EMVisionaries: Drupal’s Dries Buytaert

EMVisonaries: Drupal Founder Dries Buytaert

This is the first in what I’m going to call EMVisionaries – a new series of interviews with people who are creating technologies and services that are changing the “world” we’re living in one technology at a time. The people featured here will be web technologist, environmental folks and people creating next gen audio/visual experiences. First up will be a series of talks that I had with the people who are making the open source Content Platform – Drupal a major player in the Web Development world.

A few weeks ago I attended a rare conference in DC, DrupalCon DC which brought together many of the big minds that support the Open Source Content platform Drupal. You are probably asking yourself why you should care, you should care because Drupal powers many of the most popular websites on the Internets including Spin.com, The Onion, The New York Daily News, many Sony BMG Artist websites, even Michael Jackson is using Drupal on MichaelJackson.com and rumor has it The New York Times is on Drupal and that the Washington Post is planning on switching to Drupal.  On a smaller scale, I’ve been thinking about moving EM over to the Drupal platform as well.  The reason this application is so popular is that it has a large, vocal and supportive community behind it.

Drupal was the brainchild of Dries Buytaert who created the first version of the application in his early 20s. Now that he’s older and wiser he recently decided “Hey, I gots to make some money” so he launched a new professional services business called Acquia.  I caught up with Dries at the show, we had a good conversation where he talks a bit about the history of Drupal, how the community has changed over the years and his new passion project Acquia and Mollum.

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I haven’t asked this question in awhile, but since I’m covering new territory for our readers, it seems appropriate to bring it back today. Please tell us who you are and why we’re speaking with you today.

Dries Buytaert

My name is Dries Buytaert, based and born in Belgium. I’m 30 years old and am known as the founder of the Open Source platform Drupal. In general I’m a technical person. Recently I founded two companies, one called Acquia that provides Enterprise Level support for Drupal and another small company that has two peopled called Mollum which is a Spam detection service.

EM

Drupal has been around for 8 – 9 years. What was the genesis of Drupal? Why didn’t you just use something like PHPNuke?

DB

It was a combination of factors. I was involved with web development and using a lot of CGI technologies at the time. PHP and Mysql were really new, so I decided to experiment and learn the language. I used it to develop a small message board, which slowly evolved into a content management system.

EM

Why have PHP and Mysql become so popular with the Open Source Community?

DB

They are really accessible. There are a lot of other Open Source languages but PHP was built for the web.

EM

Is PHP easier than Javascript?

DB

It’s a scripted language and not a compiled language so the barrier to entry is less. It’s also available and works on all hosting accounts, even the low end cheap accounts.

EM

I was one of the original people who helped launched Xoops that eventually sort of fell apart.  What is it about Drupal that has kept it pretty solid and consistent through the years?

DB

It’s the work of many, many people. These people have helped advanced Drupal’s core and write 1,000’s of modules. I think it’s the modules that keep people exited about Drupal. It’s like working with Lego blocks you can build just about any site you want with Drupal. Where Drupal shines is the functionality, the extendibility and modularity of the platform. In just a
few hours you can build a functional prototype of your site by using any combination of available modules.

EM

They say free, easy to use Themes are the reason that WordPress is so popular.  I’ve been studying Drupal for a while now and the one thing that always stops me from switching is the seeming lack of decent themes available (sure I can pay someone thousands of dollars to develop a beautiful custom theme, but freely available or reasonably priced premium ones are hard to find).  Why do you think the Theme community hasn’t embraced the Drupal platform, as much as they have WordPress, I also couldn’t find any premium modules, why is that?

DB

I think in part it’s the history of Drupal. We started out as a Developer community. As we’ve matured we have started to focus more on the Theming side and have seen a lot of progress in the last few years. Because you can create so many complicated websites with Drupal, creating Themes is more difficult since there’s a lot more pieces to Theme. With WordPress it’s geared towards blogging so there are more constraints making it easier to Theme for.  The flexibility of Drupal requires more thought.

EM

Do you think that’s what’s scaring people off? I know from my own personal experience that I chose WordPress because it’s easy and straightforward. I’m currently testing a Drupal Version of my site and my eyes kind of glaze over. Is there a happy medium (between newbie’s and developers) that can be struck?

DB

We’re focusing on getting more Theme developers involved in the community and made significant changes from version 5 to version 6. We’ve made technology improvements to make it easier for designers. But even as we do this, it’s a fact that it’s going to be more difficult because Drupal is more advanced and complex than WordPress. People are building large-scale applications, new sites, and other things beyond simply blogs with it.

EM

Can you talk a little about Acquia and why you started it?

DB

The reason I started it was because I felt that Drupal reached a certain point where it’s doing great and growing healthy. But I thought there was a need for a bigger company that can build more products. If we are going to expand into the Enterprise market then we need to be able to provide Enterprise Level support.

EM

I always thought the success of Lynx was the fact that they did dumb it down for mass consumption by creating easy install packages and moved away from having people try and figure out how to download the kernel and other things. Do you want to move Drupal in this direction of having installation profiles?

DB

Yes, that’s one of the objectives is to help grow Drupal. One of the things we released yesterday was a one-click install that will install Drupal, Mysql, Apache in one binary. If you look at Drupal Manuals, they take 30 pages just to step you through the installation process. The one-click install will eliminate the need for this.

EM

The problem with the Open Source community everyone expects everything to be free forever and any change causes a revolt. What has been the response from the Drupal community to Acquia?

DB

People have reacted very positively, a lot of people have seen what we’ve been doing and realize the positive impact we’re having on the platform. From a business perspective our partners love it because they know that there is now a company behind and supporting Drupal.

EM

How do you get around the idea that a lot of people contribute to Drupal and now you are profiting off their work?

DB

There are already thousands of Drupal shops out there where people are making money building websites, marketing programs, etc. so nothing has changed.  We’re not building websites, we’re providing support so I think we’re complimentary to what everyone else is already doing.

EM

Before I get the hook, I have one last question. What do you see is the future of Drupal?

DB

There’s not a short answer. But in the short term we’re focused on making Drupal 7 kick ass. We are concentrating a lot on improving usability.

EM

Final question, how do you feel when you come to a conference like this?

DB

Very proud of the Drupal community and all that we’ve accomplished.