which we can deliver a wide variety of electronic services intended to be useful to people developing and operating Drupal websites. An example such service is an automated upgrade/update service, an uptime and performance monitoring / reporting service, a configuration management service, etc.

I was fortunate enough to meet an experienced CEO, Jay Batson, that I have come to like and trust, who managed to translate this vision into a business plan and who can complement my technical strength and community management skills with business experience in running open source software companies. (The last company Jay started was Pingtel, and open source enterprise-scale IP PBX, recently acquired by Bluesocket.) Jay has been invaluable so far.

The inevitable fear

Well, fear not.

Acquia is not going to fork or close-source Drupal. Acquia wants to see the Drupal community succeed and to do so, Acquia will listen to and work with the community to advance Drupal. The Drupal Association continues to operate the drupal.org domain, I continue to own the Drupal trademark, and the Drupal community continues to set the technical direction of the Drupal project. Drupal.com has not been sold.

Acquia's success is directly tied to overall success of the Drupal project - and to how widely-used it becomes. We understand better than anyone else that Acquia will never succeed on its own; we will only succeed if we are part of the larger Drupal community. We will contribute to Drupal development just as other companies or individuals do today. Our investors fully expect us to use a portion of the resources they’ve provided to help make Drupal even better, since our own success depends on significantly growing the widespread use of Drupal.

Furthermore, I'm expressly permitted to make decisions within the Drupal project that may not always be in Acquia’s best commercial interest. This was a hard requirement for me. Acquia fully expects that a portion of my time will be spent on activities associated with the project at large (vs. Acquia’s own software development). In essence, since the health and vitality of the Drupal project at large is extremely important to us, we’ve taken great pains to make sure that I am able to continue to act for the best interests of the Drupal community at large as I have done for the past 7 years.

The community has my heart and respect, and that won't change. Fear not.

Conclusions

So rather than working on Drupal in my spare time, I will soon have the time and resources to provide the leadership it takes to help get Drupal to the next level. I'm looking forward to leading the many thousands of you to the next step of this incredible adventure. It's been a little bit hard for me to not say anything about this before - mostly because I'm so excited about it. But it didn't make business sense to speak about this effort until it was for-real. Now that it is, I'm much happier that I can talk about it, because I want to think together with all of you about how we can make it a really really good thing for Drupal.

As a start, I've prepared a FAQ for our website. We (the company) will have more to say as we go along, and I will, too. Keep an eye on this blog or on our company website.