Drupal is for ambitious digital experiences

What feelings does the name Drupal evoke? Perceptions vary from person to person; where one may describe it in positive terms as "powerful" and "flexible", another may describe it negatively as "complex". People describe Drupal differently not only as a result of their professional backgrounds, but also based on what they've heard and learned.

If you ask different people what Drupal is for, you'll get many different answers. This isn't a surprise because over the years, the answers to this fundamental question have evolved. Drupal started as a tool for hobbyists building community websites, but over time it has evolved to support large and sophisticated use cases.

Perception is everything

Perception is everything; it sets expectations and guides actions and inactions. We need to better communicate Drupal's identity, demonstrate its true value, and manage its perceptions and misconceptions. Words do lead to actions. Spending the time to capture what Drupal is for could energize and empower people to make better decisions when adopting, building and marketing Drupal.

Truth be told, I've been reluctant to define what Drupal is for, as it requires making trade-offs. I have feared that we would make the wrong choice or limit our growth. Over the years, it has become clear that not defining what Drupal is used for leaves more people confused even within our own community.

For example, because Drupal evolved from a simple tool for hobbyists to a more powerful digital experience platform, many people believe that Drupal is now "for the enterprise". While I agree that Drupal is a great fit for the enterprise, I personally never loved that categorization. It's not just large organizations that use Drupal. Individuals, small startups, universities, museums and non-profits can be equally ambitious in what they'd like to accomplish and Drupal can be an incredible solution for them.

Defining what Drupal is for

Rather than using "for the enterprise", I thought "for ambitious digital experiences" was a good phrase to describe what people can build using Drupal. I say "digital experiences" because I don't want to confine this definition to traditional browser-based websites. As I've stated in my Drupalcon New Orleans keynote, Drupal is used to power mobile applications, digital kiosks, conversational user experiences, and more. Today I really wanted to focus on the word "ambitious".

"Ambitious" is a good word because it aligns with the flexibility, scalability, speed and creative freedom that Drupal provides. Drupal projects may be ambitious because of the sheer scale (e.g. The Weather Channel), their security requirements (e.g. The White House), the number of sites (e.g. Johnson & Johnson manages thousands of Drupal sites), or specialized requirements of the project (e.g. the New York MTA powering digital kiosks with Drupal). Organizations are turning to Drupal because it gives them greater flexibility, better usability, deeper integrations, and faster innovation. Not all Drupal projects need these features on day one -- or needs to know about them -- but it is good to have them in case you need them later on.

"Ambitious" also aligns with our community's culture. Our industry is in constant change (responsive design, web services, social media, IoT), and we never look away. Drupal 8 was a very ambitious release; a reboot that took one-third of Drupal's lifespan to complete, but maneuvered Drupal to the right place for the future that is now coming. I have always believed that the Drupal community is ambitious, and believe that attitude remains strong in our community.

Last but not least, our adopters are also ambitious. They are using Drupal to transform their organizations digitally, leaving established business models and old business processes in the dust.

I like the position that Drupal is ambitious. Stating that Drupal is for ambitious digital experiences however is only a start. It only gives a taste of Drupal's objectives, scope, target audience and advantages. I think we'd benefit from being much more clear. I'm curious to know how you feel about the term "for ambitious digital experiences" versus "for the enterprise" versus not specifying anything. Let me know in the comments so we can figure out how to collectively change the perception of Drupal.

PS: I'm borrowing the term "ambitious" from the Ember.js community. They use the term in their tagline and slogan on their main page.

Comments

Steve Parks (not verified):

I think this is a very smart move. Drupal has long needed to focus more rather than trying to be the tool for everybody. There are many open source tools out there, and it should be about choosing the right one for the right job. The question then is - what job can Drupal be the best in the world at? It genuinely can be the best in the world for ambitious digital experiences, and arguably it already is. With Drupal 8 ready for action, after a massive evolution, this is great timing.

I know this won't please everyone, by definition, but it's a brave decision that needed to be taken, and that's what leadership is about. I raise my glass to Dries on that.

Steve Parks, Convivio

Alick Mighall (not verified):

I think sometimes, stating something as 'ambitious' might, in the UK at least, be a typically understated British way of saying 'unrealistic'.

Aspirational - or Drupal, driving aspirational digital experiences' might lessen the feeling of ambitious being unrealistic. Also, a lot of site owners, are, from a user perspective trying to exploit their audiences aspirations, so I think there's a fit there too.

Dries:

Interesting that ​ambitious​ is considered ​unrealistic​ in British English. I would say aspirational​ connotes ​unrealistic to me​. Language is interesting that way, I guess.

Alick Mighall (not verified):

Yeah, if I thought my aspirations were unrealistic I wouldn't have them! It's not that ambitious is unrealistic - but when someone replies 'sounds ambitious' to someone who's just described some lofty aim, it can often seem they are saying 'sounds unrealistic'. That might just be my take on it. In any case I like the idea of associating Drupal with something that describes the nature of the challenge, more so than I do the enterprise, because I think that will resonate with potential customers aims and objectives more closely.

Rachel Lawson (not verified):

I like it! It demonstrates, quite rightly, Drupal is the thing to use for more than the most simple projects and yet it does it without saying it is necessary to be "big" (either in terms of the client or the delivery team) to want to be ambitious.

Right, I'd better get back to my ambition project...

Ted Bowman (not verified):

I do like the term "ambitious" not only because it suggests what type of projects Drupal excels at but also what type of projects for which Drupal might not be the best fit. If you need a simple blog or very simple brochure site, Drupal might not be the best solution. I think people choosing Drupal for projects where it is not a great fit ultimately can hurt the project's reputation because these people may not have the best experience with Drupal. Of course, if you would like to learn Drupal making this type of site can be a great learning experience and it is definitely something Drupal can handle. Also with more functionality shipping in Drupal 8 core it is easier to make these types of sites without having to learn the skill of navigating the Drupal contributed module space.

As you say Drupal is also a great choice for sites where they may not need all the flexibility Drupal provides now but the project may turn ambitious later if the needs of the organization change.

Obviously picking any target audience or focus won't please everyone but it is probably a bigger problem to lack the focus and to try(and fail) to please everyone.

Pieterjan (not verified):

Drupal and Ember.js are an excellent fit for each other. Sharing the "Ambitious"-part of the tagline is perfect.

Larry Garfield (not verified):

I like it; definitely it's better than "enterprise" or "big sites" or anything like that. Drupal excels when the problem space is complex.

As Ted notes, though, does that imply that if your needs are mundane (not ambitious) then Drupal is not for you? Should we steer mundane sites away from Drupal, or rather, but not spend time making Drupal a good fit for mundane sites?

That would allow us to focus better, but also hurts the on-ramp.

Tricky problem, but remember that every time you focus on something you are not focusing on something else. Those two questions cannot be separated.

Andrej Galuf (not verified):

The term I've mostly used for Drupal is "flexible". While it does not convey the scope of the project or its technological advantage, I have mostly seen people backing it after they have realized that it really helps them solve their various problems.

I often see Drupal not as a screwdriver or a hammer, but as the swiss knife - or a sonic screwdriver, if you're british ;) Its primary advantage is in the api, fields, views, rules, bulk operations, even flexible cron, all of which allow you to build an experience that you need - be it a simple blog, an iphone app backend or a company's workhorse that handles inventory and price calculations.

Steve Purkiss (not verified):

Totally agree about the 'digital experiences' and really like 'ambitious' because if you're not ambitious about your project then you probably won't see the value of the effort it takes to get up and running on a platform such as Drupal. Doesn't mean Drupal isn't the answer - perhaps a particular distribution will fit your needs out-of-the-box, but that's not 'Drupal' as in 'core', so the message from a distro is more specific.

It may also make those people think about their projects and perhaps decide their project _is_ ambitious and so make a more informed decision to choose Drupal.

Fab stuff Dries, I've a feeling I'll be saying 'Ambitious Digital Experiences' quite a lot now ;) #earworm

Dave Ingram (not verified):

The closer I've gotten to Ember.js, the more I've seen parallels between both the community and the mission of the software and Drupal's. "Ambitious" describes them both well to me. I also agree with both Larry and Ted that its focus away from the "mundane" site is an advantage and seems like the right focus. You can have a site that's small and starts simple, but if you have big plans for it, Drupal is a great fit. If all it will ever be is a blog, you can of course use Drupal if you like, but it may not be the best fit.

Pascal (not verified):

I like "Ambitious" as a conversation starter. It allows us to sell Drupal for more than "just a website". Drupal allows organizations to integrate with whatever API there is, you can use it headless, etc. etc. I often use the word future-proof.

How does Ambitious sound when you compare with Drupal's competitors? Eg. Wordpress, Sitecore, others? "Aren't all platforms ambitious?" is a question we can expect when trying to sell Drupal.

Anthony Cartmell (not verified):

I like the word "sophisticated" - meaning complicated or complex but in a good, positive, way. The word also has a sense of "fashionable" or "up-to-date", in the UK at least.

I tend to agree with Alick that "ambitious" could be taken to be rather close to "over-ambitious" - i.e. "likely to fail".

Ambitious also sounds as though "hard work" has to be involved: while this is true to a certain extent when learning Drupal for the first time, I would say that with some experience you can build quite sophisticated web applications with Drupal easily - no specific ambition required.

Perhaps there is a difference between aspirational Americans and us often-cynical Britons when we talk of "ambition"!

Joe Bennett (not verified):

I used Drupal several years ago and with a new opportunity I have come back to it -- so I'm newish again. I think you're right, words matter a lot and I often struggle when trying to explain complex technology both to the experienced and unexperienced alike. I think too often various web dev communities anthropomorphize the technology stack or confuse the dev community or individual developer intentions with the stack itself. I appreciate that you underlined "ambition" as a trait of the Drupal community in this post. So while the slogan "Drupal is for ambitious digital experiences" is catchy, for me it leaves out the core characteristic of the solution itself and is more descriptive of the developers or users of the solution. Perhaps a small perspective change and something a little more direct that covers both the solution and the community ... "Drupal is a flexible content management system for ambitious people".

I also like that ambition carries with it an element of possible failure and hard work. Ambitious people can and often do fail but they get up and try again.

Great post.

Amir Taiar (not verified):

I can see how ambitious also describe the type of organization and the relationship between brands and the digital path they choose. I keep saying that website must keep growing with the organization. Always. There for Drupal is a great solution even for small, but ambitious business!

From my experience, most of our clients grow with us, there website keep evolving with the web and Drupal never stood on there way, preventing them from being ambitious. The opposite is true and my past show me that business which isn't reaching his goals will find Drupal too much for him to maintain. As you describe well "Drupal evolved from a simple tool for hobbyists to a more powerful digital experience platform" and it seems like it's just started.

Even though, I still think ambitious isn't the perfect word since after all it describe the first step, more in the consciousness area which by most cases will lead to great actions, still not always. Drupal 8 is indeed a puzzle of great actions born from ambitious and brave community!

JonasRMuc (not verified):

"Ambitious digital experiences".

I'm sorry, but that is a little too vague for me. I can still remember the time I first heard/read about Drupal 1.5 years ago:

I am not a CMS or framework expert and now only have a small D8 charity site, but for me this was more than a simple investment, it's everything that is at stakes.

I chose Drupal because of it's flexible way of trying things (extensibility/modules), strict central process (drupal.org), and integration of reality validated modules into the structurally clean, modular core. Another very important point was the momentum (is the user base/community strong and resilient enough for change; independence from single vendors or companies): is my investment secure? Is it stable AND flexible enough? Is it "big" enough to persist through time?

Questions I asked myself:
- Can e.g. Facebook buy WordPress? (yes). Can Facebook buy Drupal? (no).
- How big/good is the community? (big and good (read, very transparent))
- What is the market share of Drupal? (third, that might be enough).
- What are reference customers? (very good ones, impressive).
- What is adoption of new versions? (Seems to be good, but I was unsure)
- How is leadership organized? (Around founder and meritocracy, with good org structure)
- How is org structure organized? (very well and transparent)
- How is succession of leadership organized? (I don't know, but org good start)
- Is is sustainable? Does it accumulate market share but neglect structure/future? (no)
- Is it too bold/ambitious and misses time to market or market share? (no)
- How can I contribute in a way that makes sense (levels, I will find one).

So for me, it was a very delicate judgement with very incomplete knowledge about proven past solutions, current capabilities and future long term flexible momentum. (Among other considerations)

I cannot imagine a single buzzphrase capturing this motivation, but I hope at least, that it helps to validate the suggested one a little bit.

Dries:

A tagline like "Drupal is for ambitious digital experiences" is just meant to be a short, powerful phrase that summarizes Drupal's tone, target audience and ambition. It's a super short directional statement that provides someone a sense of what Drupal is about within one second. It's not a detailed strategy document that talks about differentiators, target audience, governance, market position, adoption risks, etc. As you wrote, that can't be done in a single tagline. In other words, the tagline wasn't meant to answer your questions.

Oh, and thanks for using Drupal 8 for your ambitious charity. ;-)

Dean Flory (not verified):

I think "ambitious" would likely make many believe they'd need to throw significant resources into any Drupal project (and they'd be right unless you're not using any contrib modules).

I'd go with a verb like "elevating" rather than an adjective like "ambitious".

Django Beatty (not verified):

Agree that there seems to be an unhelpful confusion between 'fit for enterprise' and 'fit _only_ for enterprise'. Personally I'd be inclined to focus on the fact that Drupal is unusually flexible and also capable in a wide variety of situations (making it a great fit as a single broad platform for organisations with very widely varying needs from microsites to commerce).

I think the reason for that is Drupal has been unusually sitting in the space between a product and a framework, and so the implementation work involved tends to be more value producing rather than commodity work that a lower level framework requires (e.g. reinventing the lost password wheel, reinventing form UX). As such it could be compared at some level to something like Salesforce, which has become a swiss army knife for business systems.

I think it's likely we underplay the fact that Drupal scales in terms of solution architecture - and that means scaling down as well as up. For example, why are there many large organisations who use WordPress for their simpler sites and Drupal for their more complex sites? I think a part of the promise of Salesforce which has made it so successful is the idea that you can start off simple and then grow to adapt to your needs.

Dries:

Well said, Django! Drupal's flexibility and modular architecture make Drupal one of the few (only?) solutions that can scale from very small to extremely large *and* offer the depth and breadth of functionality to support thousands of different use cases. Drupal sites can span a wide range of functionality; from blogs, to marketing microsites, community sites, corporate intranets, e-commerce sites, support sites, headless content repository, and more. We have incredible success stories for each of these use cases.

Steve Purkiss (not verified):

Being able to offer integrated solution is key - and one of the reasons I'm still here ;)

I may have mentioned once or thrice before that I worked for RemoteApps back in the dotcom daze and we were the first to create modular web apps; we were put into the exact same quadrant as Drupal/Acquia have been and we spent a lot of time and money working out exactly what it was we had built. We had modules covering the three C's - Content, Collaboration, and Commerce, and we had a web interface called TeamView where you could create your own content types etc...

We won contracts over suppliers like PWC & products like Interwoven etc. because we could provide everything from configuring these generic modules whereas our competition would just list the features of a number of products & charge for the licenses for each & then for integration of those.

I feel a lot is being made of Drupal's benefit of integrating with external apps / SAAS solutions, and there sure is a whole heap of cash available for providing those integrations, however I believe there's a huge opportunity to provide many of these solutions using Drupal. CRM is one example - I've been supporting the efforts of the Party module (now 'decoupled_auth' in D8) since I first met yannoboi/andrewbelcher/yautja_cetanu team at my first DrupalCamp in Cambridge a few years back, I believe what they're building is going to disrupt the CRM industry. Out-of-the-box Drupal, with views etc. is almost a CRM system - one of my clients EndersAnalysis is super-happy after we changed them from SugarCRM, saying "Much more flexible and customisable. Much more integrated with our other systems, i.e. our website. I’m certainly recommending this solution to anyone who asks." - it's so good they don't even realise it *is* their website, well, system ;)

Key for this to take off is creating more polished apps/distros - personally I think this is where emerging countries could gain a huge advantage as they have the resources, what they need IMHO is more of a sense of understanding of ownership - that the software commons is something owned by everyone, all of us, it's our/everyone's software - of course created & benevolently dictated over by Dries, however I feel he also sees the *much* larger picture that many do not see right now.

Shortly after I was made redundant from RemoteApps in 2001 the advert for our integration into Dreamweaver (so you could drag & drop functionality like blogs, forums, etc.) came out as it had already been booked in & print runned. Funny to think we're only now 15 years later back to a similar point in technology innovation when it comes to modular web app platforms - luckily this time it's Open Source, and not J2EE!

Thanks again Dries, you rock ;)

Sunni (not verified):

I love it. I simply love it. My body felt the energy of that word, an energy I associate with Drupal. It immediately resonated with my perception, my belief about Drupal -- that it is a framework on steroids that gives you total creative/innovative freedom. It's not out-of-the-box Ikea-ware. Doing big stuff requires both skill and an emotional state of can-do, particularly on the part of us folks that wandered over the gravel road from vanilla editors for html sites to xhtml to css to content editors. I somehow managed to learn how to read php and javascript during that time as I am a digger. I'm teachable. But I won't claim the awesome title of coder. I can do a few lines and tweak code here and there, but sitting down and writing a complete set of instructions...nope, not yet. So Drupal required a mental commitment, a determination, a belief you can get it because it was created by other humans, right? Amibition is what drove me to go through the embarassment and kick-in-my-pride that came while learning it and ambitious sites is what it can build. That is what separates it from others in its category. You don't want the WP business folks in developer coats to flood Drupal. They don't need it. So let 'em know right at the get-go, I say.

I went from Drupal to WordPress. Gawd. What a culture shock. What a difference in experience. I had worked so d*mn hard mastering Drupal to build, can you believe, a university website as my first build that when someone asked me to build in WP, I took one look and built the site without even looking at any documentation. Zero! Drupal made me smart. :-)

Yes, yes, ambitious rocks.