Steve Purkiss's picture

Drupal Association Election 2013: Why I am withdrawing my candidacy, and who I'll be voting for


It is that time of year again when the Drupal community (1/4 of a million people last time were eligible as they had logged into their drupal.org account at least once in the year previous, although only 655 voted, roughly 0.25%) have the opportunity to choose who sits on the Board of Directors of the Drupal Association, a U.S.-based educational non-profit organization that tasks itself with fostering and supporting the Drupal software project, the community and its growth.

Well, I say that time of year again, but actually the first of these community elections, where Donna Benjamin and I were voted in, happened less than a year ago back in February. The election has been brought forward in order to align the yearly goal-setting which was made before we were elected, so we had no say over the 2012 goals, and however strange it feels as we haven't had our full year to show what we have done before the community is asked to vote again, I believe we can use this to our advantage.

For a period of a few months, the Drupal Association will potentially have four community-elected Directors, which is one of the reasons I've decided to withdraw my candidacy for re-election. If I am re-elected, we will only have three, going back to two in February 2013 when Donna's and my terms finish. Why is this so important? Read on...

Today's Board

At the moment there are twelve seats on the Board. Two are empty, and one is nearly or is free as it is currently held by someone who had made it clear they couldn't make the meetings - I've certainly never met nor heard from them. That leaves us with seven - Dries Buytaert, Danese Cooper, Angela Byron (webchick), Tiffany Farriss, Jeff Walpole, Vesa Palmu, and Cary Gordon. These elections are for Donna and my positions, which only last a year, and you are eligible to vote if you have an account on drupal.org, logged in during the past 12 months, and created your account before 31 August 2012 when the election was announced. The remaining three positions are to be chosen using a nominating committee.

As for the make-up of the Board, Dries and webchick are both Acquia; Danese is Open Source Strategist for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and on Board of Open Source Initiative; Tiffany runs Palantir.net along with husband George DeMet; Jeff runs Phase2 Technology; Vesa runs the recently formed Wunderkraut (previously four companies); and Cary Gordon, who runs the Cherry Hill Company - "a Los Angeles based boutique system integration and development shop serving libraries, education, non-profits and NGOs", has history in running many, large, music concerts, and used to be Events Director for the Association.

Donna runs a small Drupal business in Australia, and I have been freelancing building web sites for the past eleven years. The last seven of those I have been focusing on Drupal, and the last few of those years I have been trying to build a business as building web sites myself doesn't fill me with enjoyment - it is something which paid the rent after I was made redundant back in the dotcom days where I was consulting on, and winning, web site projects which had six figure budgets.

Then there is also an Advisory Board, although my only contact with them personally was during DrupalCon Denver where we had a strategy session together late in the evening after the open Board meeting - our Board meeting ran late during DrupalCon Munich so at 9.20pm it was decided to can the planned strategy session.

Learning Drupal the Hard Way

In order for this story to make sense, I have to delve into some history. I'd love not to have to, and believe it or not I've tried to make it as brief as possible.

What makes me get up in the morning and work late into the night is creating value by connecting people with people, people with technology, and technology with technology - after all, my core process is "fostering connections". I discover who and/or what needs to be connected for mutual benefit, I connect, I check the connection is working, then I go elsewhere and rinse and repeat.

organic/open source cafe/coworking concept

In 2005 after a few years of helping people on the business network Ecademy find out more about free software, for free, I came up with a concept of how I could make money out of my talents as a connector, and in turn others could make a living out of whatever their talents were, simply by raising the intangible free software into the tangible world via a scalable variation on coworking spaces, which were beginning to crop up at the time. I coined the rather long title of Organic Open Source Cafe Coworking Concept and was so sure that everyone else would "get" the idea they would be throwing money at me to build them all over the world!

I had a mentor through Ecademy at the time, and one particular day when I was stressed because no-one was throwing pots of money in my direction, he recommended I needed a break. He was doing a talk in Toronto that weekend, so I thought where better to chill out than above the clouds, and promptly booked my tickets. Ecademy itself is a Drupal site, however I wasn't using Drupal myself (I had settled on XOOPS after working my way through the *nukes) and had the same view of Drupal as many still do - I thought it was just too damned hard to even bother taking a look.

I loved the "go for it" attitude in Toronto and decided to return home, pack up, and come back to Canada for a while, see if anyone there would throw me pots of money. The first few months were fantastic and I met many luminaries of Free Culture, including Lawrence Lessig (creator of Creative Commons), Eben Moglen (founder of the Software Freedom Law Centre), and John Terpstra (co-founder of the Samba project). We spoke at length about my concept and got some great responses and feedback. I then met a girl who I didn't realise hadn't been on "meds" for three years, in fact I didn't even know what "meds" were.

Without getting into the ins-and-outs, let's just say it didn't get much better from hereon in, apart from one thing which happened which was one of the XOOPS websites I made for a client, the now defunct LinuxVAR.co.uk, was relaunched in Drupal, which really pissed me off, so I finally cracked open Drupal and was hooked straight away - I couldn't understand why they weren't shouting about how good it was!

At the time I couldn't be seen to be interacting with anyone else, so I learned Drupal just by downloading modules and reading the code. I was quite adept to this as when I first learned how to code at the age of nine I spent most of my time in my bedroom on the computer playing around with code. I couldn't control my parents arguing, but I could control this amazing virtual world I had in front of my eyes. Having spent my childhood buying floppy disks of Public Domain software pre-Internet, I didn't know there was this whole "community" side to it, but I did realise soon that it could do everything the software I had previously been selling for £70k+ per licence, and all for Free.

Thanks to a good friend, I finally managed to "escape" the bad relationship and return back to the UK. I ended up going bankrupt a few months later, but shortly before that I tried my first piece of community interaction, I posted a little module I'd written for displaying your LinkedIn profile in a box. Five and half years on, still no response. OK, so it was probably posted in the wrong place, but how was I supposed to know?

After bankruptcy I picked myself up again and managed to build a good business because I knew Drupal. A year later I managed to pick up a great project for Mazda, and I used that money to move myself down to Brighton where I soon set up a local Drupal user group, and last weekend we had our second successful DrupalCamp, with everyone from career-changers to schools, charities, and multinational corporates turning up and joining in. The rest is history.

Drupal's Issues

Although I've been in the Drupal world for many years, I still feel like an outsider sometimes, and I know many others feel the same - we have the Drupal "echo chamber". I remember once picking up webchick on a point during DrupalCon Denver when she said "100% of the community want this function on drupal.org" - I pointed out to webchick that it was actually "everyone you asked", as I'd asked everyone in the Drupal party the previous night and none of them even knew there was anything going on with drupal.org. Many people don't even know drupal.org is there or what it does.

Even when I'm lucky enough to be sitting in the back of a car with UID1 himself (although I learned recently that he was actually UID2 originally as it was his mate who installed Drupal first before he asked to swap UIDs!). Those who submitted code seemed to be the ones who were looked after the most, but I know from my previous experience of many years working in software houses that it takes more than coders and designers to make a successful project, it takes project managers, sales people, marketers, etc. to provide an all-round offering. If you leave geeks to do marketing they will do their best, but a better option is to get them connected to people who are experts in their field.

The Simple Solution

Drupal wasn't, and isn't built by money, it is built by people with passion. And some with money, no doubt, but the extremely long tail of the Drupal community is what makes it work and keep on growing. At the moment that works with code, but it doesn't successfully reach out to many non-code focused people. Marketing people, sales, project managers, etc. all mostly work outside the issue queues and in companies - they still work in a proprietary way, and that doesn't scale. The trouble is, if it's not on drupal.org, it's not on the same system which successfully created the software and the coding community.

The result of this is we've made a wonderful modular piece of software, we just haven't built the modular business model on top of it yet.

This is what we are beginning to fix with DrupalBAM - Branding and Marketing Committee. This is not a committee to create any chains of command, it is simply to put a system in place so those who want to join in and contribute to the project can. As webchick said during the Governance BoF in Munich:

"Things like committees and charters, they're scary words, even though it's not that scary, it's just putting people where an individual used to be in a lot of cases, or putting five people where a hundred people used to be"

We are essentially open sourcing Drupal's branding and marketing processes. This means working on big ideas, but also attending to the details at the same time, like helping get through the marketing-related issue queues. Because we are now "on the system", we can do things in parallel, and anyone is free to join in and help. It is going to take time for people to get onto the system and used to what little flexibility we have on the current system, but already it is working and we are seeing results.

As more people use the system, more issues will be resolved, more different ideas will be shared, the easier Drupal and *.drupal.org will become to use, and we will have a more rounded and fair community, with more people having an input, and more people helping out.

At the moment people are shouting "just do it" but not telling people what they want them to do, and even when they do they seem to make it as hard as possible to do. The amount of times I've looked at issue queues and run away, yet within five minutes of talking to someone it all became clear - that isn't scalable quickly though, unless we all start making short video tutorials, but better to make it easier in the first place to join in. As Jared Spool said in his DrupalCon keynote, you either have to raise the level of knowledge of your users or lower the complexity of your software.

Much work had been done on marketing before, but in many different places and having many of the same conversations - I know because I spent a ton of money going around as many Drupal events as I could in order to learn as much as I could about the business side of things as I have had little help from "official" bodies who are supposed to provide support and help for those who want to build a business, but the Drupal CXO people were all sharing ideas, and I was listening intently.

Why we need more representation on the Board

When I could finally afford to go to my first DrupalCon it was only a couple of years ago in Copenhagen. I had just been to an event here in Brighton entitled "Connecting Innovation" where Ken Thompson did a workshop and a talk on "Virtual Enterprise Networks". I read the book and the model Ken had created and used with clients including NASA seemed to match pretty much how the Drupal community looked to me - lots of companies, freelancers, and people across the world all coming together to create something bigger than the constituent parts.

I was really excited as I'd spoken to many people who had trouble finding work even though I kept hearing of this "Drupal Talent Gap", and the only way to get work seemed to be either be great at business, or work for a company. For many, Drupal is about Freedom, and the thought of doing a 9-5 is pretty abhorrent to many I spoke to. Drupal is also different in that the person you want to help you could be the opposite side of the world, it's such a big project it's impossible to know everything about it.

As I mentioned in my previous nomination back in February, I saw someone I knew was on the Drupal Association Board and asked if there was anyone I could speak to about this method which meant we could all collaborate on the business side only to get a response of "They're all very busy working for very large corporations", which of course threw me a bit. It didn't give me a great impression of the Drupal Association, and instead of pursuing that, I spent the next eighteen months working out the starting point for this so I could do it myself.

Eventually I worked out the first and most important part was to create a live skills heatmap so we could see who's available where and when, and what skills they have. That can be companies and individuals, and would enable us to work more like the film industry does when they come together to produce a film. It also mimics the natural world much more, for example starlings where no one single one knows the whole journey but together they do.

I began this year pursuing this and it was my intention to go round the events so I could talk to potential members and clients. It didn't turn out quite like that because at the second event, CXO Process event in Amsterdam, I bumped into Vesa Palmu and upon asking him about the elections which were going on he said there had only been a couple of people nominate themselves. After my previous experience with the DA not wanting to talk to me I thought "Well, they would have to if I was on the Board, right?" and as it was deadline that night I decided to nominate myself. Amsterdam can be trouble sometimes!

The next day a Drupal friend had made me a graphic "Vote Steve!" image and within a week I was voted in. I got a fair amount of backlash for the "Vote Steve!" thing, but I'd personally never heard of an election without a campaign, and at the time it seemed like a bit of fun. I'd helped many people out over the years with Drupal, and well-known in the community, and as it was a community position I felt "well, if I didn't have a community of supporters, I wouldn't really be a good representation of the community, would I?". Sure, we want people from under-represented countries, but as mentioned above, we have three further seats on the Board available which could help there, plus we could always consider opening up more seats.

It was a strange start to my Directorship, but within a month or two we had already managed to take the work we'd been doing on marketing and with the help of the Board we created the committee and charter. Ben Finklea was chosen to head it up as he had 'made it happen' in Denver at the marketing BoF, and whilst others had done much groundwork before, it was Ben who took the lead over the final hurdle and got everything and everyone in place to make it happen.

Admittedly I went into the Board with guns-a-blazing, however I realise many issues arise due to lack of, or no communication, and have grown to highly respect each and every person on the board. They have all made remarkable contributions to the Drupal project, and we have a wonderful opportunity to broaden the reach of the Board and we should be focusing on that.

Looking to the Future

DrupalBAM is just one solution, we need to focus on improving our own communication tools. We seem to have to use a different web conferencing each week - when this is such an integral part of how we collaborate it is essential that we invest in our own, free and open source, scalable systems. I've started a discussion on improving web conferencing tools if it's something you're interested in.

Biggest of all IMHO is helping move the Commons 3 project along and get it onto gdo so "normal" people can collaborate easier. There's some prototypes here and I believe Acquia are helping, but we shouldn't always look at other people to help, we need to work out ways to fund these sorts of initiatives ourselves and share the load.

The Drupal Association needs to focus on improving the tools we use, and working on stuff which a business couldn't necessarily make money out of but is of great use to the community. There is one candidate who is on the infrastructure team, and although I thought at first that wouldn't be a good fit, I'm actually thinking it might be the perfect fit - providing we don't just focus on the devs but the community as a whole - I'm sure that's their plan anyway.

Looking Even Further into the Future

The trouble with everything being on *.drupal.org is that then provides one central point of failure, one point of control. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, so it's something we will need to look at and try to solve. Exploring possibilities of the federated web is where we should be looking to next, but hey, let's get past this period of growth first before we worry too much about that.

Finally - Why?

Because if we don't massively and quickly improve our communication both internal and external, we may end up thinking the Drupal Association is something like this:

We have something special here with Drupal. My most memorable moment is at an OpenAtrium BoF in Chicago when most people were from universities and government institutions, but there was one guy sitting next to me who was built like a brick s******e - I asked him what he did and he said he helped prisoners on their 12 step programme when they come out of prison - he'd just downloaded OpenAtrium and was using it, thought he'd pay his few hundred dollars and come along to DrupalCon to find out what else he could do with it.

Drupal changes lives for the better, let's not lose that by voting in people based on whether we like them or not - read through their nominations and think about how they can help us grow and help us navigate safely across the chasm from innovators to early adopters and get in ship-shape ready for Drupal 8, which in real terms is not that far away when you consider how much catching up we have to do in certain areas. A manual process needs to be backed up with systems in order to scale.

When I decided to nominate myself for re-election it was because I didn't know who was going to put themselves up for nomination, now I am happy that there are many there who have far much more experience, passion, and energy than me to do what is needed in order to move successfully forward through the launch of Drupal 8.

These last few months have been an incredible journey, but it has cost me much in terms of cash and health. My 71 year old mother who has been through many illnesses was in hospital yesterday as cancer has spread to her other breast. She's out now and recovering, but again it is a reminder to me that life is short and I need to focus on getting my own life in shape and be happy again, and perhaps one day find or make a bucket of money so I can build a network of community spaces as I mentioned above ( offers of help welcome ;).

I will still be a Director until Feb 2013 unless I get chucked off ;) I hope you choose our new Board members wisely - I'm sure you all will, especially if you managed to get this far ;)

BTW, Vote Matthew Saunders, he has by far the most appropriate experience along with the passion to see it through and will serve us well. As for the others, well, I already mentioned the infrastructure side. Other than that, look at who's ideas are scalable, we have less than a year until the potential release of Drupal 8.

Best,

Stephen B. Purkiss

Steve Purkiss's picture

Council web team join in Digital Festival fun as Brighton hosts its second Drupal Open Source Camp this weekend

Members of Brighton and Hove City Council's web team will be joining over 70 'Drupalers' this weekend for sessions and workshops presented by other members of the Drupal community. The council are currently migrating their website over to Drupal, an Open Source platform for building websites and applications which runs over 2% of the web, everything from Data.gov.uk to The White House website.

Steve Purkiss, local Drupal Trainer and Consultant, is organising the weekend's free line-up of activities along with other members of the local group. Steve founded the Brighton Area Drupal Association and was recently elected Director of the US-based nonprofit Drupal Association in their first ever community elections. Steve helped oversee the council's migration to Drupal and remarked:

"It is great to see the council and many other local enterprises adopt Drupal as their open platform of choice for building web sites and applications. Creating immersive web experiences and making the most of the latest technology requires continual innovation and by working to a common goal on a common, free, and open source project, we affect the bottom line and innovate faster.

Drupal's culture of helping others as well as ourselves fosters great communities, and creates more jobs and opportunities for local people and suppliers. Its motto 'Come for the code, stay for the community', really shines through on a weekend like this, we welcome anyone to come along and see it in action for themselves!"

Drupal is one of the largest Open Source communities and many 'DrupalCamps' are held around the world every week, providing space for not only sessions and learning, but also act as 'pop-up' co-working spaces where those involved with the project get together and work on improving the software, as well as working on non-code areas such as organising and tidying up case studies for the http://drupal.org web site.

With Open Studios on Friday 14th September; fifteen sessions over two tracks covering business, beginner, and more advanced topics on Saturday 15th; and an un-conference style day on Sunday 16th where attendees host their own sessions on topics of interest, there are plenty of opportunities to discover more about Drupal and see just what it is that makes this open source project such a resounding success.

For further information and free tickets to the weekend's events visit http://BADCampUK.net

Steve Purkiss's picture

Open Sourcing Drupal's Branding & Marketing Processes

(first pushlished earlier today on What I Drupaled Today)

 

The aim of the Branding & Marketing group is to bring together the efforts of people from around the world who have been to various marketing BoFs, meetings, etc. and want to be as involved in the work they do with regards for Drupal as the people who write code by using the system that's been built up over the last twelfty years.

Drupal is a strong brand which is looked after by the community, and not just about what a few people who can make a certain meeting at a certain time in a certain place think it is. It is my understanding that the Drupal Association is there to support the community as a whole, and not just down to those who know how the system works. Please do comment and let me know what you think.

The Drupal brand and values are detailed here, from work Mark Boulton & others did:

http://drupal.org/node/1164620

Drupal's values of openness are key to the success of the project, and the Drupal Association is tasked with looking after that brand for the current trademark owner, Dries.

Over at the Marketing Drupal group (http://groups.drupal.org/marketing-drupal) we are beginning to open source the Drupal marketing process. We have been through all the necessary official measures in order to ensure the longevity of our work and we are very thankful to those who have put in so much work just so we could get even this far.

It is my personal belief that we have all we need now to start to address some of the imbalances we see in this community currently - Drupal is and never has been just about what one person thinks, it's about one person (you, me, I, them, etc.) listening to the rest of the community and encouraging those who are doing Good Things in order to foster and grow the community as a whole.

I'm working out how to customise a group homepage (tvn pointed me to http://drupal.org/node/1187094) so we can begin to make things easier for many more people who are already in our community and contributing to become part of the system here and welcome them with open arms.

Please do come and join us whatever your skills and make it happen for both sides of our community and let's move forward:

http://groups.drupal.org/marketing-drupal

I know this sounds preachy, but we have little time to bikeshed - reminds me of the Atari Jaguar, the first 64-bit games machine that not many people have heard of - great tech but didn't get the deals. Let's not do that, right? Right!

Come and support, have your say in the openness of Drupal's Marketing and let's get rid of the cliff-hanging forever, Drupal r0cks! :D

Steve Purkiss's picture

On Drupal, Standardisation, and the creation of Time Zones

 

Thanks to all who supported me in the recent Drupal Association elections and I apologise for not keeping you all up-to-date as often as I would like. Whilst I am formulating another update, attached below is an article I wrote for a magazine however it is too long for it but I can't bring myself to summarise further what I feel is an important story to tell. Let me know what you think in the comments if you like.

Drupal Time
 
Steve Purkiss, Free Software Advocate, founder of the Brighton Drupal group, and recently elected  board member of the Drupal Association, on the software which powers over 2% of the web
 
Throughout history, humans have used standardisation in order to improve universal technical communication and mutual understanding, facilitate exchange of good and services, remove technical barriers to trade, and improve transfer of technologies.
 
For example, in 1840 the Great Western Railway introduced Railway Time which led to the creation of Time Zones. Previously each region had their own local time but as the railway network grew, timetables became confusing and there were increased numbers of accidents and near misses. Fast-forward to Tim Berners-Lee and the creation of the World Wide Web we can see that creating some well-defined points of reference to “hook” on which we can all freely make use of is sometimes a very Good Thing to aim for.
 
Now we have the Web, we want to do things with it. Back in 2000, Dries Buytaert wanted a news site with a web board. He was at the University of Antwerp and decided to share the costly permanent Internet connection with his friends, and wanted a way of leaving notes on the status of the network, to announce when dinner was, or to share some noteworthy news item. After graduation they wanted to keep in touch so put the site online and for the first time it had a name, drop.org after Dries made a typo to see if the name “dorp.org” was available – “Dorp” is Dutch for “village”, which seemed fitting at the time. Once drop.org was established on the Web, its audience changed as the members began talking about new web technologies, such as moderation, syndication, rating, and distributed authentication. Drop.org slowly turned into a personal experimentation environment, driven by the discussions and flow of ideas. The discussions about these web technologies were tried out on drop.org itself as new additions to the software running the site.
 
It was only later, in January 2001, that Dries decided to release the software behind drop.org as “Drupal”. The purpose was to enable others to use and extend the experimentation platform so that more people could explore new paths for development. The name Drupal, pronounced “droo-puhl”, derives from the English pronunciation of the Dutch word “druppel”, which means “drop”. Drupal gained in popularity, and with high-profile sites such as the White House, The Economist, The Post Office, and data.gov.uk using Drupal; and companies such as Turner Broadcasting and ITV standardising on Drupal as a platform, Drupal.org's homepage reports that currently 768,813 people in 228 countries speaking 181 languages power the software and its 14,693 freely available community contributed modules. 
 
Drupal offers a sophisticated programming interface for developers, however no programming skills are required for basic website installation and administration. If you don't believe me on the latter point, hop on over to http://drupalgardens.com, create a free hosted Drupal site and I'll see you back here in a few seconds. OK? Well, add to that a vast catalogue of modules available covering everything from content management through to commerce and collaboration and you have the perfect platform which is poised to “standardise” web application so we can all benefit in a vast amount of ways standardisation provides other than the immediately obvious ones, right? Well, not quite.
 
“WordPress has a far larger community and it's so much easier to use, so why not standardise on that?” I hear a couple of you say. “I'd rather code an app in Ruby and have it all lean and elegant” I hear one or two others mutter. These are all fine viewpoints, and, after all – not everyone takes the train, sometimes people choose to drive in a car instead. The trouble is, sometimes I get the feeling people are having custom cars built for every journey, they are having to personally pay for the upkeep of these custom machines and the railway with the ability to buy a relatively cheap ticket to any one or all of those exciting destinations is just some far-fetched fantasy that's going to put all the blacksmiths out of work if and when it comes along. 
 
WordPress is a great platform, but it has limitations. Its architecture isn't as flexible or scalable as Drupal's. Because they have chosen to support backward compatibility between major versions it is limited as to how much this will ever change, and also introduces security issues. By allowing for change when deemed absolutely necessary, major new versions of Drupal can both improve its own architecture over time and take advantage of new technologies whilst causing some significant, but as minimal as possible, changes for developers.
 
Having a custom app written for you in a language such as Ruby is great too, in that first instance – but what happens when you want to add to it or develop it further? Who maintains it? Is it tried-and-tested code or are you going to have to pay every time a new issue is discovered because someone looked in browser X at it instead of browser Y which your freelancer wrote it for? By using already there modules for generic functionality required and contributing code back to the Drupal community for functionality they needed which wasn't currently there, site builders lessen  total cost of ownership by enabling the community to provide both a platform to build on, and a platform to join in and collaborate with as the web and their sites grow.
 
Standardisation has always had its critics - for years regional train stations often had two clocks in order to appease sometimes stern resistance to Railway Time. William Wordsworth in his protest against the building of the Kendal and Windermere Railway in 1844 wrote “Is then no nook of English ground secure from rash assault?”, concerned about the loss of timeless isolation and individuality through the impact on his quiet rural idyll of the hordes from the industrial towns. Charles Dickens also expressed concerns several times, such as in Dombey and Son where he wrote “There was even railway time observed in clocks, as if the sun itself had given in”, and Thomas Hardy in A Pair of Blue Eyes makes specific reference to Railway Time and its effect on seemingly contracting human time. It took 15 years to get 95% of towns and cities to join and a total of 40 years before unified standard time for whole of Great Britain achieved legal status. 
 
Now of course I am not suggesting for one moment that we should make use of Drupal law, however I am trying to highlight the point that even though standardisation is always a compromise, and whilst a few highly intellectual but perhaps a little too fearful and inward-looking people may protest otherwise, encouraging the adoption of a standard platform such as Drupal might, just might have the potential to provide many more benefits than may be immediately obvious.
 
Drupal is first and foremost a community, and its benefits aren't only technical. For example, by speaking a common language, suppliers of Drupal-based sites are collaborating as well as competing. At a recent open-space meeting held in Amsterdam of 60 business owners from across Europe people shared knowledge and best practice in order to help the community as a whole. At a more local level there are hundreds of Drupal user group meetings held every day around the globe where not only site builders go, but end users, entrepreneurs, job seekers, hobbyists, and people from all walks of society. Furthermore there are specialised events such as DesignCamps, Developer Days, and the twice-yearly DrupalCons which attract thousands to come and learn from each other. Companies who used to build their own CMSs are realising they simply cannot maintain growth and using Drupal instead as building and maintaining software is a bigger task than any one person or company can achieve alone and have such a wide appeal.
 
Drupal is an inclusive community where everyone has an opportunity to contribute, and as a result is building the foundation of something which could, if we give it the chance, enable a vast majority of the population to do more with the Web, Tim Berners-Lee's wonderful contribution to society which has given us all the ability to communicate more freely wherever or whoever we happen to be in the world.
 
Whatever your view on Microsoft, by providing a “standard” platform they helped millions of people do more with computers. In similar but significantly different ways, Drupal helps millions of people do more with the web and their websites. During last year's DrupalCon Chicago I met a non- IT expert who was using a distribution of Drupal called OpenAtrium to help prisoners when they came out of prison on a 12-step programme. This is one of the reasons I enjoy contributing to the Drupal community – it does much more than just help me solve the problem I'm encountering at that time, it also “goes to the greater good” in a “paying it forward” way. This may not be on top of your list of priorities right now, but perhaps one day you'll be that person, who really wants to do something on the web, but can't because they can't afford to hire a developer or designer to do it for them and it isn't already there because it wasn't given back to a growing pool of freely available resources.
 
Using Drupal, designers can produce functionally-rich websites and web applications without having to keep going back to a developer every time they want to add or change a piece of functionality, and use modules such as SASSY along with Omega HTML5 Responsive, Corporate Clean, mothership and a host of other weird and wonderful sounding themes which cater to a wide range of front-end developer needs. Similarly via a range of modules such as Display Suite and Renderable Elements which enable easier configuration of Drupal's interface, developers can alter the design significantly without having to hire a front-end developer or designer.
 
So, everyone's out of a job, right? Well, not quite – with thousands of modules providing us with the generic functionality people ask for, such as “discussion forums” and “webforms”, we get to build sites quicker, work on more interesting projects, and spend our spare time on more interesting things instead - building the things that aren't in the system yet. For example, within 24 hours of the announcement of Google Plus a module for Drupal was released, for free, by the community, for the community. For more than eleven years the Drupal community has been defining and refining these tools so they are flexible, scalable and secure. At the end of the day, as the saying goes, all software is crap, it's just some is less crap than others. We're constantly working to make Drupal less crap!
 
Like Microsoft, some give Drupal a fair amount of flack, but unlike Microsoft software, Drupal is Free/Libre Open Source Software, which means it's our software, and it is up to us to develop and improve it. What could you do with a growing asset library of code as well as design? How many times do you have similar requirements you could potentially make a product out of with a Drupal distribution? These may all seem like far-fetched and slightly uneasy ideas right now, perhaps a little like the standard time felt only 150-odd years ago but we're pretty happy we all have it now, right?
 
In the world of the web we are still in very early stages (I mistakingly wrote “in the world of the we” there but perhaps both are true!) – with Drupal we have the opportunity to develop and improve a common language for building and utilising our own tools to build what we want to build, whenever and however we want to build. The Drupal community is willing to admit when something can be improved and we get on and make it happen over time and as we can, sometimes coming up against opposition and having to deal with a certain amount of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). Much as we have other methods of transport than train, we also have other software we can use to build websites – I am not saying people should only use Drupal – but the more who do, the better the system gets, especially as more people come into the community who's role is not first and foremost IT, it's in marketing, design, sales, product development, and so on.
 
When I first encountered Drupal I never wanted to use it, for similar reasons I hear now – it was only when six years ago one of my sites was rebuilt in it and I was a little annoyed so I finally dove in to Drupal and have been hooked ever since. It took me another few years to fully appreciated the community side of things – once I did then it all became a lot easier to understand, and that is why I now spend most of my time helping people to connect with the Drupal community in order to enable them to do what they want to do with the web not just right now but in the future too, wherever they want to go to.
 
I'm not going to say that you're going to get Drupal straight away, but once you realise it possesses the ability to be what you want it to be, you'll begin to see the sea of possibilities and opportunities which lie ahead for all ;)
 
Don't do what I did and spend years trying to figure it out by yourself, because that's not what it's all about; and if you're the one who does the hiring - in my experience from the sites I've ended up having to fix - don't hire a developer who says they can do Drupal but they have very little, if any community involvement, i.e. check their profile on http://drupal.org to see what they do from a community point of view. No one person built Drupal and no one person alone can help you make best use of it, learn a little as to how the community works first so you can make a more informed decision. Drupal is made by a worldwide community ready and waiting for you to join in the fun. 
 
Come and find out what you could be doing with Drupal, drop in sometime and introduce yourself to our local group online at:
 
 
...and keep 28th & 29th April free for DrupalCamp Brighton:
Steve Purkiss's picture

Drupal Association Opens its doors to the community At Large - and I'm running for election!

The Drupal Association is, for the first time in history, opening up two spaces on the Board for "At Large" members. Voting is open now only for a few days until Feb 7. I decided to nominate myself after hearing further about the elections during the Drupal CxO event in Amsterdam last weekend, so instead of writing up all the interesting stuff that's been going on recently at the CxO event and Drupal ScienceCamp the week before where I gave my first session and videod many others, I find myself caught up in election fever and spending the weekend answering questions which were posed during two conference calls we had on Thursday - one at 1am and one at 5pm. It was great being part of these discussions with a group of passionate people from around the world, an inspiring moment in my life I shall remember for a long time!

I'm reposting my answers here as the wiki page is a bit messy, plus I want to reach out to my own community at large as they may not even know elections are on, it seems shouting about this sort of stuff in the Drupal community is not the norm, a shame as we have so much wonderful stuff to shout about!

The Drupal Association, for those who don't know, is "an educational non-profit organization that tasks itself with fostering and supporting the Drupal software project, the community and its growth". It has no control over the software itself, and states its 2012 goals as:

  • Improve the collaboration tools on drupal.org and make it rock for developers
  • Organize "Drupal in a day" global trainings to solve talent issue
  • Drupal as a career choice through University Programs
  • Directory of all trainings to solve talent issue
  • Regional events targeted at developers organized by DA staff
  • Make d.o awesome for site builders (vs. developers) - module reviews, docs, etc.

I am already involved in a number of these efforts and through the events I've been to I see there are many people who want to help out and contribute but simply do not have a mechanism or the knowledge to do so. Rather than go into a big speech now, here's the answers I gave - if you like my ideas please vote before Feb 7! My core process is "fostering connections" - a skill I believe is perfect for the DA.

Candidate intros

Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss), United Kingdom

Hi, I'm Steve Purkiss and I'm here representing the "normal guy". I've been running the Drupal group in the UK's digital media hub of Brighton for the three years that I've lived here but it was only in 2010 when I went to my first DrupalCon in Copenhagen that I *got* Drupal - it's all about the community and not just software. Since then I've been helping people understand what Drupal is, including organising a 'Drupal Discovery Day' during Brighton's Digital Festival last year where we trained over 30 people in the morning and had over 40 attendees at our conference in the afternoon. I've now been to three DrupalCons, two Drupal CxO days, devdays, and did my first session at a DrupalCamp a couple of weeks back in Cambridge entitled 'From Flip Charts to Features and beyond' building on the work I've been doing with organisations including Brighton & Hove City Council in order to help them quickly and easily understand how to build projects in an agile way using Drupal and its plethora of modules. I also video many of the sessions and upload them to archive.org - I believe we should do much more videoing of events!

My first experience of the Drupal Association was in DrupalCon Copenhagen when I asked if they'd ever heard of a 'Virtual Enterprise Network' and explained it was a structure for enabling organisations including businesses, universities, and government instititions, to work together in order to deliver larger projects - similar to how the film industry works when coming together to produce a film. I asked if there was anyone in the Association who I could talk to about it because I believe strongly we have built a wonderful modular piece of software however we are yet to build a modular business model on top. The answer I received was a point-blank "No, they're all incredibly busy working for very large corporations." This is why I decided to nominated myself and hence why I feel I stand for the "normal guy" wanting to bring back some balance to the board.

Questions and answers

Harley (hyperglide) Regarding emerging markets in asia. Do any of the candidates have an idea on how to handle outreach to those markets to solve the talent shortage?

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) The Association is in an ideal position to help pool and funnel resources to those on the ground in order to help them grow their communities wherever they are in the world. Being a focal point for the community, the Association can help the community to speak from one voice and spread knowledge sharing, education and community values wherever it is needed, and not only to those who can afford it.

(tsvenson) Q to each candidate: What do you see as the biggest obstacles for new Drupal users, especially non coders with small or no budgets, often leading to them quickly going elsewhere? And what will you do to change that?

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) In Brighton I was going to run a week of Drupal training at £149 per day but was told I couldn't call it "affordable" training as it made other offerings sound expensive. If we only focus on the commercial side of things we have a big problem - and vice versa. I would rather see a focus on creating more sustainable forms of business than focusing on just one sector. To not view Wordpress as a threat here is IMHO a mistake.

I entered professional programming through a government-funded course and I am keen to ensure those opportunities are ongoing for people so I am talking to local colleges, universities and business networks about training students, graduates, unemployed, and career changers in Drupal. I am finding it hard by myself and my local network, if in the Association I would reach out to those around the world who can help on a more focused, local basis and assist in the construction of more support networks IRL.

(webchick) For those who want to promote international diversity, explain how a position on the DA helps you do that more effectively.

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) Finding out what resources are needed and how they need to be tailored for particular cultures. At the recent Drupal CxO days in Amsterdam the hosts Microsoft explained a little into the process of how they do this and have offered us some time to help us - I would ensure we follow up on this very generous offer. As was mentioned, we are great technicians but not so great marketers - so why not take some tips from the best and help spread the Drupal community wider?

(Crell) Currently Drupal's face in the world is a mix of face-less Drupal.org and Acquia. Acquia is the face of Drupal, rightly or wrongly, in many eyes, moreso with the new Office of the CTO. Drupal of course is far far more than Acquia. What if anything do you feel the DA can or should do to counter-balance that, or is that even an appropriate role for the DA?

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) The two At Large positions are a step in the right direction as we don't necessarily know who's out there in our community now as opposed to years ago when it was relatively small and why most members are from the more established companies. By bringing in outside perspectives with complementary knowledge and networks we enrich the community and move towards a more balanced, sustainable solution for democratised governance.

(tsvenson) Q to all: We just had a live usability test that showed we have still very much to do. How do you propose we can put more efforts into making Drupal, including contib projects, more user friendly and intuitive?

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) There are some things as a community we do not do well at the moment, one of those is eat our own dogfood. I hear of many other tools people use running their Drupal business but we should work together to invest time, and funds, in fostering existing efforts such as the open app initiative. We should also develop new methods of people being able to contribute easier to the community - one such concept I've had is http://dropfund.org (hey, I bought the domain name so it's all built and ready, right?!) where people could post their project ideas much like a kickstarter for Drupal. Everything from marketing material through to module development sponsorship could be posted and funded easier than trawling through drupal.org and gdo just stumbling across stuff and trying to figure out what's going on and how to help.

(Slurpee) How many candidates have been to Drupal events outside of their own continent? And can you speak more than 1 language fluently?

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) Since DrupalCon Copenhagen I have been to DrupalCon Chicago and London, Developer Days Brussels, CxO Days Brussels and last weekend's CxO event in Amsterdam, and the weekend before that I gave my first session at Drupal ScienceCamp Cambridge. I'm better with software languages than spoken, having spent from age 9 to now 39 learning how to talk in various software languages, from BASIC, through Pascal, ADA, Java, PHP, and now Drupal.

(Crell) Several of you listed things yo want to do or accomplish. The DA, however, has shifted from a staff board to a policy board, so board members are not directly doing anything, but managing, strategizing, coordinating, etc. Those of you who want to "do", isn't the board the wrong place for what you're describing?

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) I want to work towards a more level playing field for everyone in the community - at the moment it seems as if the more well-funded operations build their own tools, workflow, and methods of dealing with inefficiencies in tools we have such as drupal.org whereas I believe it's the role of the DA to encourage contribution of these tools back to the community, and pool as many of these resources as possible so they are of benefit to all and not just competitive advantage for a few. Managing, strategizing, and coordinating are the ways in which I will achieve this!

(rfay) In 30 seconds or less, what are the roles of the DA and what are not the roles?

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) The DA plays an important role supporting the development and growth of the Drupal community and should take a more active role in enabling those who want to contribute to be able to do so. It is not the DA's role to be involved in the decision-making process when it comes to the software itself, however it should be there to support ongoing efforts by being able to connect funders and those wanting funding, whether for hardware or software development. In terms of funding development then I believe the community and not the DA should be the decision-makers as to what gets funded - the DA should just help with the organisation of these initiatives.

(Crell) Q: Several candidates said they want to better represent or be a voice for "small shops" and independents. In what way does the DA currently not adequately serve small shops, and what would a better service for small players mean in practice? Be as specific as possible.

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) It is more that relationships are currently built and maintained around a relatively few number of shops - ones who are either ingrained in the community, or who have the funds to "buy" their way into the community. Mostly I believe this is due to the fact we are not utilising our own software to the best effect to help connect, also because we are still thinking in terms of old-IT top-down big consultancy approach in some ways - perhaps because the biggest businesses involved currently still work that way.

We have built wonderful modular software and we are currently seeming to try and mash that into an old, out-of-date business model. Many large IT failures will still happen if the business models don't change - it's just they'll fail with Open Source Software resulting in harming its reputation. There are other ways, one of which is Virtual Enterprise Networks ('VEN')* where one body represents its members in a commercial environment, enabling sharing of costs such as marketing, and enabling larger projects to be delivered than could be done by any one member organisation alone.

Many smaller shops and independents are technically very capable but not so good at marketing - will a skills shortage and the fact that specific expertise is not geographically specific we should embrace new ways of working together on larger projects than just giving them to to the larger companies. As I discovered at the recent Drupal CxO event in Amsterdam *every* Drupal company there had issues with being too small - whether they were 2, 20, or 50 people. With a VEN a structure would be there for easier collaboration between these companies and individuals.

I believe the DA is in an ideal position to help to work towards the creation of a Drupal VEN, and spearhead not only a modular piece of software but a complementary business model to boot. I see some worrying similarities between what is happening in the Drupal world and what happened in the dotcom days when the company I was working at received $7m investment and immediately went out and hired lots of ex-IBM people. We have a small window of opportunity here to do something different and innovative - we should take full advantage of before balance is lost and we end up repeating old business mistakes simply because we are only listening to those who have too much interest in a particular model, or who simple do not know any other way is possible. A VEN is just one potential structure which should be investigated further in order to see which would be most complementary to the Drupal community in order to utilise the network more efficiently.

* http://www.bioteams.com/2005/07/11/virtual_enterprise_networks.html

(tsvenson) When do you think the first Asian DrupalCon should be held? Also, should that mean 3 cons/year or should they alternate with 2/year?

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) I would need to investigate the current situation and any research done so far before suggesting any answer to this. At the moment, I feel if the community is big enough to support it then sure, if not then we should see how we can build or connect the community more so that it is in a position to put on a Con.

(jredding) In 30 seconds or less, what would you say is the most important skillset, expertise, or experience that a board member should bring to the Association.

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) Experience, passion, ideas, ears, mouth when needed, sympathy, empathy, commitment, independence, and a willingness to question and challenge the status quo.

(carsonblack) What are some (or one) way that DA can help the small user groups throughout the world better serve their local markets?

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) At the recent Drupal CxO event in Amsterdam I spoke to a number of companies who want to join forces in order to help create more marketing materials for Drupal. We should help these companies to contribute as the result will be more material available for everyone to use, including local user groups. We should also make it easier to start and maintain local groups by providing more up-to-date resources of information gathered from existing groups, and continue to provide funding where possible. I won one of the first Community Cultivation Grants with which I created a short video "What is Drupal?" (http://bad-ass.org.uk/what-is-drupal) which helped a little but we need more ongoing support too so we can develop the great work people are doing out there "in the field". Guilds are great, however we should ensure these do not go the way of the guilds of old, which ended up being cartels. There was a similar issue in the Open Source Consortium of which I was a founding member but left soon after as I felt it would go this way. It was set up by Mark Taylor from Sirius IT who has spoken at Drupal CxO events, he confirmed to me it did end up being a cartel so he too left. Not saying Drupal Guilds will, we just have to be aware they potentially could.

(Crell) The DA is officially banned from "directing the development of Drupal". What does that mean to you? Are there ways the DA could "support" development without "directing" development? What would you want to do in that regard? Again, be specific as possible.

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) To me this means the DA should be supporting the development of Drupal whatever that development is. For example, if the community decided to rewrite the entire of Drupal using .NET technologies, although it would be a completely ridiculous concept, the DA should support the community's decision. The DA is ideally positioned to be a connector of resources to support the development of Drupal, by working with the community to ascertain what resources are needed the DA can help ensure access to those resources are provided, whether in terms of hardware, funding, or whatever is necessary for the community to continue to grow and flourish.

(tsvenson) Should the DA take a more proactive role about the d.o infrastructure and its improvement needs. Especially in regards to for example content management tools for doumentation and giving better cred/visibility to all those that puts in amazing work that is not project/code related? If so how and what is needed?

A: Steve Purkiss (stevepurkiss) Yes, I believe it is the responsiblity of the DA to support the infrastructure used by the community. I think there is a lot that can be done here in terms of working more closely with companies using Drupal to help them contribute more back to the community in order to help sustain and grow. At the moment it seems as if there's a high barrier in terms of both expertise and time to be able to change much, with a little more communication and connection of existing efforts I believe we can provide much better tools for the community to use, which will in turn show off more of what Drupal can do to the wider world and hopefully make it a little easier to understand for all.

Candidate summary statements

My first job was selling computers to small businesses, and whilst I have also worked with many large corporations, it is the small business person I have most affinity with. As we move into an age of more interdependance as many are laid off from work I believe we need to bring back some balance on the board and provide more assistance to those who have the passion and expertise but not necessarily the cash and connect them with those who have the cash but not necessarily the expertise (or indeed passion!). We need to foster the growth of more tools using our own software to help collaboration and start to build a world based on the ways we work together now, not 10, 20 or 30 years ago. By coming onto the board from this side, I bring fresh new ideas and energy, and a network which provides further reach than the board currently possesses in order to help the Association achieve and exceed the initiatives set out for 2012. I am already involved in many of the areas such as talking to universities and organising free training events, I could do this more effectively and to a greater degree if I were to be on the DA board, thus having easier access to more resources and connections.

ENDS

Feel free to ask me any questions you may have here, on my nomination profile, or on twitter, I'd be happy to answer!

One last thing - don't forget to vote by Feb7! Voting is open to all who have a Drupal account longer than about three weeks old and who have logged at least once in the previous year -  that's around 270,000 people of which at time of writing only 280 have voted.

Make sure your voice is heard and vote today!

Steve Purkiss's picture

Drupal videos I watched last weekend

One of the great things I've learned about the Drupal community is, well, the community. They have these 'camps' all over the world, and more and more of them are videoing their sessions and putting them up all over the place on t'internet. It used to all be on archive.org where I watched all the lovely drupalcon sessions, but now they're on loads of places, including the latest DrupalCamp Austin ones on Vimeo. Here's some of the ones I watched this last weekend. It's how I get my fix of the drop, and makes me think about all the lovely places I have the opportunity _and_ excuse to go visit in 2012 like Denver in March and Barcelona in the summer for dev days ;) Yes, that's how exciting my life gets ;)

I think some of these are from the previous year - all so good I just got carried away!

Building Results web Projects

I actually used the method the presenter describes in a client session today I held at our lovely local coworking space theskiff. I've been working on a similar methodology but this guy hits the nail on the head when it comes to processes. Blue-sky projects I think waver a little on it from my experience today, but perhaps that may just be first time nerves!

Drupal SEO: Panel Q&A with Volacci

Drupal's great at SEO and it's thanks to Volacci I know how to make the best use of it through their community contributions. I discovered you can even get a module which will show you how good your blog post is for SEO within Drupal itself. Maybe old news to you, sounds cool to me!

Apps Drupal Simplified

Download the LevelTen appstore. Trust me. Just do it. I'm not joking, it's the future. I sat there for at least half an hour just thinking about the possibliities for the future growth of Drupal, but then Eastenders came on the telly. No, seriously, it is the future and it's revived my interest in all things D!

How to recruit and retain top talent

It's not easy trying to grow a Drupal company in this day and age. Or indeed employ a Drupal person. Or get a Drupal site to work, etc. This video is just a gentle reminder we're all people and thus we need to share the monkey nuts far and wide. And chocolate. And beer. And pizza...

This Code Stinks

Great video from long-time Drupaler which makes you think twice about the code you write. Some of the examples given I think were a little harsh, I guess more of an inside joke maybe as I know how much everyone there gives in terms of time and effort, and sometimes things just slip by. But I'm the same, I'm a stickler for documenting code!

State of Drupal 7 Media

Really glad I watched this one - great to see there's been sprints and everything as it's a gallant effort trying to get all the various media and file methods working together in one nice place in Drupal and looks like it's finally getting in shape - go try it out!

From a Consulant to a Shop

Love this one - just what I'm going through right now and nice to hear from those who've been there, done that and got the Drupal T-shirt.

Keynote - The Drupal Community

Angie Byron has to be our fave Drupal peep in terms of sheer patience having to deal with the mountainloads of stuff she has had to deal with over the last few years co-maintaining Drupal and doing a whole host of other stuff. From her early beginnings at the Google Summer of Code, Angie explains her journey so far and how you too can get involved no matter what you do or do not know so far!

Building a Strong, Profitable Drupal Business (keynote)

A must for Drupal biz owners!

Steve Purkiss's picture

Drupal Time?

Railway time was the name given to the standardised time arrangement first applied by the Great Western Railway in England in November 1840. This was the first recorded occasion when a number of different local times were synchronised and a single standard time applied. Railway time was progressively taken up by all of the other railway companies in Great Britain over the following two to three years. The times schedules by which trains were organised and the times train stations clocks displayed was brought in line with the local time for London or "London Time". This was also the time set at Greenwich by the Royal Observatory, which was already widely known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

The development of railway networks in North America in the 1850s,[1] India in around 1860,[2] and as well as other countries in Europe, also prompted the introduction of standard time systems influenced by the specific, geographical, industrial development and political governance appertaining.

The key purpose behind introducing railway time was twofold: to overcome the confusion caused by having non-uniform local times in each town and station stop along the expanding railway network and to reduce the incidence of accidents and near misses, which were becoming more frequent as the number of train journeys increased.

So says Wikipedia.

When I first looked into this subject of timezones I didn't realise how many people didn't know how timezones came to be, or that they came to be from a private company - GWR - and relatively not that long ago.

Times are different and we are now working in the world of the intangible when it comes to software, but I think the same rules apply - human kind has a great potential to benefit from these compromises such as time zones in terms of how we can leverage the stable platform it provides. With standardisation comes an element of non-excitement, however the value proposition of what you can build on top of that platform once in place is surely more alluring than forever bubbling away down below continuously reinventing the wheel?

Every day I see people doing the equivalent of creating a custom car for everyone who wants to drive from A to B when what most people want is a Ford Escort because they just want to sell X to Y in order to get Z out of it. In Drupal we have that, however we don't express that well enough to those who matter IMHO, and that's those on the ground who have to provide this online experience to those who have little knowledge, experience, and indeed cash in order to get themselves more connected. We with the knowledge have a duty IMHO to help those who don't, make most use of the technology available, and it shouldn't always be about this I know more than you who can piss up the tree high enough argument.

As I've often said, in the last ten years no-one's asked me to build rocket science for them. I don't use Drupal because it's an elegant solution to a problem, I use Drupal because it's there, already done for me, tested, working, etc. - well, to the 90-odd percent anyway - and means I can get on with something more interesting instead, like wondering whether to press "submit" on this blog article or not. Anyways, long-time readers will already know the answer to that one. Laters.

Steve Purkiss's picture

A different kind of Drupal event: Drupal Discovery Day Brighton 2011

September saw the first ever Brighton Digital Festival which encompassed a number of events and conferences including dConstruct, Brighton Mini Maker Faire, WP-Brighton, and our very own Drupal Discovery Day!

After three years of running our local Brighton Drupal Users Group I thought the festival would be an ideal opportunity to show off some of the great work we've been doing here in Brighton and grow our local Drupal community. Although Brighton is well known for its high concentration of digital media companies (WiredSussex boasts over 2,300 companies and freelancers amongst its membership), Drupal adoption is still relatively small - which amazes me when I think of how much more collaboration and innovation we could be doing on if we were working on a common platform and speaking the same language rather than reinventing the wheel every time someone wants something generic - after all, no-one's asked me for rocket science in the last ten years of website building!

I didn't think the community at its current stage was ready for either a Drupal Business Summit or a DrupalCamp (although the latter is high on my list of future events!) so I decided to create a mix of the two and provide a Hello Drupal! workshop in the morning and a business-focused Discover Drupal conference in the afternoon. The day went fantastic and we trained over 30 people in the morning and over 40 attended our afternoon conference, which culminated in a panel discussion on "The Business Advantage of Drupal" (as well as video you can also listen to the panel discussion as a podcast). I was also lucky enough to win one of the very first Drupal Association Cultivation Grants just before the event to help create some marketing material and we ended up making a short film about "What is Drupal?" which has been greatly received by the Drupal community and we hope to make a few more very soon!

What impressed me most of all was the many different backgrounds of the attendees and the sheer number of conversations which were sparked off during break times and at the bar after the day had finished. For me, the best software has always been that which is created through discussion between end users and the people who can code; and when it can be done locally even the better. Everyone has slightly different needs and although generic software provides a great base to work from, the 'last mile' is highly important, and only truly free software can provide us with the freedom and ability to do that. Even in the CMS world when I look around at systems other than Drupal I don't see the levels of communication and innovation in their communities as many of the other systems see modules as an 'end point' - i.e. made by one person, charged for, etc. as opposed to building blocks as Drupal does. This is a significant difference, but this particular blog post is not the right place to start explaining that one so I'll leave that for another time...

A big thanks to all who came along on the day and to those involved with the event, many who also provided sponsorship (White Hat Media, blue-bag, i-KOS, halfmesh, miggle, Sereno, and Acquia who gave all attendees a year's free DevCloud hosting); and to the wonderful Lighthouse who's venue provided the perfect setting for the event - even though the wifi was a little ropey!

Now the event is out of the way I'm focusing on building my training business helping teams get up-to-speed on code-driven Drupal app development whilst also thinking about what event to plan next... a DrupalCamp perhaps? It's been a while since we had one in the UK!

Here's some pics and a list of the videos from the day:

Acquia's Jakub Suchy providing the Hello Drupal! workshop

Acquia's Jakub Suchy providing the Hello Drupal! training programme at Drupal Discovery Day Brighton 2011

Many people learning Drupal!

Lots of people learning Drupal at Drupal Discovery Day Brighton 2011

14:15-14:30 Welcome to Discover Drupal - Steve Purkiss, purkiss ltd.

A brief introduction to the event from Drupal Consultant, Trainer, and founder of the Brighton Area Drupal Association, Steve Purkiss.

Video: http://bit.ly/dddbrighton-welcome

14:30-14:50 Drupal is Scalabe: From a single-page blog to the world's biggest sites, Drupal does it all! - Guy Schneerson, Blue-bag

With modules covering Content Management, Commerce, and Collaboration, Guy shows how easy it is to do much more than just blogging with Drupal.

Video: http://bit.ly/dddbrighton-scalability

14:50-15:20 E-commerce Made Easy with Drupal Commerce - Richard Jones, i-KOS

Drupal Commerce is a lean and mean open source e-commerce framework built on Drupal 7. Use it to build flexible and highly customisable websites based on the best platform for social commerce.

Video: http://bit.ly/dddbrighton-easy-ecommerce

15:20-15:30 Exploiting Drupal Distributions - Steve Purkiss, purkiss ltd.

  • Overview of popular Drupal Distributions
    • OpenAtrium - Intranet in a Box
    • COD - the Conference Organising Distribution
    • OpenPublish - News & Online Magazine Publishing
  • Web design & development companies - leverage your own distribution!

Video: http://bit.ly/dddbrighton-exploiting-distributions

15:30-16:00 Afternoon Break

16:00-16:30 Introducing Acquia Professional Services and the Acquia Commons Social Network Drupal distribution - Jakub Suchy, Director, Professional Services Europe, Acquia Inc.

Acquia is a private, fast-growth company supporting enterprises that use the free and open-source content-management system Drupal. Co-founded by Drupal's creator Dries Buytaert in 2007, Acquia recently won a fourth funding round of $15m to help drive the adoption of Drupal.

Acquia Commons is the open social business software that has everything you want - collaboration, community, and more - at a surprisingly low total cost. Increase engagement and productivity immediately. Whether your community is public or private, Commons does it.

Video: http://bit.ly/dddbrighton-acquia-commons

16:30-17:30 Brighton Area Drupal Association Site Showcase

Take a peek at some amazing Drupal sites built by local companies in this lightning showcase session.

Presenters:

17:30-18:00 Panel Discussion - The Business Advantage of Drupal

Panel:

Video: http://bit.ly/dddbrighton-panel-biz-advantage-drupal

Steve Purkiss's picture

Atomised Web Design - Going Beyond Responsive Web Design with Drupal

Developing Harmony Drupal buttonFor the past six months I have been following Jeremy Keith's pursuance of the Responsive Web Design technique with interest - not because I too live in Brighton and had the opportunity to attend his barcamp Brighton talk on the subject; nor because he gave a keynote on the design of HTML5 at DrupalCon Copenhagen which I attended, or even because he recently gave an HTML5 workshop at DrupalCon Chicago followed shortly thereafter by comments on his journal:

It [Drupal] doesn’t appeal to me simply because it outputs any markup at all
furthermore:
Rather than focusing on the kind of sites for which Drupal is particularly well-suited, the goal appears to be nothing less than total domination of the web. I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. If you try to please literally everybody, I think you’ll probably end up pleasing nobody.
No, I've been following with interest because whilst I like the concepts, I believe they make some pretty big assumptions about the users of their design, and it was only when I read his latest journal entry on context that it hit me as to what the problem is in a nutshell: 
In Jeremy's journal entry on context, he alludes to this issue when he says:
The context problem - figuring out what a person is doing at the moment they visit a site - is really, really hard.
This is where Drupal enters the equation and works towards providing the flexibility to cope with an arbitrary number of use cases, with the ability to take into account what a person is doing before the site is even there, or indeed after it is there and they want to change how it works.
By providing some markup, Drupal and its thousands of extension modules effectively atomise design and provide a way for users to be able to modify and extend the functionality of their websites without necessarily needing to have specific programming or design knowledge.
The benefits of this atomised design of software became even more apparent to me whilst attending a Birds of a Feather session at DrupalCon Chicago on OpenAtrium, a distribution of Drupal which provides an out-of-the-box intranet solution. The guy sitting next to me in the session was using OpenAtrium to help ex-prisoners who were on a 12-step programme. Others around the table worked at Universities, and a few used OpenAtrium in voluntary organisations. None of them had the budget for developers or designers, however all could freely use Drupal, and when I mentioned the MindMap plugin feature for OpenAtrium their eyes lit up, and no doubt some are using it right now - without the need for developers or designers getting involved at the point of use - i.e. the context of which Jeremy talks of in his quote above.
 
This, for me, is a winning formula. Sure, I build websites for people, but I don't want to dictate that they have to come back to me every time they want to change something or extend their site - or to a specialist much like I had to when I owned a Triumph Spitfire car - Ford cars worked out much cheaper to maintain plus my father worked there so I got a nice discount! Many of my clients do come back to me for further developments, but others make the most of their freedom to dive into Drupal themselves or hire an in-house person or team depending on their own needs. As for which sites I use Drupal for, well it is everything - Jeremy's quote "Rather than focusing on the kind of sites for which Drupal is particularly well-suited" simply does not come into the equation as I do tend towards the "total domination of the web" he mentions, but in a much less hostile manner than he implies - I believe in building open, sustainable systems - Drupal provides the vehicle for me to do this.
 
I see similarities to when IBM brought out the PC, and Microsoft similarly when they unleashed Windows on the world, but this time with a big injection of freedom to boot. Sure, we bemoan Windows and Microsoft, but the fact is they enabled computing for the masses - I see Drupal in a similar space with web systems. Before the PC we had numerous home computer systems, all requiring specialist parts and dedicated software. After the PC was introduced we benefitted immensely from commodity hardware bringing the price of computers down - I see this happening in the website world, especially with companies such as Microsoft supporting Drupal.
 
By using a standard system such as Drupal, I provide a starting point for my client's web presence which they can build on, whatever the kind of website it is I am building - and they range from small sites like my blog right up to multilingual, multimillion pound projects. Dries Buytaert, the founder of the Drupal project, explains the scenario well in this blog post about his company Acquia's product strategy and vision.
 
The Developer's Dilemma
 
In his journal, Jeremy points to an article which is a call for arms for A Real Web Design Application which I agree with, and the point of me writing this blog post is to say there is much more we could be doing if we integrated web systems with web design, not just by adding forms into the equation but a whole load more functionality, atomised. Ten years ago I was working in a software house called RemoteApps in London where we were building a product which was much along the lines of, and with similar principles to (eliminating the middlemen) Drupal, however it wasn't Open Source. RemoteApps had modules for the three C's of the Internet: Commerce, Collaboration, and Content Management, along with a central web admin system called TeamView - much like Drupal has today.
 
We had numerous clients including Volkswagen, B&Q, Umbro, USL Soccer League, The 365 Group and a host more, and just before investors pulled all their stock out of software houses in the dotcom crash we had signed a deal with Macromedia to integrate RemoteApps into their Dreamweaver web design software so that designers could simply drop functionality into their designs. Imagine how gutted I was when I saw the full-page Dreamweaver RemoteApps ad on the back of the Macromedia Magazine which arrived just a few days after we had all cleaned out our desks! I believe systems could be built using Drupal to provide the functionality - design should not just be attributed to pages but to components, and as Jeremy points out, currently:
Far too early in the design process, a tool such as Photoshop or Fireworks gets opened up and a new file is created with an arbitrary width (960 pixels being the current width du jour). That process lends itself well to creating paintings of websites but it’s not a great first step in creating a living, breathing website
I do not see how A Real Web Design Application could not exist without both the Yin and Yang of Development and Design, thus appears what I like to call The Developer's Dilemma. We, as developers, are not designers. But if we do not provide some design, then we do not get the benefits atomised web design provides. Danish Drupal themer MortenDK is working to improve this situation with his CSS Cleanup Initiative which will enable designers and themers to more easily modify or remove completely any design which is contained within a Drupal module, and Jeremy's friend Jen Simmons is spearheading much of Drupal's HTML5 support, but without any markup, Drupal is simply not Drupal. In Drupal 7 we (developers through API and others through UI, then bake to Features) can easily create different build modes for data display depending upon the context they're used and it's becoming easier every day to do anything you want to do on the web with Drupal - and leave your clients with a system they can build on themselves with relative ease and low cost when compared to proprietary alternatives.
 
Drupal as Lego
 
One memorable quote from the Drupal CXO event in Brussels I attended last October was:
Drupal is Lego, Joomla! is Playmobil, Wordpress is Duplo
If you consider Lego for a minute, the bricks are delivered in particular shapes and colours - Drupal modules similarly. Think of Drupal distributions as ready-built Lego kits which you can still build on, and paint over if you wish. Like Lego, painting your blocks isn't necessarily the best thing to be doing, and I think this is the point at which the designers have an issue with Drupal's modules, but again that is at the point of delivery once you know what it is you're building. 
 
Lego has lasted the test of time and is still as exciting and entertaining to play with today as it has been - I should know after spending some time in the Lego store in Chicago recently buying a present for my nephew (don't let on.... he hasn't got it yet!). Sure, there's other players out there in the market, so we're not saying it's total World Domination, but a fair amount would make it much easier for people to swap pieces and knowledge.
 
Think of Drupal as a Linux for web systems. It has a core set of modules and a whole Wild West of contributed modules out there - 7,000-odd at the last count. Sure, there'll be cut-down distros to deal with specific needs, such as where web admin interface isn't needed, but to set a standard at a level which attempts to please both developer and end user is not an easy task, and something which I think Drupal increasingly does very well indeed, especially with the new UX improvements in Drupal 7.
 
Finally, Jeremy says:
Different frameworks will appeal to different people—the trick is in finding a framework that matches the way that you approach a problem. A framework is, after all, supposed to be a tool to help you get work done faster. No one framework is suitable for all projects and no one framework can possibly hope to appeal to everyone.
As pointed out above, Lego's done pretty well for being a framework to build no end of different things, so I don't really agree with the statement above. I simply couldn't build the stuff I do in the time I do without building on the shoulders of others, and my work certainly lasts longer as a result of adhering to Drupal's API and Coding Standards.
 
I spend a lot of time learning and giving back to the Drupal community where I can - at the end of the day no client has ever come up and asked me for Rocket Science, so I'd rather spend my time building cool stuff and using DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself) principles so that every day is different and I build upon yesterday's learning rather than sitting here coding another webform. In Drupal we are moving on from web forms and working with end users producing such wonders as the new Workbench suite of modules I've recently implemented for one of my clients. It's webforms for sure, but webforms which provide a much higher level of end-user use than anything any other piece of software can provide me, now, and for zero licence cost, and with a plan of growth for the future and a ready-made community of developers and end users to join in where I can, and if I want to.
 
This sort of software API can always be built on, optimised, even rewritten in a different language - once we've surpassed the initial cost of research and development, we are building knowledge not just code, and with software being the major cost of most if not all technical projects (yes, I'm thinking Rocket Science here), I think this is a pretty good way forward for humanity right now so we can spend time on more interesting things like working out how to populate other planets ;)
 
There are huge benefits on all sides to using Drupal for websites, and the only way of making sure it suits your needs is to simply join in the community in any which way you can. Perhaps one day Mr. Keith will dip his toes further into the water and see more of Drupal's Awesomesauce!
 
Steve Purkiss's picture

DrupalCXO - When Business and Freedom meet and shake hands

lanyardsThirty years ago I encountered computers for the first time. They were already involved in my life in some way or another, but not sitting there in front of me with a keyboard and a cursor waiting for my command. I learned how to program in a language called BASIC. I learned how to get the computer to display “Hello World!” and have it repeat all over the screen. I worked out that if I added another blank space between the two speech marks it the text would zig-zag over the screen. 

Heck, I was nearly ten years old and lived in the middle of the East Anglian countryside surrounded by fields of corn which I spent most of my life playing in as there was little else to do - until my parents bought me a BBC 'B' computer, then it was mostly spent in my room for hours as I watched Mandlebrot fractals being generated in glorious eight colours at a pace which I could easily have painted quicker. Not entirely sure I need to tell you all this, however as I write I hear that Benoît B Mandelbrot, the man who made geometry an art, has sadly passed away, so I'll take that as a sign and keep it in. The point is that to me, the power and ability to change something around and make it do something different was everything, and the possibilities were endless - especially when it comes to Mandlebrot graphics...

Twenty years ago, whilst working for an independent IT reseller, I found myself in a hotel near Heathrow Airport attending my first ever IT industry event. It was a pure sales event where we sat for hours in stuffy rooms listening to the latest features of software X version Y and why it was the best software in the world and we should go out and sell lots of it. Mostly I enjoyed getting the boxes of free software they gave us, especially CorelDraw, a vector-based drawing app. Not that I ever ended up drawing much but it was a whole load more interesting to me than Lotus 1-2-3, and as you can probably gather by now, I like playing with software to see what it can do. 

Ten years ago I found myself being the organiser of stands at such trade events to market a piece of software called RemoteApps, a product which was very similar to Drupal, the software I work with now - software for managing the three C's of the Internet – Content, Commerce, and Collaboration (or Community, or Communication, if you prefer). Apart from the fact RemoteApps had a sad demise along with many other companies when investors pulled out of tech stocks in the dot-bomb period, the main difference between these two products is that one is free and the other was proprietary. In other words, anyone can download Drupal and see how it works, change it to their needs, and help continue the process by giving what they can back to the community - whether in terms of code, helping other users, running a local user group, or any number of other ways. RemoteApps was more like those boxes of software I used to like getting for free from the trade events, it was a 'black-box' to anyone outside the company itself - you could by then download a 'trial' version, but in no way could you change it without prior negotiation with the software house itself. Perhaps if it had have been free and open it would still be around. 

RemoteApps was quite forward-thinking for its' time. It was the first Enterprise Content Management System to combine all three C's, provide a web admin interface to manage them all, and itself be a platform for the rapid development of web applications. It even had a content-type builder much like Drupal's, but learning how to develop on the system wasn't necessarily that easy. We had a documentation team, we had people training clients on-site how to build using our API, but with the economic downturn of the time people just weren't investing vast amounts in new software. Our client list included Volkswagen, IPC Media, Umbro, Primark, and had a number of system integrators including Logica, but was mostly made up of risk-averse Blue-chips or innovative startups, and the latter had pretty much disappeared by the time I got my email asking me to see my manager for what was to be the last time. We had grown from six people to sixty and then back down to zero in the space of a couple of years, but I can tell you it was one hell of a ride, and I learned much from the experience.

Back to the present day and I find myself in Brussels attending the first meeting of Drupal CXOs - those who are building businesses using Drupal, mostly systems integrators who build sites for clients using the platform. In Drupal's ten year history, this was the first time the business community had come together, and it was being held in Microsoft's offices - a company who's software certainly isn'tfree. So why did the meeting happen? In some ways it echoes of what I saw before - steep learning curve, how to get more people interested and excited about developing for the platform, and so on except for one big one - clients. Drupal is everywhere, and adoption rates are growing fast. Large consultancies are winning multi-million dollar projects and looking to source the expertise needed, from hiring more staff to working with companies such as those attending the meeting in Brussels.

Out of the sixty-odd participants who registered, those who turned up had a number of business models, some focused totally on Drupal, some were already virtual business networks set up to tackle these issues, including my own Drupal delivery network, DRUSHI. I had recently set up DRUSHI because I was facing these same issues. I had been a freelancer since I was made redundant from RemoteApps, and I although I love playing with software, I am more akin to someone who enjoys cooking but doesn't want to be a chef, more someone who wants to build a chain of restaurants, just with an all-you-want free software buffet! I used many other Open Source CMSs before I finally decided to focus on Drupal about five years ago. I didn't particularly want to use Drupal at the time for similar reasons I hear people saying now - the steep learning curve, etc. however one of the sites I built, LinuxVAR was rebuilt in Drupal (I had used XOOPS), which made me investigate Drupal further and I haven't looked back since, no more so than in the last couple of months when I decided to attend my first ever Drupalcon in Copenhagen.

When I actually met other Drupal developers face-to-face, 1,200 of them in Copenhagen, and had the chance to explain what DRUSHI was all about, I received a lot of interest, some of whom have already joined our community. As opposed to the supply chain which is being formed as we speak, my inspiration for DRUSHI comes from an event here in Brighton where Ken Thompson talked about Virtual Enterprise Networks. VENs are where you have a network of SMEs who develop and deliver collaborative solutions and offer an alternative solution to just dealing with the Big Fish. A little like how the film industry works, a little like swarm teams which Ken also talks about. They furthermore provide a framework for developing more interesting mutually beneficial relationships with universities, and developing new products. In a world of free software which has grown organically over a period of 25 years, this solution where everyone retained their independence seemed like a natural fit to me. This structure, I thought, would provide me with the ability to jump in where I liked and add value, much like the Drupal project itself. It would allow me to finally be back in front of the end client instead of being the last person in the chain with little decision-making abilities and smaller slices of the pie. We, the community, could provide solutions which were modeled on the software itself and hopefully avoid all these catastrophic IT project failures which cost us millions and do nothing for the reputation of IT. 

I tried out a few things when I was in Brussels, the first being a general chat with other interested, again the response was encouraging, but when I tried a practical exercise things got a little tougher. I wanted to try out one of the exercised Ken had shown us in a workshop at the VEN event, the Synergy Discovery technique. This highlights connections between participants, and I can imagine that it would be easily done in Drupal using profiles and tags. I tried it in real life though, but of the few who did participate, most put down "I do Drupal" or thereabouts. I did not explain the exercise well enough, and I felt a little like the first Apprentice to be sacked on this year's UK series - at the end of the day I'm a geek and not necessarily good at this sort of interactive group stuff. I said to one of the participants that I had used Drupal Panels quite a lot and they said they hadn't touched it at all, to which I pointed out was exactly the point of the exercise. It gave me good feedback though, that I need help to explain the benefits of such an exercise!

I have previously tried to obtain funding for starting a VEN, however there was very little available for anything which was not a physical product. Because I also believe the VEN should be owned by those who participate in it such as a co-operative does, I didn't think it was necessarily something which angel investment would be a best fit for, however I am beginning to think that this may be an avenue to explore if we are to build a VEN in less than the next 25 years - I can't do this on my own, I just know it feels right, and I've learned to trust my gut instinct a lot more of late. I need people to help me translate Ken's VEN very clinical book into an easy-to-understand proposition and workflow. People need easy. More clients always helps too ;) 

To also end up with a distribution of Drupal which could enable VENs in many industries by providing things like the synergy discovery and skills heat maps would be a wonderful outcome but I've realised that I have many more dreams in my mind than my hands can possibly achieve alone. If we can get the VEN model working for Drupal, we may be able to get it working in other Open Source best-of-breed software worlds. If we can't, then at least it was worth a try. Like my ultimate vision of building open source coworking cafes on every street corner (slightly less egotistical though than when I first wrote about it), it's worth setting your aims high because you learn from every mistake.

I'm working in the world of Free Software because, if I ever have any, I want my children to have the same freedoms as I had to tinker and grow my own career, I hope the current mashing of Business and Freedom today produces more choice for the end consumer, and more power and revenue back to the community at large. I hope we do get to build systems which help governments in every country cut costs and help their fellow countrymen, and I hope we don't just repeat the past and not look at what is happening and looking at it from a number of different perspectives.

After spending the last month attending a number of conferences and community action groups, I have been reminded that we have all the tools and the people we need to build our brave GNU world, we just have to spend a little time and effort looking and learning from a little history and making some choices which may not be the most obvious or enticing ones, but which may have more benefit in the longer term. As one person who has devoted most of their life to not taking necessarily the easiest route says:

"Free Software, Free Society" - Richard Stallman, founder Free Software Foundation

Pages