Drupal 2009 retrospective and 2010 predictions

It's that time again. Time to look back at 2009, and to look forward to 2010.

In my 2009 predictions for Drupal, I was pretty much spot on — except for the Drupal 7 release date. I predicted that the two most exciting features in Drupal 7 core would be custom content types and radical improvements in usability, that a number of important contributed modules would move into core, and that core would embrace the semantic web. I hoped that our community remained strong, and it did. Our community is our biggest asset and Drupal 7 wll be our best release yet, and I'm very proud of both. We accomplished much by working together in 2009, and I'm very confident of what we can — and will — do in 2010.

On a personal level, 2009 was a very busy Drupal year. I posted 3,269 comments on drupal.org (up from 1758 comments in 2008), and committed 1,567 patches (up from 1,031 patches in 2008). I accepted many more speaking engagements that evangelize our work, wrote more blog posts (215 blog post in 2009, up from 183 in 2008), and more.

My two personal Drupal highlights for 2009 include Whitehouse.gov switching to Drupal and the automated testing that we deployed on drupal.org. In fact, having now experienced its benefits, I'm not sure how we ever developed without automated testing in the past. The current Drupal 7 development snapshot feels more stable than the initial Drupal 6.0 release (minus obvious exceptions like no working upgrade path). Automated testing improved our development velocity as we committed many more core patches than any previous year. Other highlights include the many Drupal books that were published, and of course, the first Drupal tattoo — both strong proof that Drupal is here to stay (or, at least, that tattoo is ;-)).

Drupal cartoon
© Rob Cottingham

My personal low for Drupal in 2009 is that we didn't get the Drupal.org redesign implemented — fortunately, we have that back on the fast lane.

2009 was also the year that Drupal started to get noticed by CIOs as illustrated by the fact that Gartner put Drupal in the visionaries quadrant and the number of Fortune 500 companies that started using Drupal. While Drupal grew in all dimensions, it probably saw the most relative growth within the enterprise. I think this is part of a bigger trend, because it feels like Open Source became almost generally accepted in 2009. Many more businesses realized that Open Source is a viable alternative, and as a result, I don't recall many Open Source "battles" in 2009 like those of the past. It is a little sad because I enjoyed fighting the good fight, and because it provided a healthy competitive edge. Reality is that, for the most part, we have won the Open Source battle. Open Source matters more every day and is changing the software industry — already Microsoft is working on an Open Source blogging platform. These industry changes will also likely reflect, and even change, the Drupal ecosystem. In the years to come, expect competing software vendors to adopt our Open Source techniques and licenses, and expect large consulting organizations to have their own Drupal teams.

While we didn't see a major Drupal release in 2009, it was a great year nonetheless. We've used 2009 to position ourselves for continued success in 2010 and beyond. In 2010, I predict a number of stars will align: (i) the release of Drupal 7, (ii) the launch of the new Drupal.org redesign, (iii) at least a dozen of specialized Drupal distributions gaining momentum, (iv) test-driven development for contributed modules and (v) Acquia's Drupal Gardens and Buzzr (but only if they have a free tier) that will positively impact Drupal adoption. All of these initiatives are in different stages of development, but I believe there's a big chance that their combination will translate into breakout growth by the end of 2010. It also implies that 2010 will see some big changes, which is never easy.

Going forward, it is important we keep up with the larger market, which is evolving faster and faster with dozens of cool new services and APIs being launched almost every day. As a large Open Source community, we are better positioned to keep up than any proprietary vendor. We have many more people contributing to Drupal than proprietary vendors would ever be able to hire. However, proprietary vendors excel at focus and execution. There is nothing we can't do, but it is important that we're focused on the right things, and that we continue to be execution-driven. Let's remember our oldest mantra: "Talk is silver, code is gold".

As people start to build more products on top of Drupal, it is important that Drupal doesn't get in the way, and that it provides the flexibility and ease of customization that Drupal site builders demand. The winning platform will be the easiest platform to build on, not necessarily the platform that has the most flexibility. Over-generalization hurts both discoverability and adoption. Drupal's power vs. flexibility vs. ease of use is a tough balance to manage, but in general, our success in this balance has created Drupal's success. Our ability to maintain that balance is key, however, I hope and predict that for Drupal 8, we'll be very focused on improving the developer experience and lowering the barriers to participation (while maintaining Drupal's power and flexibility).

In general, I think content management systems have matured to a point where, for most people, they have relatively few differentiators at their core. That is why user experience is becoming perhaps the most important differentiator for non-niche users. The Drupal 7 usability project was a bold move but I hope we learned that bold moves aren't all that disruptive as they sometimes appear at the beginning. As Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister, put it: "Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.". I hope that, like 2009, we all continue to focus on user experience in 2010 because the single biggest barrier to the success of Drupal will continue to be ease of use as an end-user tool.

Mentally, it feels like we've surpassed Joomla! already, but it will take a number of years for that to trickle down and sink in, and even longer for the numbers to start reflecting that. I don't think we'll surpass WordPress any time soon, but I do think WordPress will continue to approach us from the bottom up. But, as Open Source goes mainstream, it won't matter all that much. In 2010, we'll start to compete against proprietary vendors, some of which will start to adopt Open Source strategies themselves. If they succeed, it could change the game because they'll bring focus and execution on top of the Open Source value proposition. Whatever happens, we'll benefit from the extra competition in 2010.

Thanks for 2009! It's been an honor to be a part of the Drupal project, and it remains so today. We have plenty of work to do in 2010 so let's all focus on making change happen.