Happy nineteenth birthday, Drupal

Happy nineteenth birthday

Nineteen years ago today, I released Drupal 1.0.0. Every day, for the past nineteen years, the Drupal community has collaborated on providing the world with an Open Source CMS and making a difference on how the web is built and run.

It's easy to forget that software is written one line of code at the time. And that adoption is driven one website at the time. I look back on nearly two decades of Drupal, and I'm incredibly proud of our community, and how we've contributed to a more open, independent internet.

Today, many of us in the Drupal community are working towards the launch of Drupal 9. Major releases of Drupal only happen every 3-5 years. They are an opportunity to bring our community together, create something meaningful, and celebrate our collective work. But more importantly, major releases are our best opportunity to re-engage past users and attract new users, explaining why Drupal is better than closed CMS platforms.

As we mark Drupal's 19th year, let's all work together on a successful launch of Drupal 9 in 2020, including a wide-spread marketing strategy. It's the best birthday present we can give to Drupal.

Acquia retrospective 2019

Wow, what a year 2019 was for Acquia!

Acquia 2018 business metrics

At the beginning of every year, I like to publish a retrospective to look back and take stock of how far Acquia has come over the past 12 months. I take the time to write these retrospectives because I want to keep a record of the changes we've gone through as a company and how my personal thinking is evolving from year to year.

If you'd like to read my previous retrospectives, they can be found here: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009. This year marks the publishing of my eleventh retrospective. When read together, these posts provide a comprehensive overview of Acquia's growth and trajectory.

Our product strategy remained steady in 2019. We continued to invest heavily in (1) our Web Content Management solutions, while (2) accelerating our move into the broader Digital Experience Platform market. Let's talk about both.

Acquia's continued focus on Web Content Management

In 2019, for the sixth year in a row, Acquia was recognized as a Leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management. Our tenure as a top vendor is a strong endorsement for the "Web Content Management in the Cloud" part of our strategy.

We continued to invest heavily in Acquia Cloud in 2019. As a result, Acquia Cloud remains the most secure, scalable and compliant cloud for Drupal. An example and highlight was the successful delivery of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's long-awaited report. According to Federal Computer Week, by 5pm on the day of the report's release, there had already been 587 million site visits, with 247 million happening within the first hour — a 7,000% increase in traffic. I'm proud of Acquia's ability to deliver at a very critical moment.

Time-to-value and costs are big drivers for our customers; people don't want to spend a lot of time installing, building or upgrading their websites. Throughout 2019, this trend has been the primary driver for our investments in Acquia Cloud and Drupal.

  • We have more than 15 employees who contribute to Drupal full-time; the majority of them focused on making Drupal easier to use and maintain. As a result of that, Acquia remained the largest contributor to Drupal in 2019.
  • In September, we announced that Acquia acquired Cohesion, a Software-as-a-Service visual Drupal website builder. Cohesion empowers marketers, content authors and designers to build Drupal websites faster and cheaper than ever before.
  • We launched a multitude of new features for Acquia Cloud which enabled our customers to make their sites faster and more secure. To make our customer's sites faster, we added a free CDN for all Cloud customers. All our customers also got a New Relic Pro subscription for application performance management (APM). We released Acquia Cloud API v2 with double the number of endpoints to maximize customer productivity, added single-sign on capabilities, obtained FIPS compliance, and much more.
  • We rolled out many "under the hood" improvements; for example, thanks to various infrastructure improvements our customers' sites saw performance improvements anywhere from 30% to 60% at no cost to them.
  • Making Acquia Cloud easier to buy and use by enhancing our self-service capabilities has been a major focus throughout all of 2019. The fruits of these efforts will start to become more publicly visible in 2020. I'm excited to share more with you in future blog posts.

At the end of 2019, Gartner announced it is ending their Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management. We're proud of our six year leadership streak, right up to this Magic Quadrant's end. Instead, Gartner is going to focus on the broader scope of Digital Experience Platforms, leaving stand-alone Web Content Management platforms behind.

Gartner's decision to drop the Web Content Management Magic Quadrant is consistent with the second part of our product strategy; a transition from Web Content Management to Digital Experience Management.

Acquia's expansion into Digital Experience Management

We started our expansion from Web Content Management to the Digital Experience Platform market five years ago, in 2014. We believed, and still believe, that just having a website is no longer sufficient: customers expect to interact with brands through their websites, email, chat and more. The real challenge for most organizations is to drive personalized customer experiences across all these different channels and to make those customer experiences highly relevant.

For five years now, we've been patient investors and builders, delivering products like Acquia Lift, our web personalization tool. In June, we released a completely new version of Acquia Lift. We redesigned the user interface and workflows from scratch, added various new capabilities to make it easier for marketers to run website personalization campaigns, added multi-lingual support and much more. Hands down, the new Acquia Lift offers the best web personalization for Drupal.

In addition to organic growth, we also made two strategic acquisitions to accelerate our investment in becoming a full-blown Digital Experience Platform:

  1. In May, Acquia acquired Mautic, an open marketing automation platform. Mautic helps open up more channels for Acquia: email, push notifications, and more. Like Drupal, Mautic is Open Source, which helps us deliver the only Open Digital Experience Platform as an alternative to the expensive, closed, and stagnant marketing clouds.
  2. In December, we announced that Acquia acquired AgilOne, a leading Customer Data Platform (CDP). To make customer experiences more relevant, organizations need to better understand their customers: what they are interested in, what they purchased, when they last interacted with the support organization, how they prefer to consume information, etc. Without a doubt, organizations want to better understand their customers and use data-driven decisions to accelerate growth.

We have a clear vision for how to redefine a Digital Experience Platform such that it is free of any silos.

A diagram shows how Acquia solutions unify experience creation, content and user data across different platforms.

In 2020, expect us to integrate the data and experience layers of Lift, Mautic and AgilOne, but still offer each capability on its own aligned with our best-of-breed approach. We believe that this will benefit not only our customers, but also our agency partners.

Momentum

Demand for our Open Digital Experience Platform continued to grow among the world's most well-known brands. New customers include Liverpool Football Club, NEC Corporation, TDK Corporation, L'Oreal Group, Jewelers Mutual Insurance, Chevron Phillips Chemical, Lonely Planet, and GOL Airlines among hundreds of others.

We ended the year with more than 1,050 Acquians working around the globe with offices in 14 locations. The three acquisitions we made during the year added an additional 150 new Acquians to the team. We celebrated the move to our new and bigger India office in Pune, and ended the year with 80 employees in India. We celebrated over 200 promotions or role changes showing great development and progression within our team.

We continued to introduce Acquia to more people in 2019. Our takeover of the Kendall Square subway station near MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in April, for instance, helped introduce more than 272,000 daily commuters to our company. In addition to posters on every wall of the station, the campaign — in which photographs of fellow Acquians were prominently featured — included Acquia branding on entry turnstiles, 75 digital live boards, and geo-targeted mobile ads.

Last but not least, we continued our tradition of "Giving back more", a core part of our DNA or values. We sponsored 250 kids in the Wonderfund Gift Drive (an increase of 50 from 2018), raised money to help 1,000 kids in India to get back to school after the floods in Kolhapur, raised more than $10,000 for Girls Who Code, $10,000 for Cancer Research UK, and more.

Some personal reflections

With such a strong focus on product and engineering, 2019 was one of the busiest years for me personally. We grew our R&D organization by about 100 employees in 2019. This meant I spent a lot of time restructuring, improving and scaling the R&D organization to make sure we could handle the increased capacity, and to help make sure all our different initiatives remain on track.

On top of that, Acquia received a substantial majority investment from Vista Equity Partners. Attracting a world-class partner like Vista involved a lot of work, and was a huge milestone for the company.

It feels a bit surreal that we crossed 1,000 employees in 2019.

There were also some low-lights in 2019. On Christmas, Acquia's SVP of Engineering Mike Aeschliman, unexpectedly passed away. Mike was one of the three people I worked most closely with and his passing is a big loss for Acquia. I miss Mike greatly.

If I have one regret for 2019, it is that I was almost entirely internally focused. I missed hitting the road — either to visit employees, customers or Drupal and Mautic community members around the world. I hope to find a better balance in 2020.

Thank you

2019 was a busy year, but also a very rewarding year. I remain very excited about Acquia's long-term opportunity, and believe we've steered the company to be positioned at the right place at the right time. All of this is not to say 2020 will be easy. Quite the contrary, as we have a lot of work ahead of us in 2020, including the release of Drupal 9. 2020 should be another exciting year for us!

Thank you for your support in 2019!

Caring for old links

I decided to use the holiday break to do a link audit for my personal blog. I found hundreds of links that broke and hundreds of links that now redirect. This wasn't a surprise, as I haven't spent much time maintaining links in the 13 years I've been blogging.

Broken links

Some of the broken links were internal, but the vast majority were external.

"Internal links" are links that go from one page on https://dri.es to a different page on https://dri.es. Fixing broken links feels good so I went ahead and fixed all internal links.

It's a different story for external links. "External links" are links that point to domains not under my control.

For example, in 2007 I thanked Sun Microsystems for donating a Sun Fire X4200 server to the Drupal project. In my post, I linked to http://www.sun.com/servers/entry/x4200, the Sun Fire X4200 product page. Sun has since been acquired by Oracle, the page has been removed, and the link is now dead. I saw the following options: change this particular link to point to (1) a Wikipedia page on the Sun Fire series, (2) an archived copy of the original page on archive.org, or (3) remove the link. In this case, I decided to update the link to point to Wikipedia.

Some sites that I link to have since been hijacked by porn sites. The URL used for Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign website now points to a porn site, for example. This is unfortunate so I simply removed those links.

Redirects

Some of the external links now have URL redirects. I found what I call "obvious redirects" and "less obvious redirects".

An example of an "obvious redirect" was a link to Apple's pressroom. In my 2015 Acquia retrospective I linked to an Apple press release, https://www.apple.com/pr/library/2015/12/03Apple-Releases-Swift-as-Open-Source.html, to highlight that large organizations like Apple were starting to embrace Open Source. Today, that link automatically redirects to https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2015/12/03Apple-Releases-Swift-as-Open-Source. A slightly different URL, but ultimately the same content. One day, that redirect might cease to exist, so it felt like a good idea to update my blog post to use the new link instead. I went ahead and updated hundreds of "obvious redirects".

The more interesting case is what I call "less obvious redirects". For example, in 2012 I blogged about how the White House contributed to Drupal. It was the first time in history that the White House contributed to Open Source, and Drupal in particular. It's something that many of us in the Drupal community are very proud of. In my blog post, I linked to http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/08/23/open-sourcing-we-the-people, a page on whitehouse.gov explaining their decision to contribute. That link now redirects to http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2012/08/23/open-sourcing-we-the-people, a permanent archive of the Obama administration's White House website. For me, it is less obvious what to do about this link: updating the link future proofs my site, but at the cost of losing some of its significance and historic value. For now, I left the original whitehouse.gov link in place.

How to best care for old links?

I'm not entirely sure why I picked the Wikipedia link over archive.org when I updated the Sun Fire X4200 blog post, or why I left the original whitehouse.gov link in place. I also left many broken links in place because I'm undecided about what to do with them.

It is important that we care for old links. Before I continue my link clean up, I'd like to come up with a more structured, and possibly automatable, approach for link maintenance. I'm curious to learn how others care for old links, and if you know of any best practices, guidelines, or even automations.

Acquia to acquire AgilOne to solve data challenges with AI

I'm excited to announce that Acquia has signed a definitive agreement to acquire AgilOne, a leading Customer Data Platform (CDP).

CDPs pull customer data from multiple sources, clean it up and combine it to create a single customer profile. That unified profile is then made available to marketing and business systems to improve the customer experience.

For the past 12 months, I've been watching the CDP space closely and have talked to a dozen CDP vendors. I believe that every organization will need a CDP (although most organizations don't realize it yet).

Why AgilOne?

According to independent research firm The CDP Institute, CDPs are a part of a rapidly growing software category that is expected to exceed $1 billion in revenue in 2019. While the CDP market is relatively new and small, a plethora of CDPs exist in the market today.

One of the reasons we really liked AgilOne is their machine learning capabilities — they will give our customers a competitive advantage. AgilOne supports machine learning models that intelligently segment customers and predict customer behaviors (e.g. when a customer is likely to purchase something). This allows for the creation and optimization of next-best action models to optimize offers and messages to customers on a 1:1 basis.

For example, lululemon, one of the most popular brands in workout apparel, collects data across a variety of online and offline customer experiences, including in-store events and website interactions, commerce transactions, email marketing, and more. AgilOne helped them integrate all those systems and create unified customer data profiles. This unlocked a lot of data that was previously siloed. Once lululemon better understood its customers' behaviors, they leveraged AgilOne's machine learning capabilities to increase attendance to local events by 25%, grow revenue from digital marketing campaigns by 10-15%, and increase site visits by 50%.

Another example is TUMI, a manufacturer of high-end suitcases. TUMI turned to AgilOne and AI to personalize outbound marketing (like emails, push notifications and one-to-one chat), smarten its digital advertising strategy, and improve the customer experience and service. The results? TUMI sent 40 million fewer emails in 2017 and made more money from them. Before AgilOne, TUMI's e-commerce revenue decreased. After they implemented AgilOne, it increased sixfold.

Fundamentally improving the customer experience

Having a great customer experience is more important than ever before — it's what sets competitors apart from one another. Taxis and Ubers both get people from point A to B, but Uber's customer experience is usually superior.

Building a customer experience online used to be pretty straightforward; all you needed was a simple website. Today, it's a lot more involved.

The real challenge for most organizations is not to redesign their website with the latest and greatest JavaScript framework. No, the real challenge is to drive relevant customer experiences across all the different channels — including web, mobile, social, email and voice — and to make those customer experiences highly relevant.

I've long maintained that the two fundamental building blocks to delivering great digital experiences are (1) content and (2) user data. This is consistent with the diagram I've been using in presentations and on my blog for many years where "user profile" and "content repository" represent two systems of record (though updated for the AgilOne acquisition).

A diagram that shows organizations need both good user data and good content to deliver relevant digital experiences.

To drive results, wrangling data is not optional

To dramatically improve customer experiences, organizations need to understand their customers: what they are interested in, what they purchased, when they last interacted with the support organization, how they prefer to consume information, etc.

But as an organization's technology stack grows, user data becomes siloed within different platforms:

A diagram that illustrates how user data is siloed within different platforms, including web, email marketing, commerce, and CRM

When an organization doesn't have a 360º view of its customers, it can't deliver a great experience to its customers. We have all interacted with a help desk person that didn't know what you recently purchased, is asking you questions you've answered multiple times before, or isn't aware that you already got some help troubleshooting through social media.

Hence, the need for integrating all your backend systems and creating a unified customer profile. AgilOne addresses this challenge, and has helped many of the world's largest brands understand and engage better with their customers.

A diagram that shows how user data is unified with AgilOne across web, email marketing, commerce, social media, and CRM.

Acquia's strategy and vision

It's easy to see how AgilOne is an important part of Acquia's vision to deliver the industry's only open digital experience platform. Together, with Drupal, Lift and Mautic, AgilOne will allow us to redefine the customer experience stack. Everything is based on Open Source and open APIs, and designed from the ground up to make it easier for marketers to create relevant, personal campaigns across a variety of channels.

A diagram shows how Acquia solutions unify experience creation, content and user data across different platforms.

Welcome to the team, AgilOne! You are a big part of Acquia's future.

Teaching my son how the web works

For the first time, I taught my twelve year old son some HTML and CSS. This morning after breakfast we sat down and created a basic HTML page with some simple styling.

I explained to him that <a> is the most powerful HTML tag of them all ...

It was a special experience for both of us. It looks like I sparked his interest as later he asked where he can learn about different HTML tags. I loved that he shared an interest to learn more.

But it also made me think that rather than just teach him HTML and CSS syntax, I want to help him develop an appreciation for how the web works. I'll have to think about how to best explain concepts like HTTP, DNS, IP addresses, and maybe even TCP.

State of Drupal presentation (October 2019)

Last week, many Drupalists came together for Drupalcon Amsterdam.

As a matter of tradition, I presented my State of Drupal keynote. You can watch a recording of my keynote (starting at 20:44 minutes), or download a copy of my slides (149 MB).

Drupal 8 innovation update

I kicked off my keynote with an update on Drupal 8. Drupal 8.8 is expected to ship on December 4th, and will come with many exciting improvements.

Drupal 8.7 shipped with a Media Library to allow editors to reuse images, videos and other media assets. In Drupal 8.8, Media Library has been marked as stable, and features a way to easily embed media assets using a WYSIWYG text editor.

I'm even more proud to say that Drupal has never looked better, nor been more accessible. I showed our progress on Claro, a new administration UI for Drupal. Once Claro is stable, Drupal will look more modern and appealing out-of-the-box.

The Composer Initiative has also made significant progress. Drupal 8.8 will be the first Drupal release with proper, official support for Composer out-of-the-box. Composer helps solve the problem of Drupal being difficult to install and update. With Composer, developers can update Drupal in one step, as Composer will take care of updating all the dependencies (e.g. third party code).

What is better than one-step updates? Zero-step updates. We also showed progress on the Automated Updates Initiative.

Finally, Drupal 8.8 marks significant progress with our API-first Initiative, with several new improvements to JSON:API support in the contributed space, including an interactive query builder called JSON:API Explorer. This work solidifies Drupal's leadership position as a leading headless or decoupled solution.

Drupal 9 will be the easiest major update

A couple stares off into the distant sunrise, which has a '9' imposed on the rising sun.

Next, I gave an update on Drupal 9, as we're just eight months from the target release date. We have been working hard to make Drupal 9 the easiest major update in the last decade. In my keynote at 42:25, I showed how to upgrade your site to Drupal 9.0.0's development release.

Drupal 9 product strategy

I am proud of all the progress we made on Drupal 8. Nevertheless, it's also time to start thinking about our strategic priorities for Drupal 9. With that in mind, I proposed four strategic tracks for Drupal 9 (and three initial initiatives):

A mountain with a Drupal 9 flag at the top. Four strategic product tracks lead to the summit.

Strategic track 1: reduce cost and effort

Users want site development to be low-cost and zero-maintenance. As a result, we'll need to continue to focus on initiatives such as automated updates, configuration management, and more.

Strategic track 2: prioritizing the beginner experience

As we saw in a survey Acquia's UX team conducted, most people have a relatively poor initial impression of Drupal, though if they stick with Drupal long enough, their impression of Drupal grows significantly over time. This unlike any of its competitors, whose impression decreases as experience is gained. Drupal 9 should focus on attracting new users, and decreasing beginners' barriers to entry so they can fall in love with Drupal much sooner.

A graph that shows how Drupal is perceived by beginners, intermediate users and expert users.
Beginners struggle with Drupal while experts love Drupal.
A graph that shows how Drupal, WordPress, AEM and Sitecore are perceived by beginners, intermediate users and experts.
Drupal's sentiment curve goes in the opposite direction of WordPress', AEM's and Sitecore's. This presents both a big challenge and opportunity for Drupal.

We also officially launched the first initiative on this track; a new front-end theme for Drupal called "Olivero". This new default theme will give new users a much better first impression of Drupal, as well as reflect the modern backend that Drupal sports under the hood.

Strategic track 3: drive the Open Web

As you may know, 1 out of 40 websites run on Drupal. With that comes a responsibility to help drive the future of the Open Web. By 2022-2025, 4 billion new people will join the internet. We want all people to have access to the Open Web, and as a result should focus on accessibility, inclusiveness, security, privacy, and interoperability.

A person dressed in a space suit is headed towards a colorful vortex with a glowing Druplicon at the center.

Strategic track 4: be the best structured data engine

A slide that makes the point that Drupal needs to manage more diverse content and integrate with more different platforms.

We've already seen the beginnings of a content explosion, and will experience 300 billion new devices coming online by 2030. By continuing to make Drupal a better and better content repository with a flexible API, we'll be ready for a future with more content, more integrations, more devices, and more channels.

An overview of the four proposed Drupal 9 strategic product tracks

Over the next six months, we'll be opening up these proposed tracks to the community for discussion, and introducing surveys to define the 10 inaugural initiatives for Drupal 9. So far the feedback at DrupalCon Amsterdam has been very positive, but I'm looking forward to much more feedback!

Growing sponsored contributions

In a previous blog post, Balancing Makers and Takers to scale and sustain Open Source, I covered a number of topics related to organizational contribution. Around 1:19:44, my keynote goes into more details, including interviews with several prominent business owners and corporate contributors in the Drupal community.

You can find the different interview snippet belows:

  • Baddy Sonja Breidert, co-founder of 1xINTERNET, on why it is important to help convert Takers become Makers.
  • Tiffany Farriss, CEO of Palantir, on what it would take for her organization to contribute substantially more to Drupal.
  • Mike Lamb, Vice President of Global Digital Platforms at Pfizer, announcing that we are establishing the Contribution Recognition Committee to govern and improve Drupal's contribution credit system.

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who attended Drupalcon Amsterdam and contributed to the event's success. I'm always amazed by the vibrant community that makes Drupal so unique. I'm proud to showcase the impressive work of contributors in my presentations, and congratulate all of the hardworking people that are crucial to building Drupal 8 and 9 behind the scenes. I'm excited to continue to celebrate our work and friendships at future events.

A word cloud of all the individuals who contributed to Drupal 8.8.
Thanks to the 641 individuals who worked on Drupal 8.8 so far.
A word cloud of all the organizational contributors who contributed to Drupal 8.8.
Thanks to the 243 different organizations who contributed to Drupal 8.8 to date.

Acquia to receive majority investment from Vista Equity Partners

Acquia partners with Vista Equity Partners

Today, we announced that Acquia has agreed to receive a substantial majority investment from Vista Equity Partners. This means that Acquia has a new investor that owns more than 50 percent of the company, and who is invested in our future success. Attracting a well-known partner like Vista is a tremendous validation of what we have been able to achieve. I'm incredibly proud of that, as so many Acquians worked so hard to get to this milestone.

Our mission remains the same

Our mission at Acquia is to help our customers and partners build amazing digital experiences by offering them the best digital experience platform.

This mission to build a digital experience platform is a giant one. Vista specializes in growing software companies, for example, by providing capital to do acquisitions. The Vista ecosystem consists of more than 60 companies and more than 70,000 employees globally. By partnering with Vista and leveraging their scale, network and expertise, we can greatly accelerate our mission and our ability to compete in the market.

For years, people have rumored about Acquia going public. It still is a great option for Acquia, but I'm also happy that we stay a private and independent company for the foreseeable future.

We will continue to direct all of our energy to what we have done for so long: provide our customers and partners with leading solutions to build, operate and optimize digital experiences. We have a lot of work to do to help more businesses see and understand the power of Open Source, cloud delivery and data-driven customer experiences.

We'll keep giving back to Open Source

This investment should be great news for the Drupal and Mautic communities as we'll have the right resources to compete against other solutions, and our deep commitment to Drupal, Mautic and Open Source will be unchanged. In fact, we will continue to increase our current level of investment in Open Source as we grow our business.

In talking with Vista, who has a long history of promoting diversity and equality and giving back to its communities, we will jointly invest even more in Drupal and Mautic. We will:

  • Improve the "learnability of Drupal" to help us attract less technical and more diverse people to Drupal.
  • Sponsor more Drupal and Mautic community events and meetups.
  • Increase the amount of Open Source code we contribute.
  • Fund initiatives to improve diversity in Drupal and Mautic; to enable people from underrepresented groups to contribute, attend community events, and more.

We will provide more details soon.

I continue in my role

I've been at Acquia for 12 years, most of my professional career.

During that time, I've been focused on making Acquia a special company, with a unique innovation and delivery model, all optimized for a new world. A world where a lot of software is becoming Open Source, and where businesses are moving most applications into the cloud, where IT infrastructure is becoming a metered utility, and where data-driven customer experiences make or break business results.

It is why we invest in Open Source (e.g. Drupal, Mautic), cloud infrastructure (e.g. Acquia Cloud and Site Factory), and data-centric business tools (e.g. Acquia Lift, Mautic).

We have a lot of work left to do to help businesses see and understand the power of Open Source. I also believe Acquia is an example for how other Open Source companies can do Open Source right, in harmony with their communities.

The work we do at Acquia is interesting, impactful, and, in a positive way, challenging. Working at Acquia means I have a chance to change the world in a way that impacts hundreds of thousands of people. There is nowhere else I'd want to work.

Thank you to our early investors

As part of this transaction, Vista will buy out our initial investors. I want to provide a special shoutout to Michael Skok (North Bridge Venture Partners + Underscore) and John Mandile (Sigma Prima Ventures). I fondly remember Jay Batson and I raising money from Michael and John in 2007. They made a big bet on me — at the time, a college student living in Belgium when Open Source was everything but mainstream.

I'm grateful for the belief and trust they had in me and the support and mentorship they provided the past 12 years. The opportunity they gave me will forever define my professional career. I'm thankful for their support in building Acquia to what it is today, and I am thrilled about what is yet to come.

Stay tuned for great things ahead! It's a great time to be an Acquia customer and Drupal or Mautic user.

Balancing Makers and Takers to scale and sustain Open Source

A scale that is in balance

In many ways, Open Source has won. Most people know that Open Source provides better quality software, at a lower cost, without vendor lock-in. But despite Open Source being widely adopted and more than 30 years old, scaling and sustaining Open Source projects remains challenging.

Not a week goes by that I don't get asked a question about Open Source sustainability. How do you get others to contribute? How do you get funding for Open Source work? But also, how do you protect against others monetizing your Open Source work without contributing back? And what do you think of MongoDB, Cockroach Labs or Elastic changing their license away from Open Source?

This blog post talks about how we can make it easier to scale and sustain Open Source projects, Open Source companies and Open Source ecosystems. I will show that:

  • Small Open Source communities can rely on volunteers and self-governance, but as Open Source communities grow, their governance model most likely needs to be reformed so the project can be maintained more easily.
  • There are three models for scaling and sustaining Open Source projects: self-governance, privatization, and centralization. All three models aim to reduce coordination failures, but require Open Source communities to embrace forms of monitoring, rewards and sanctions. While this thinking is controversial, it is supported by decades of research in adjacent fields.
  • Open Source communities would benefit from experimenting with new governance models, coordination systems, license innovation, and incentive models.

Some personal background

Scaling and sustaining Open Source projects and Open Source businesses has been the focus of most of my professional career.

Drupal, the Open Source project I founded 18 years ago, is used by more than one million websites and reaches pretty much everyone on the internet.

With over 8,500 individuals and about 1,100 organizations contributing to Drupal annually, Drupal is one of the healthiest and contributor-rich Open Source communities in the world.

For the past 12 years, I've also helped build Acquia, an Open Source company that heavily depends on Drupal. With almost 1,000 employees, Acquia is the largest contributor to Drupal, yet responsible for less than 5% of all contributions.

This article is not about Drupal or Acquia; it's about scaling Open Source projects more broadly.

I'm interested in how to make Open Source production more sustainable, more fair, more egalitarian, and more cooperative. I'm interested in doing so by redefining the relationship between end users, producers and monetizers of Open Source software through a combination of technology, market principles and behavioral science.

Why it must be easier to scale and sustain Open Source

We need to make it easier to scale and sustain both Open Source projects and Open Source businesses:

  1. Making it easier to scale and sustain Open Source projects might be the only way to solve some of the world's most important problems. For example, I believe Open Source to be the only way to build a pro-privacy, anti-monopoly, open web. It requires Open Source communities to be long-term sustainable — possibly for hundreds of years.
  2. Making it easier to grow and sustain Open Source businesses is the last hurdle that prevents Open Source from taking over the world. I'd like to see every technology company become an Open Source company. Today, Open Source companies are still extremely rare.

The alternative is that we are stuck in the world we live in today, where proprietary software dominates most facets of our lives.

Disclaimers

This article is focused on Open Source governance models, but there is more to growing and sustaining Open Source projects. Top of mind is the need for Open Source projects to become more diverse and inclusive of underrepresented groups.

Second, I understand that the idea of systematizing Open Source contributions won't appeal to everyone. Some may argue that the suggestions I'm making go against the altruistic nature of Open Source. I agree. However, I'm also looking at Open Source sustainability challenges from the vantage point of running both an Open Source project (Drupal) and an Open Source business (Acquia). I'm not implying that every community needs to change their governance model, but simply offering suggestions for communities that operate with some level of commercial sponsorship, or communities that struggle with issues of long-term sustainability.

Lastly, this post is long and dense. I'm 700 words in, and I haven't started yet. Given that this is a complicated topic, there is an important role for more considered writing and deeper thinking.

Defining Open Source Makers and Takers

Makers

Some companies are born out of Open Source, and as a result believe deeply and invest significantly in their respective communities. With their help, Open Source has revolutionized software for the benefit of many. Let's call these types of companies Makers.

As the name implies, Makers help make Open Source projects; from investing in code, to helping with marketing, growing the community of contributors, and much more. There are usually one or more Makers behind the success of large Open Source projects. For example, MongoDB helps make MongoDB, Red Hat helps make Linux, and Acquia (along with many other companies) helps make Drupal.

Our definition of a Maker assumes intentional and meaningful contributions and excludes those whose only contributions are unintentional or sporadic. For example, a public cloud company like Amazon can provide a lot of credibility to an Open Source project by offering it as-a-service. The resulting value of this contribution can be substantial, however that doesn't make Amazon a Maker in our definition.

I use the term Makers to refer to anyone who purposely and meaningfully invests in the maintenance of Open Source software, i.e. by making engineering investments, writing documentation, fixing bugs, organizing events, and more.

Takers

Now that Open Source adoption is widespread, lots of companies, from technology startups to technology giants, monetize Open Source projects without contributing back to those projects. Let's call them Takers.

I understand and respect that some companies can give more than others, and that many might not be able to give back at all. Maybe one day, when they can, they'll contribute. We limit the label of Takers to companies that have the means to give back, but choose not to.

The difference between Makers and Takers is not always 100% clear, but as a rule of thumb, Makers directly invest in growing both their business and the Open Source project. Takers are solely focused on growing their business and let others take care of the Open Source project they rely on.

Organizations can be both Takers and Makers at the same time. For example, Acquia, my company, is a Maker of Drupal, but a Taker of Varnish Cache. We use Varnish Cache extensively but we don't contribute to its development.

A scale that is not in balance

Takers hurt Makers

To be financially successful, many Makers mix Open Source contributions with commercial offerings. Their commercial offerings usually take the form of proprietary or closed source IP, which may include a combination of premium features and hosted services that offer performance, scalability, availability, productivity, and security assurances. This is known as the Open Core business model. Some Makers offer professional services, including maintenance and support assurances.

When Makers start to grow and demonstrate financial success, the Open Source project that they are associated with begins to attract Takers. Takers will usually enter the ecosystem with a commercial offering comparable to the Makers', but without making a similar investment in Open Source contribution. Because Takers don't contribute back meaningfully to the Open Source project that they take from, they can focus disproportionately on their own commercial growth.

Let's look at a theoretical example.

When a Maker has $1 million to invest in R&D, they might choose to invest $500k in Open Source and $500k in the proprietary IP behind their commercial offering. The Maker intentionally balances growing the Open Source project they are connected to with making money. To be clear, the investment in Open Source is not charity; it helps make the Open Source project competitive in the market, and the Maker stands to benefit from that.

When a Taker has $1 million to invest in R&D, nearly all of their resources go to the development of proprietary IP behind their commercial offerings. They might invest $950k in their commercial offerings that compete with the Maker's, and $50k towards Open Source contribution. Furthermore, the $50k is usually focused on self-promotion rather than being directed at improving the Open Source project itself.

A visualization of the Maker and Taker math

Effectively, the Taker has put itself at a competitive advantage compared to the Maker:

  • The Taker takes advantage of the Maker's $500k investment in Open Source contribution while only investing $50k themselves. Important improvements happen "for free" without the Taker's involvement.
  • The Taker can out-innovate the Maker in building proprietary offerings. When a Taker invests $950k in closed-source products compared to the Maker's $500k, the Taker can innovate 90% faster. The Taker can also use the delta to disrupt the Maker on price.

In other words, Takers reap the benefits of the Makers' Open Source contribution while simultaneously having a more aggressive monetization strategy. The Taker is likely to disrupt the Maker. On an equal playing field, the only way the Maker can defend itself is by investing more in its proprietary offering and less in the Open Source project. To survive, it has to behave like the Taker to the detriment of the larger Open Source community.

Takers harm Open Source projects. An aggressive Taker can induce Makers to behave in a more selfish manner and reduce or stop their contributions to Open Source altogether. Takers can turn Makers into Takers.

Open Source contribution and the Prisoner's Dilemma

The example above can be described as a Prisoner's Dilemma. The Prisoner's Dilemma is a standard example of game theory, which allows the study of strategic interaction and decision-making using mathematical models. I won't go into detail here, but for the purpose of this article, it helps me simplify the above problem statement. I'll use this simplified example throughout the article.

Imagine an Open Source project with only two companies supporting it. The rules of the game are as follows:

  • If both companies contribute to the Open Source project (both are Makers), the total reward is $100. The reward is split evenly and each company makes $50.
  • If one company contributes while the other company doesn't (one Maker, one Taker), the Open Source project won't be as competitive in the market, and the total reward will only be $80. The Taker gets $60 as they have the more aggressive monetization strategy, while the Maker gets $20.
  • If both players choose not to contribute (both are Takers), the Open Source project will eventually become irrelevant. Both walk away with just $10.

This can be summarized in a pay-off matrix:

Company A contributes Company A doesn't contribute
Company B contributes A makes $50
B makes $50
A makes $60
B makes $20
Company B doesn't contribute A makes $20
B makes $60
A makes $10
B makes $10

In the game, each company needs to decide whether to contribute or not, but Company A doesn't know what company B decides; and vice versa.

The Prisoner's Dilemma states that each company will optimize its own profit and not contribute. Because both companies are rational, both will make that same decision. In other words, when both companies use their "best individual strategy" (be a Taker, not a Maker), they produce an equilibrium that yields the worst possible result for the group: the Open Source project will suffer and as a result they only make $10 each.

A real-life example of the Prisoner's Dilemma that many people can relate to is washing the dishes in a shared house. By not washing dishes, an individual can save time (individually rational), but if that behavior is adopted by every person in the house, there will be no clean plates for anyone (collectively irrational). How many of us have tried to get away with not washing the dishes? I know I have.

Fortunately, the problem of individually rational actions leading to collectively adverse outcomes is not new or unique to Open Source. Before I look at potential models to better sustain Open Source projects, I will take a step back and look at how this problem has been solved elsewhere.

Open Source: a public good or a common good?

In economics, the concepts of public goods and common goods are decades old, and have similarities to Open Source.

Examples of common goods (fishing grounds, oceans, parks) and public goods (lighthouses, radio, street lightning)

Public goods and common goods are what economists call non-excludable meaning it's hard to exclude people from using them. For example, everyone can benefit from fishing grounds, whether they contribute to their maintenance or not. Simply put, public goods and common goods have open access.

Common goods are rivalrous; if one individual catches a fish and eats it, the other individual can't. In contrast, public goods are non-rivalrous; someone listening to the radio doesn't prevent others from listening to the radio.

I've long believed that Open Source projects are public goods: everyone can use Open Source software (non-excludable) and someone using an Open Source project doesn't prevent someone else from using it (non-rivalrous).

However, through the lens of Open Source companies, Open Source projects are also common goods; everyone can use Open Source software (non-excludable), but when an Open Source end user becomes a customer of Company A, that same end user is unlikely to become a customer of Company B (rivalrous).

For end users, Open Source projects are public goods; the shared resource is the software. But for Open Source companies, Open Source projects are common goods; the shared resource is the (potential) customer.

Next, I'd like to extend the distinction between "Open Source software being a public good" and "Open Source customers being a common good" to the free-rider problem: we define software free-riders as those who use the software without ever contributing back, and customer free-riders (or Takers) as those who sign up customers without giving back.

All Open Source communities should encourage software free-riders. Because the software is a public good (non-rivalrous), a software free-rider doesn't exclude others from using the software. Hence, it's better to have a user for your Open Source project, than having that person use your competitor's software. Furthermore, a software free-rider makes it more likely that other people will use your Open Source project (by word of mouth or otherwise). When some portion of those other users contribute back, the Open Source project benefits. Software free-riders can have positive network effects on a project.

However, when the success of an Open Source project depends largely on one or more corporate sponsors, the Open Source community should not forget or ignore that customers are a common good. Because a customer can't be shared among companies, it matters a great deal for the Open Source project where that customer ends up. When the customer signs up with a Maker, we know that a certain percentage of the revenue associated with that customer will be invested back into the Open Source project. When a customer signs up with a customer free-rider or Taker, the project doesn't stand to benefit. In other words, Open Source communities should find ways to route customers to Makers.

Both volunteer-driven and sponsorship-driven Open Source communities should encourage software free-riders, but sponsorship-driven Open Source communities should discourage customer free-riders.

Lessons from decades of Common Goods management

Hundreds of research papers and books have been written on public good and common good governance. Over the years, I have read many of them to figure out what Open Source communities can learn from successfully managed public goods and common goods.

Some of the most instrumental research was Garrett Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons and Mancur Olson's work on Collective Action. Both Hardin and Olson concluded that groups don't self-organize to maintain the common goods they depend on.

As Olson writes in the beginning of his book, The Logic of Collective Action: Unless the number of individuals is quite small, or unless there is coercion or some other special device to make individuals act in their common interest, rational, self-interested individuals will not act to achieve their common or group interest..

Consistent with the Prisoner's Dilemma, Hardin and Olson show that groups don't act on their shared interests. Members are disincentivized from contributing when other members can't be excluded from the benefits. It is individually rational for a group's members to free-ride on the contributions of others.

Dozens of academics, Hardin and Olson included, argued that an external agent is required to solve the free-rider problem. The two most common approaches are (1) centralization and (2) privatization:

  1. When a common good is centralized, the government takes over the maintenance of the common good. The government or state is the external agent.
  2. When a public good is privatized, one or more members of the group receive selective benefits or exclusive rights to harvest from the common good in exchange for the ongoing maintenance of the common good. In this case, one or more corporations act as the external agent.

The wide-spread advice to centralize and privatize common goods has been followed extensively in most countries; today, the management of natural resources is typically managed by either the government or by commercial companies, but no longer directly by its users. Examples include public transport, water utilities, fishing grounds, parks, and much more.

Overall, the privatization and centralization of common goods has been very successful; in many countries, public transport, water utilities and parks are maintained better than volunteer contributors would have on their own. I certainly value that I don't have to help maintain the train tracks before my daily commute to work, or that I don't have to help mow the lawn in our public park before I can play soccer with my kids.

For years, it was a long-held belief that centralization and privatization were the only way to solve the free-rider problem. It was Elinor Ostrom who observed that a third solution existed.

Ostrom found hundreds of cases where common goods are successfully managed by their communities, without the oversight of an external agent. From the management of irrigation systems in Spain to the maintenance of mountain forests in Japan — all have been successfully self-managed and self-governed by their users. Many have been long-enduring as well; the youngest examples she studied were more than 100 years old, and the oldest exceed 1,000 years.

Ostrom studied why some efforts to self-govern commons have failed and why others have succeeded. She summarized the conditions for success in the form of core design principles. Her work led her to win the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009.

Interestingly, all successfully managed commons studied by Ostrom switched at some point from open access to closed access. As Ostrom writes in her book, Governing the Commons: For any appropriator to have a minimal interest in coordinating patterns of appropriation and provision, some set of appropriators must be able to exclude others from access and appropriation rights.. Ostrom uses the term appropriator to refer to those who use or withdraw from a resource. Examples would be fishers, irrigators, herders, etc — or companies trying to turn Open Source users into paying customers. In other words, the shared resource must be made exclusive (to some degree) in order to incentivize members to manage it. Put differently, Takers will be Takers until they have an incentive to become Makers.

Once access is closed, explicit rules need to be established to determine how resources are shared, who is responsible for maintenance, and how self-serving behaviors are suppressed. In all successfully managed commons, the regulations specify (1) who has access to the resource, (2) how the resource is shared, (3) how maintenance responsibilities are shared, (4) who inspects that rules are followed, (5) what fines are levied against anyone who breaks the rules, (6) how conflicts are resolved and (7) a process for collectively evolving these rules.

Three patterns for long-term sustainable Open Source

Studying the work of Garrett Hardin (Tragedy of the Commons), the Prisoner's Dilemma, Mancur Olson (Collective Action) and Elinor Ostrom's core design principles for self-governance, a number of shared patterns emerge. When applied to Open Source, I'd summarize them as follows:

  1. Common goods fail because of a failure to coordinate collective action. To scale and sustain an Open Source project, Open Source communities need to transition from individual, uncoordinated action to cooperative, coordinated action.
  2. Cooperative, coordinated action can be accomplished through privatization, centralization, or self-governance. All three work — and can even be mixed.
  3. Successful privatization, centralization, and self-governance all require clear rules around membership, appropriation rights, and contribution duties. In turn, this requires monitoring and enforcement, either by an external agent (centralization + privatization), a private agent (self-governance), or members of the group itself (self-governance).

Next, let's see how these three concepts — centralization, privatization and self-governance — could apply to Open Source.

Model 1: Self-governance in Open Source

For small Open Source communities, self-governance is very common; it's easy for its members to communicate, learn who they can trust, share norms, agree on how to collaborate, etc.

As an Open Source project grows, contribution becomes more complex and cooperation more difficult: it becomes harder to communicate, build trust, agree on how to cooperate, and suppress self-serving behaviors. The incentive to free-ride grows.

You can scale successful cooperation by having strong norms that encourage other members to do their fair share and by having face-to-face events, but eventually, that becomes hard to scale as well.

As Ostrom writes in Governing the Commons: Even in repeated settings where reputation is important and where individuals share the norm of keeping agreements, reputation and shared norms are insufficient by themselves to produce stable cooperative behavior over the long run. and In all of the long-enduring cases, active investments in monitoring and sanctioning activities are quite apparent..

To the best of my knowledge, no Open Source project currently implements Ostrom's design principles for successful self-governance. To understand how Open Source communities might, let's go back to our running example.

Our two companies would negotiate rules for how to share the rewards of the Open Source project, and what level of contribution would be required in exchange. They would set up a contract where they both agree on how much each company can earn and how much each company has to invest. During the negotiations, various strategies can be proposed for how to cooperate. However, both parties need to agree on a strategy before they can proceed. Because they are negotiating this contract among themselves, no external agent is required.

These negotiations are non-trivial. As you can imagine, any proposal that does not involve splitting the $100 fifty-fifty is likely rejected. The most likely equilibrium is for both companies to contribute equally and to split the reward equally. Furthermore, to arrive at this equilibrium, one of the two companies would likely have to go backwards in revenue, which might not be agreeable.

Needless to say, this gets even more difficult in a scenario where there are more than two companies involved. Today, it's hard to fathom how such a self-governance system can successfully be established in an Open Source project. In the future, Blockchain-based coordination systems might offer technical solutions for this problem.

Large groups are less able to act in their common interest than small ones because (1) the complexity increases and (2) the benefits diminish. Until we have better community coordination systems, it's easier for large groups to transition from self-governance to privatization or centralization than to scale self-governance.

The concept of major projects growing out of self-governed volunteer communities is not new to the world. The first trade routes were ancient trackways which citizens later developed on their own into roads suited for wheeled vehicles. Privatization of roads improved transportation for all citizens. Today, we certainly appreciate that our governments maintain the roads.

The roads system evolving from self-governance to privatization, and from privatization to centralization

Model 2: Privatization of Open Source governance

In this model, Makers are rewarded unique benefits not available to Takers. These exclusive rights provide Makers a commercial advantage over Takers, while simultaneously creating a positive social benefit for all the users of the Open Source project, Takers included.

For example, Mozilla has the exclusive right to use the Firefox trademark and to set up paid search deals with search engines like Google, Yandex and Baidu. In 2017 alone, Mozilla made $542 million from searches conducted using Firefox. As a result, Mozilla can make continued engineering investments in Firefox. Millions of people and organizations benefit from that every day.

Another example is Automattic, the company behind WordPress. Automattic is the only company that can use WordPress.com, and is in the unique position to make hundreds of millions of dollars from WordPress' official SaaS service. In exchange, Automattic invests millions of dollars in the Open Source WordPress each year.

Recently, there have been examples of Open Source companies like MongoDB, Redis, Cockroach Labs and others adopting stricter licenses because of perceived (and sometimes real) threats from public cloud companies that behave as Takers. The ability to change the license of an Open Source project is a form of privatization.

Model 3: Centralization of Open Source governance

Let's assume a government-like central authority can monitor Open Source companies A and B, with the goal to reward and penalize them for contribution or lack thereof. When a company follows a cooperative strategy (being a Maker), they are rewarded $25 and when they follow a defect strategy (being a Taker), they are charged a $25 penalty. We can update the pay-off matrix introduced above as follows:

Company A contributes Company A doesn't contribute
Company B contributes A makes $75 ($50 + $25)
B makes $75 ($50 + $25)
A makes $35 ($60 - $25)
B makes $45 ($20 + 25)
Company B doesn't contribute A makes $45 ($20 + $25)
B makes $35 ($60 - $25)
A makes $0 ($10 - $25)
B makes $0 ($10 - $25)

We took the values from the pay-off matrix above and applied the rewards and penalties. The result is that both companies are incentivized to contribute and the optimal equilibrium (both become Makers) can be achieved.

The money for rewards could come from various fundraising efforts, including membership programs or advertising (just as a few examples). However, more likely is the use of indirect monetary rewards.

One way to implement this is Drupal's credit system. Drupal's non-profit organization, the Drupal Association monitors who contributes what. Each contribution earns you credits and the credits are used to provide visibility to Makers. The more you contribute, the more visibility you get on Drupal.org (visited by 2 million people each month) or at Drupal conferences (called DrupalCons, visited by thousands of people each year).

Example issue credit on drupal org
A screenshot of an issue comment on Drupal.org. You can see that jamadar worked on this patch as a volunteer, but also as part of his day job working for TATA Consultancy Services on behalf of their customer, Pfizer.

While there is a lot more the Drupal Association could and should do to balance its Makers and Takers and achieve a more optimal equilibrium for the Drupal project, it's an emerging example of how an Open Source non-profit organization can act as a regulator that monitors and maintains the balance of Makers and Takers.

The big challenge with this approach is the accuracy of the monitoring and the reliability of the rewarding (and sanctioning). Because Open Source contribution comes in different forms, tracking and valuing Open Source contribution is a very difficult and expensive process, not to mention full of conflict. Running this centralized government-like organization also needs to be paid for, and that can be its own challenge.

Concrete suggestions for scaling and sustaining Open Source

Suggestion 1: Don't just appeal to organizations' self-interest, but also to their fairness principles

If, like most economic theorists, you believe that organizations act in their own self-interest, we should appeal to that self-interest and better explain the benefits of contributing to Open Source.

Despite the fact that hundreds of articles have been written about the benefits of contributing to Open Source — highlighting speed of innovation, recruiting advantages, market credibility, and more — many organizations still miss these larger points.

It's important to keep sharing Open Source success stories. One thing that we have not done enough is appeal to organizations' fairness principles.

While a lot of economic theories correctly assume that most organizations are self-interested, I believe some organizations are also driven by fairness considerations.

Despite the term "Takers" having a negative connotation, it does not assume malice. For many organizations, it is not apparent if an Open Source project needs help with maintenance, or how one's actions, or lack thereof, might negatively affect an Open Source project.

As mentioned, Acquia is a heavy user of Varnish Cache. But as Acquia's Chief Technology Officer, I don't know if Varnish needs maintenance help, or how our lack of contribution negatively affects Makers in the Varnish community.

It can be difficult to understand the consequences of our own actions within Open Source. Open Source communities should help others understand where contribution is needed, what the impact of not contributing is, and why certain behaviors are not fair. Some organizations will resist unfair outcomes and behave more cooperatively if they understand the impact of their behaviors and the fairness of certain outcomes.

Make no mistake though: most organizations won't care about fairness principles and will only contribute when they have to. For example, most people would not voluntarily redistribute 25-50% of their income to those who need it. However, most of us agree to redistribute money by paying taxes, but only so long as all others have to do so as well and the government enforces it.

Suggestion 2: Encourage end users to offer selective benefits to Makers

We talked about Open Source projects giving selective benefits to Makers (e.g. Automattic, Mozilla, etc), but end users can give selective benefits as well. For example, end users can mandate Open Source contributions from their partners. We have some successful examples of this in the Drupal community:

If more end users of Open Source took this stance, it could have a very big impact on Open Source sustainability. For governments, in particular, this seems like a very logical thing to do. Why would a government not want to put every dollar of IT spending back in the public domain? For Drupal alone, the impact would be measured in tens of millions of dollars each year.

Suggestion 3: Experiment with new licenses

I believe we can create licenses that support the creation of Open Source projects with sustainable communities and sustainable businesses to support it.

For a directional example, look at what MariaDB did with their Business Source License (BSL). The BSL gives users complete access to the source code so users can modify, distribute and enhance it. Only when you use more than x of the software do you have to pay for a license. Furthermore, the BSL guarantees that the software becomes Open Source over time; after y years, the license automatically converts from BSL to General Public License (GPL), for example.

A second example is the Community Compact, a license proposed by Adam Jacob. It mixes together a modern understanding of social contracts, copyright licensing, software licensing, and distribution licensing to create a sustainable and harmonious Open Source project.

We can create licenses that better support the creation, growth and sustainability of Open Source projects and that are designed so that both users and the commercial ecosystem can co-exist and cooperate in harmony.

I'd love to see new licenses that encourage software free-riding (sharing and giving), but discourage customer free-riding (unfair competition). I'd also love to see these licenses support many Makers, with built-in inequity and fairness principles for smaller Makers or those not able to give back.

If, like me, you believe there could be future licenses that are more "Open Source"-friendly, not less, it would be smart to implement a contributor license agreement for your Open Source project; it allows Open Source projects to relicense if/when better licenses arrive. At some point, current Open Source licenses will be at a disadvantage compared to future Open Source licenses.

Conclusions

As Open Source communities grow, volunteer-driven, self-organized communities become harder to scale. Large Open Source projects should find ways to balance Makers and Takers or the Open Source project risks not innovating enough under the weight of Takers.

Fortunately, we don't have to accept that future. However, this means that Open Source communities potentially have to get comfortable experimenting with how to monitor, reward and penalize members in their communities, particularly if they rely on a commercial ecosystem for a large portion of their contributions. Today, that goes against the values of most Open Source communities, but I believe we need to keep an open mind about how we can grow and scale Open Source.

Making it easier to scale Open Source projects in a sustainable and fair way is one of the most important things we can work on. If we succeed, Open Source can truly take over the world — it will pave the path for every technology company to become an Open Source business, and also solve some of the world's most important problems in an open, transparent and cooperative way.

Who sponsors Drupal development? (2018-2019 edition)

The past years, I've examined Drupal.org's contribution data to understand who develops Drupal, how diverse the Drupal community is, how much of Drupal's maintenance and innovation is sponsored, and where that sponsorship comes from.

You can look at the 2016 report, the 2017 report, and the 2018 report. Each report looks at data collected in the 12-month period between July 1st and June 30th.

This year's report shows that:

  • Both the recorded number of contributors and contributions have increased.
  • Most contributions are sponsored, but volunteer contributions remains very important to Drupal's success.
  • Drupal's maintenance and innovation depends mostly on smaller Drupal agencies and Acquia. Hosting companies, multi-platform digital marketing agencies, large system integrators and end users make fewer contributions to Drupal.
  • Drupal's contributors have become more diverse, but are still not diverse enough.

Methodology

What are Drupal.org issues?

"Issues" are pages on Drupal.org. Each issue tracks an idea, feature request, bug report, task, or more. See https://www.drupal.org/project/issues for the list of all issues.

For this report, we looked at all Drupal.org issues marked "closed" or "fixed" in the 12-month period from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. The issues analyzed in this report span Drupal core and thousands of contributed projects, across all major versions of Drupal.

What are Drupal.org credits?

In the spring of 2015, after proposing initial ideas for giving credit, Drupal.org added the ability for people to attribute their work in the Drupal.org issues to an organization or customer, or mark it the result of volunteer efforts.

Example issue credit on drupal org
A screenshot of an issue comment on Drupal.org. You can see that jamadar worked on this patch as a volunteer, but also as part of his day job working for TATA Consultancy Services on behalf of their customer, Pfizer.

Drupal.org's credit system is truly unique and groundbreaking in Open Source and provides unprecedented insights into the inner workings of a large Open Source project. There are a few limitations with this approach, which we'll address at the end of this report.

What is the Drupal community working on?

In the 12-month period between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, 27,522 issues were marked "closed" or "fixed", a 13% increase from the 24,447 issues in the 2017-2018 period.

In total, the Drupal community worked on 3,474 different Drupal.org projects this year compared to 3,229 projects in the 2017-2018 period — an 8% year over year increase.

The majority of the credits are the result of work on contributed modules:

A pie chart showing contributions by project type: most contributions are to contributed modules.

Compared to the previous period, contribution credits increased across all project types:

A graph showing the year over year growth of contributions per project type.

The most notable change is the large jump in "non-product credits": more and more members in the community started tracking credits for non-product activities such as organizing Drupal events (e.g. DrupalCamp Delhi project, Drupal Developer Days, Drupal Europe and DrupalCon Europe), promoting Drupal (e.g. Drupal pitch deck or community working groups (e.g. Drupal Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, Governance Working Group).

While some of these increases reflect new contributions, others are existing contributions that are newly reported. All contributions are valuable, whether they're code contributions, or non-product and community-oriented contributions such as organizing events, giving talks, leading sprints, etc. The fact that the credit system is becoming more accurate in recognizing more types of Open Source contribution is both important and positive.

Who is working on Drupal?

For this report's time period, Drupal.org's credit system received contributions from 8,513 different individuals and 1,137 different organizations — a meaningful increase from last year's report.

A graph showing that the number of individual and organizational contributors increased year over year.

Consistent with previous years, approximately 51% of the individual contributors received just one credit. Meanwhile, the top 30 contributors (the top 0.4%) account for 19% of the total credits. In other words, a relatively small number of individuals do the majority of the work. These individuals put an incredible amount of time and effort into developing Drupal and its contributed projects:

RankUsernameIssues
1kiamlaluno1610
2jrockowitz756
3alexpott642
4RajabNatshah616
5volkswagenchick519
6bojanz504
7alonaoneill489
8thalles488
9Wim Leers437
10DamienMcKenna431
11Berdir424
12chipway356
13larowlan324
14pifagor320
15catch313
16mglaman277
17adci_contributor274
18quietone266
19tim.plunkett265
20gaurav.kapoor253
21RenatoG246
22heddn243
23chr.fritsch241
24xjm238
25phenaproxima238
26mkalkbrenner235
27gvso232
28dawehner219
29e0ipso218
30drumm205

Out of the top 30 contributors featured this year, 28 were active contributors in the 2017-2018 period as well. These Drupalists' dedication and continued contribution to the project has been crucial to Drupal's development.

It's also important to recognize that most of the top 30 contributors are sponsored by an organization. Their sponsorship details are provided later in this article. We value the organizations that sponsor these remarkable individuals, because without their support, it could be more challenging for these individuals to be in the top 30.

It's also nice to see two new contributors make the top 30 this year — Alona O'neill with sponsorship from Hook 42 and Thalles Ferreira with sponsorship from CI&T. Most of their credits were the result of smaller patches (e.g. removing deprecated code, fixing coding style issues, etc) or in some cases non-product credits rather than new feature development or fixing complex bugs. These types of contributions are valuable and often a stepping stone towards towards more in-depth contribution.

How much of the work is sponsored?

Issue credits can be marked as "volunteer" and "sponsored" simultaneously (shown in jamadar's screenshot near the top of this post). This could be the case when a contributor does the necessary work to satisfy the customer's need, in addition to using their spare time to add extra functionality.

For those credits with attribution details, 18% were "purely volunteer" credits (8,433 credits), in stark contrast to the 65% that were "purely sponsored" (29,802 credits). While there are almost four times as many "purely sponsored" credits as "purely volunteer" credits, volunteer contribution remains very important to Drupal.

Contributions by volunteer vs sponsored

Both "purely volunteer" and "purely sponsored" credits grew — "purely sponsored" credits grew faster in absolute numbers, but for the first time in four years "purely volunteer" credits grew faster in relative numbers.

The large jump in volunteer credits can be explained by the community capturing more non-product contributions. As can be seen on the graph below, these non-product contributions are more volunteer-centric.

A graph showing how much of the contributions are volunteered vs sponsored.

Who is sponsoring the work?

Now that we've established that the majority of contributions to Drupal are sponsored, let's study which organizations contribute to Drupal. While 1,137 different organizations contributed to Drupal, approximately 50% of them received four credits or less. The top 30 organizations (roughly the top 3%) account for approximately 25% of the total credits, which implies that the top 30 companies play a crucial role in the health of the Drupal project.

Top conytinuying organizations
Top contributing organizations based on the number of issue credits.

While not immediately obvious from the graph above, a variety of different types of companies are active in Drupal's ecosystem:

Category Description
Traditional Drupal businesses Small-to-medium-sized professional services companies that primarily make money using Drupal. They typically employ fewer than 100 employees, and because they specialize in Drupal, many of these professional services companies contribute frequently and are a huge part of our community. Examples are Hook42, Centarro, The Big Blue House, Vardot, etc.
Digital marketing agencies Larger full-service agencies that have marketing-led practices using a variety of tools, typically including Drupal, Adobe Experience Manager, Sitecore, WordPress, etc. They tend to be larger, with many of the larger agencies employing thousands of people. Examples are Wunderman, Possible and Mirum.
System integrators Larger companies that specialize in bringing together different technologies into one solution. Example system agencies are Accenture, TATA Consultancy Services, Capgemini and CI&T.
Hosting companies Examples are Acquia, Rackspace, Pantheon and Platform.sh.
End users Examples are Pfizer or bio.logis Genetic Information Management GmbH.

A few observations:

  • Almost all of the sponsors in the top 30 are traditional Drupal businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Only five companies in the top 30 — Pfizer, Google, CI&T, bio.logis and Acquia — are not traditional Drupal businesses. The traditional Drupal businesses are responsible for almost 80% of all the credits in the top 30. This percentage goes up if you extend beyond the top 30. It's fair to say that Drupal's maintenance and innovation largely depends on these traditional Drupal businesses.
  • The larger, multi-platform digital marketing agencies are barely contributing to Drupal. While more and more large digital agencies are building out Drupal practices, no digital marketing agencies show up in the top 30, and hardly any appear in the entire list of contributing organizations. While they are not required to contribute, I'm frustrated that we have not yet found the right way to communicate the value of contribution to these companies. We need to incentivize each of these firms to contribute back with the same commitment that we see from traditional Drupal businesses
  • The only system integrator in the top 30 is CI&T, which ranked 4th with 795 credits. As far as system integrators are concerned, CI&T is a smaller player with approximately 2,500 employees. However, we do see various system integrators outside of the top 30, including Globant, Capgemini, Sapient and TATA Consultancy Services. In the past year, Capgemini almost quadrupled their credits from 46 to 196, TATA doubled its credits from 85 to 194, Sapient doubled its credits from 28 to 65, and Globant kept more or less steady with 41 credits. Accenture and Wipro do not appear to contribute despite doing a fair amount of Drupal work in the field.
  • Hosting companies also play an important role in our community, yet only Acquia appears in the top 30. Rackspace has 68 credits, Pantheon has 43, and Platform.sh has 23. I looked for other hosting companies in the data, but couldn't find any. In general, there is a persistent problem with hosting companies that make a lot of money with Drupal not contributing back. The contribution gap between Acquia and other hosting companies has increased, not decreased.
  • We also saw three end users in the top 30 as corporate sponsors: Pfizer (453 credits), Thunder (659 credits, up from 432 credits the year before), and the German company, bio.logis (330 credits). A notable end user is Johnson & Johnson, who was just outside of the top 30, with 221 credits, up from 29 credits the year before. Other end users outside of the top 30, include the European Commission (189 credits), Workday (112 credits), Morris Animal Foundation (112 credits), Paypal (80 credits), NBCUniversal (48 credits), Wolters Kluwer (20 credits), and Burda Media (24 credits). We also saw contributions from many universities, including the University of British Columbia (148 credits), University of Waterloo (129 credits), Princeton University (73 credits), University of Austin Texas at Austin (57 credits), Charles Darwin University (24 credits), University of Edinburgh (23 credits), University of Minnesota (19 credits) and many more.
A graph showing that Acquia is by far the number one contributing hosting company.
Contributions by system integrators

It would be interesting to see what would happen if more end users mandated contributions from their partners. Pfizer, for example, only works with agencies that contribute back to Drupal, and uses Drupal's credit system to verify their vendors' claims. The State of Georgia started doing the same; they also made Open Source contribution a vendor selection criteria. If more end users took this stance, it could have a big impact on the number of digital agencies, hosting companies and system integrators that contribute to Drupal.

While we should encourage more organizations to sponsor Drupal contributions, we should also understand and respect that some organizations can give more than others and that some might not be able to give back at all. Our goal is not to foster an environment that demands what and how others should give back. Instead, we need to help foster an environment worthy of contribution. This is clearly laid out in Drupal's Values and Principles.

How diverse is Drupal?

Supporting diversity and inclusion within Drupal is essential to the health and success of the project. The people who work on Drupal should reflect the diversity of people who use and work with the web.

I looked at both the gender and geographic diversity of Drupal.org contributors. While these are only two examples of diversity, these are the only diversity characteristics we currently have sufficient data for. Drupal.org recently rolled out support for Big 8/Big 10, so next year we should have more demographics information

Gender diversity

The data shows that only 8% of the recorded contributions were made by contributors who do not identify as male, which continues to indicate a wide gender gap. This is a one percent increase compared to last year. The gender imbalance in Drupal is profound and underscores the need to continue fostering diversity and inclusion in our community.

A graph showing contributions by gender: 75% of the contributions come from people who identify as male.

Last year I wrote a post about the privilege of free time in Open Source. It made the case that Open Source is not a meritocracy, because not everyone has equal amounts of free time to contribute. For example, research shows that women still spend more than double the time as men doing unpaid domestic work, such as housework or childcare. This makes it more difficult for women to contribute to Open Source on an unpaid, volunteer basis. It's one of the reasons why Open Source projects suffer from a lack of diversity, among others including hostile environments and unconscious biases. Drupal.org's credit data unfortunately still shows a big gender disparity in contributions:

A graph that shows that compared to males, female contributors do more sponsored work, and less volunteer work.

Ideally, over time, we can collect more data on non-binary gender designations, as well as segment some of the trends behind contributions by gender. We can also do better at collecting data on other systemic issues beyond gender alone. Knowing more about these trends can help us close existing gaps. In the meantime, organizations capable of giving back should consider financially sponsoring individuals from underrepresented groups to contribute to Open Source. Each of us needs to decide if and how we can help give time and opportunities to underrepresented groups and how we can create equity for everyone in Drupal.

Geographic diversity

When measuring geographic diversity, we saw individual contributors from six continents and 114 countries:

A graph that shows most contributions come from Europe and North America.
Contributions per capita
Contribution credits per capita calculated as the amount of contributions per continent divided by the population of each continent. 0.001% means that one in 100,000 people contribute to Drupal. In North America, 5 in 100,000 people contributed to Drupal the last year.

Contributions from Europe and North America are both on the rise. In absolute terms, Europe contributes more than North America, but North America contributes more per capita.

Asia, South America and Africa remain big opportunities for Drupal, as their combined population accounts for 6.3 billion out of 7.5 billion people in the world. Unfortunately, the reported contributions from Asia are declining year over year. For example, compared to last year's report, there was a 17% drop in contribution from India. Despite that drop, India remains the second largest contributor behind the United States:

A graph showing the top 20 contributing countries.
The top 20 countries from which contributions originate. The data is compiled by aggregating the countries of all individual contributors behind each issue. Note that the geographical location of contributors doesn't always correspond with the origin of their sponsorship. Wim Leers, for example, works from Belgium, but his funding comes from Acquia, which has the majority of its customers in North America.

Top contributor details

To create more awareness of which organizations are sponsoring the top individual contributors, I included a more detailed overview of the top 50 contributors and their sponsors. If you are a Drupal developer looking for work, these are some of the companies I'd apply to first. If you are an end user looking for a company to work with, these are some of the companies I'd consider working with first. Not only do they know Drupal well, they also help improve your investment in Drupal.

Rank Username Issues Volunteer Sponsored Not specified Sponsors
1 kiamlaluno 1610 99% 0% 1%
2 jrockowitz 756 98% 99% 0% The Big Blue House (750), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (5), Rosewood Marketing (1)
3 alexpott 642 6% 80% 19% Thunder (336), Acro Media Inc (100), Chapter Three (77)
4 RajabNatshah 616 1% 100% 0% Vardot (730), Webship (2)
5 volkswagenchick 519 2% 99% 0% Hook 42 (341), Kanopi Studios (171)
6 bojanz 504 0% 98% 2% Centarro (492), Ny Media AS (28), Torchbox (5), Liip (2), Adapt (2)
7 alonaoneill 489 9% 99% 0% Hook 42 (484)
8 thalles 488 0% 100% 0% CI&T (488), Janrain (3), Johnson & Johnson (2)
9 Wim Leers 437 8% 97% 0% Acquia (421), Government of Flanders (3)
10 DamienMcKenna 431 0% 97% 3% Mediacurrent (420)
11 Berdir 424 0% 92% 8% MD Systems (390)
12 chipway 356 0% 100% 0% Chipway (356)
13 larowlan 324 16% 94% 2% PreviousNext (304), Charles Darwin University (22), University of Technology, Sydney (3), Service NSW (2), Department of Justice & Regulation, Victoria (1)
14 pifagor 320 52% 100% 0% GOLEMS GABB (618), EPAM Systems (16), Drupal Ukraine Community (6)
15 catch 313 1% 95% 4% Third & Grove (286), Tag1 Consulting (11), Drupal Association (6), Acquia (4)
16 mglaman 277 2% 98% 1% Centarro (271), Oomph, Inc. (16), E.C. Barton & Co (3), Gaggle.net, Inc. (1), Bluespark (1), Thinkbean (1), LivePerson, Inc (1), Impactiv, Inc. (1), Rosewood Marketing (1), Acro Media Inc (1)
17 adci_contributor 274 0% 100% 0% ADCI Solutions (273)
18 quietone 266 41% 75% 1% Acro Media Inc (200)
19 tim.plunkett 265 3% 89% 9% Acquia (235)
20 gaurav.kapoor 253 0% 51% 49% OpenSense Labs (129), DrupalFit (111)
21 RenatoG 246 0% 100% 0% CI&T (246), Johnson & Johnson (85)
22 heddn 243 2% 98% 2% MTech, LLC (202), Tag1 Consulting (32), European Commission (22), North Studio (3), Acro Media Inc (2)
23 chr.fritsch 241 0% 99% 1% Thunder (239)
24 xjm 238 0% 85% 15% Acquia (202)
25 phenaproxima 238 0% 100% 0% Acquia (238)
26 mkalkbrenner 235 0% 100% 0% bio.logis Genetic Information Management GmbH (234), OSCE: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (41), Welsh Government (4)
27 gvso 232 0% 100% 0% Google Summer of Code (214), Google Code-In (16), Zivtech (1)
28 dawehner 219 39% 84% 8% Chapter Three (176), Drupal Association (5), Tag1 Consulting (3), TES Global (1)
29 e0ipso 218 99% 100% 0% Lullabot (217), IBM (23)
30 drumm 205 0% 98% 1% Drupal Association (201)
31 gabesullice 199 0% 100% 0% Acquia (198), Aten Design Group (1)
32 amateescu 194 0% 97% 3% Pfizer, Inc. (186), Drupal Association (1), Chapter Three (1)
33 klausi 193 2% 59% 40% jobiqo - job board technology (113)
34 samuel.mortenson 187 42% 42% 17% Acquia (79)
35 joelpittet 187 28% 78% 14% The University of British Columbia (146)
36 borisson_ 185 83% 50% 3% Calibrate (79), Dazzle (13), Intracto digital agency (1)
37 Gábor Hojtsy 184 0% 97% 3% Acquia (178)
38 adriancid 182 91% 22% 2% Drupiter (40)
39 eiriksm 182 0% 100% 0% Violinist (178), Ny Media AS (4)
40 yas 179 12% 80% 10% DOCOMO Innovations, Inc. (143)
41 TR 177 0% 0% 100%
42 hass 173 1% 0% 99%
43 Joachim Namyslo 172 69% 0% 31%
44 alex_optim 171 0% 99% 1% GOLEMS GABB (338)
45 flocondetoile 168 0% 99% 1% Flocon de toile (167)
46 Lendude 168 52% 99% 0% Dx Experts (91), ezCompany (67), Noctilaris (9)
47 paulvandenburg 167 11% 72% 21% ezCompany (120)
48 voleger 165 98% 98% 2% GOLEMS GABB (286), Lemberg Solutions Limited (36), Drupal Ukraine Community (1)
49 lauriii 164 3% 98% 1% Acquia (153), Druid (8), Lääkärikeskus Aava Oy (2)
50 idebr 162 0% 99% 1% ezCompany (156), One Shoe (5)

Limitations of the credit system

It is important to note a few of the current limitations of Drupal.org's credit system:

  • The credit system doesn't capture all code contributions. Parts of Drupal are developed on GitHub rather than Drupal.org, and often aren't fully credited on Drupal.org. For example, Drush is maintained on GitHub instead of Drupal.org, and companies like Pantheon don't get credit for that work. The Drupal Association is working to integrate GitLab with Drupal.org. GitLab will provide support for "merge requests", which means contributing to Drupal will feel more familiar to the broader audience of Open Source contributors who learned their skills in the post-patch era. Some of GitLab's tools, such as in-line editing and web-based code review will also lower the barrier to contribution, and should help us grow both the number of contributions and contributors on Drupal.org.
  • The credit system is not used by everyone. There are many ways to contribute to Drupal that are still not captured in the credit system, including things like event organizing or providing support. Technically, that work could be captured as demonstrated by the various non-product initiatives highlighted in this post. Because using the credit system is optional, many contributors don't. As a result, contributions often have incomplete or no contribution credits. We need to encourage all Drupal contributors to use the credit system, and raise awareness of its benefits to both individuals and organizations. Where possible, we should automatically capture credits. For example, translation efforts on https://localize.drupal.org are not currently captured in the credit system but could be automatically.
  • The credit system disincentives work on complex issues. We currently don't have a way to account for the complexity and quality of contributions; one person might have worked several weeks for just one credit, while another person might receive a credit for 10 minutes of work. We certainly see a few individuals and organizations trying to game the credit system. In the future, we should consider issuing credit data in conjunction with issue priority, patch size, number of reviews, etc. This could help incentivize people to work on larger and more important problems and save smaller issues such as coding standards improvements for new contributor sprints. Implementing a scoring system that ranks the complexity of an issue would also allow us to develop more accurate reports of contributed work.

All of this means that the actual number of contributions and contributors could be significantly higher than what we report.

Like Drupal itself, the Drupal.org credit system needs to continue to evolve. Ultimately, the credit system will only be useful when the community uses it, understands its shortcomings, and suggests constructive improvements.

A first experiment with weighing credits

As a simple experiment, I decided to weigh each credit based on the adoption of the project the credit is attributed to. For example, each contribution credit to Drupal core is given a weight of 11 because Drupal core has about 1,1 million active installations. Credits to the Webform module, which has over 400,000 installations, get a weight of 4. And credits to Drupal's Commerce project gets just 1 point as it is installed on fewer than 100,000 sites.

The idea is that these weights capture the end user impact of each contribution, but also act as a proxy for the effort required to get a change committed. Getting a change accepted in Drupal core is both more difficult and more impactful than getting a change accepted to Commerce project.

This weighting is far from perfect as it undervalues non-product contributions, and it still doesn't recognize all types of product contributions (e.g. product strategy work, product management work, release management work, etc). That said, for code contributions, it may be more accurate than a purely unweighted approach.

Top contributing individuals based on weighted credits.
The top 30 contributing individuals based on weighted Drupal.org issue credits.
Top contributing organizations based on weighted credits.
The top 30 contributing organizations based on weighted Drupal.org issue credits.

Conclusions

Our data confirms that Drupal is a vibrant community full of contributors who are constantly evolving and improving the software. It's amazing to see that just in the last year, Drupal welcomed more than 8,000 individuals contributors and over 1,100 corporate contributors. It's especially nice to see the number of reported contributions, individual contributors and organizational contributors increase year over year.

To grow and sustain Drupal, we should support those that contribute to Drupal and find ways to get those that are not contributing involved in our community. Improving diversity within Drupal is critical, and we should welcome any suggestions that encourage participation from a broader range of individuals and organizations.

WYSIWYG media embedding in Drupal 8.8

I'm excited to share that when Drupal 8.8 drops in December, Drupal's WYSIWYG editor will allow media embedding.

You may wonder: Why is that worth announcing on your blog? It's just one new button in my WYSIWYG editor..

It's a big deal because Drupal's media management has been going through a decade-long transformation. The addition of WYSIWYG integration completes the final milestone. You can read more about it on Wim's blog post.

Drupal 8.8 should ship with complete media management, which is fantastic news for site builders and content authors who have long wanted a simpler way to embed media in Drupal.

Congratulations to the Media Initiative team for this significant achievement!