Acquia on Why Web Publishers Love Drupal—And How the Startup Balances Business With Belonging to an Open-Source Community

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eliminate those barriers to adoption. That’s why we created Acquia Drupal, which allows one-click installation of Drupal, including the LAMP stack [Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl/PHP/Python—the operating system, Web server software, database, and scripting languages, respectively, that underlie many websites]. Now, some people say, that’s okay, but what if I don’t have a place to host it? Well, Acquia introduced Acquia hosting, where you can host [a Drupal site] even if you still want to build it yourself. If you know Drupal, you can easily get set up on Acquia hosting in a couple of hours, and if you don’t, you’re still talking about maybe only two to four days to get used to it and figure it out. The next step is how to reduce that four days, and the answer is Acquia Gardens, which will look to people something like, in terms of ease of adoption.

Bryan House: Let me build on what Tom said about the market. There is the Web content management space, and there’s the social software space. The thing that makes Drupal really unique is that it started out as a discussion-board system, with users and roles and permissions as the underpinnings, and then it moved into the CMS space. The thing that makes WordPress so great is that they focus like a laser on usability in the social media segment, but you see them and other players in the CMS side trying to add things like roles and permissions, and it’s all bolted on.

The reason the community gets so excited about Drupal is that yes, you can use it to build sites with profiles and wikis and all the social media things, but for many people it’s also a Web application development platform where they can build lots of applications. For example, Phase2 Technology in Washington, D.C., built an app called OpenPublish that takes Drupal and integrates it with Calais, a Thomson Reuters program for open-source semantic tagging, so your content gets submitted to the Calais service, which does complete semantic tagging from the vast library that Thomson Reuter manages. Users can put in four tags and Calais will put in hundreds. This combination of social software, CMS, and a Web application framework is what we believe makes Drupal a killer app. The community is a really technical community because these are people who have run into a ceiling in terms of the flexibility and power of other platforms. But as Tom said, that is only a small part of the market—-there is a much bigger market of people who just want to build a great site. That’s what Acquia Gardens and our hosting do.

X: How will Acquia Gardens work?

BH: Acquia Gardens will be a completely non-technical users’ avenue to developing a Drupal site. You’ll be in a browser, and you’ll sign up for a domain name, and you’ll say “I want this type of site, and I want it to look like this.” We’re focused right now on a theme builder, that is, browser-based tools to design a custom theme, with a lot more flexibility than you’d get from WordPress or Ning or other site creation tools. Another difference is that you can also export the theme or the whole site, so that you can work on it locally, or you can move it to Acquia hosting or third-party hosting. The hosted service will be a subset of the complete Drupal project—we will not offer all 4,000 Drupal modules. But say you decide you really need to integrate your SugarCRM system with your Drupal site and SugarCRM doesn’t come with the package—you can pull [your site] off of Gardens and put it on your own server.

X: When will Acquia Gardens go live, and how will the pricing work?

TE: We will have something out in the first quarter of 2010. We’re demonstrating it at DrupalCon in Paris [the European version of the Drupal Association’s semi-annual meeting] in two weeks, and we’ll have a healthy group of beta users using it starting this year.

BH: The pricing model is still to be detailed, but it will be much more of a SaaS [software-as-a-service] model, at $20 to $100 a month, depending on the types of services you use, rather than the $12,000 to $20,000 per year for our standard support subscriptions.

X: How do you deal with the fact that Acquia is a commercial company selling services around Drupal, but that Drupal itself, even more than being a bunch of code, is a whole community built around the free exchange of open source software?

BH: It’s a balance that we have to walk all the time, and Dries personifies that on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes he has to wear his Drupal Association hat and sometimes his Acquia hat. That means we have to be very open and transparent with the community. We don’t have surprise product announcements. If you look at our blog, you’ll see that Dries is very forthright about what’s coming down the road. We published our 2009 roadmap very early in the year. And we work with the community. Drupal is ultimately a meritocracy and you’re measured by what you give back. We want to make sure we do that.

For example, on the code side, Drupal 7 is now in development. One of the key elements about Drupal that has gotten knocked, to put it kindly, is its user interface. So one of the things we decided to do was to hire Mark Boulton, a world-renowned user interface designer, whom … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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11 responses to “Acquia on Why Web Publishers Love Drupal—And How the Startup Balances Business With Belonging to an Open-Source Community”

  1. Jose Onate says:

    “But if, like a growing group of publishers, you’re somewhere in the middle-with a moderate budget [and] ambitious technical requirements[…]” – That phrase represents most of small businesses and startups today gravitating towards tools like Drupal in an effort to reign on expenses without sacrificing their ambitious technical requirements.

    I find that clients that contact our development company online to request Drupal have already done extensive homework to compare all sorts of options. Most haven’t used Drupal before, come from MS technologies and their original plan was to build their own platform from scratch until the reality of costs and timeframes sent them on the quest that ultimately leads to Drupal; even as it represents an unfamiliar, albeit promising territory.

    On Acquia,
    Acquia’s mission and approach has been a blessing to the commercial aspect of the Drupal community in providing a virtual safety net for project managers and stakeholders who used to shy away from Open Source out of fear of being left to their own devices with unsupported software.
    If nothing else, the existence and success of Acquia is paramount in allowing Drupal to compete at the same level with “real” software (read: software backed by a big-enough liable company). For our small development company, the silent aura is that if at any point in the development process the client loses any level of trust in our team, there is always an Acquia-or-similar to fall back on. With that in mind, project managers have a much easier job selling the platform to upper management (and themselves), giving Drupal a fighting chance to shine for itself, and often coming up easily on top.

    Drupal is not easy,
    Neither is building your own professional, modular, advanced framework. Once a company faces the need for a brilliantly architectured CMS, and realizes that neither alternative to build one or buy one seems particularly attractive, it becomes apparent that Drupal is important specifically because it is so much more complex than WordPress or similar one-trick engines.

    IMHO and from where I’m standing, the place of Drupal in today’s tech world is not amongst simple engines, but as a solid, richly engineered and complex framework for medium-sized web projects. From this angle, WordPress (nor anything else I’ve seen) can compete at the same level.

  2. Glenn says:

    While it is true that someone who feels intellectually taxed just writing email is not going to be able to install drupal, it is also true that drupal is one of the easiest CMS offerings to deploy. The value proposition of drupal is such that it no longer makes any sense to create a brochure-ware site of static HTML pages.

  3. gheo says:

    great one,and well doen.keep up

  4. poopoo says:

    Drupal is only an attractive option for medium-size companies and projects because it is the only option. Drupal is mind-bogglingly complex for the novice computer user. Drupal’s framework doesn’t make things easier for a programmer or “tech guy” it actually makes things more time consuming and frustrating.

    Often to create a robust site, so many user-contributed modules are required that the modules start to slow down the site and conflict with each other. Soon the Drupal site finds itself crippled by its own diversity and slow as hell.

    After installing and configuring about 12 Drupal sites myself I am so frustrated with the platform I no longer recommend it to clients unless they 1) absolutely need the functionality of a particular Drupal module 2) specifically request drupal

  5. As a relative novice, I would be at loss what to do with a CMS such as Drupal or Joomla. The only way I would consider using Drupal would be as part of a template generator, such as Artisteer.