3 March 2010
A recent CNet article notes that such shops as AF83 have been turning away business because they can’t keep up with demand. That’s a familiar story to many of us, including me: Drupal is just growing and growing, and we’re reaping the benefits and challenges.
But consider the other side of that coin, expressed by the article’s title: “Need a job? Learn Drupal.” If the message gets through, the Drupal community will experience a wave of people driven by practical matters of employment. A few minutes in Drupaldom’s current hangouts — IRC, drupal.org, mailing lists — predicts how such an influx will clash with the existing culture.
Not that the the Drupal world isn’t already commercial and entrepreneurial — it is, in large part thanks to pioneering companies like Chapter Three* and Dries’ own openness to commerce. But the three badges of Drupal honor today are that you (1) you code, (2) you work on GPL projects, and (3) you’re active in “the community”. Few people responding to the call of this article — or of the business community at large — will meet these criteria. Let’s look at each separately.
- New immigrants will not be coders. Coders were necessary to Drupal as hunter/trappers were to U.S. expansion. And, like trappers, they’re not as important as they used to be. After food sources are secure, people need banking, commerce, clothing, entertainment. These are institutions that pioneers are not equipped to provide.
Obviously, trapping isn’t as important a skill now as it was in 1800. We still need food and warm clothing, so the functions formerly served by trappers are now served by others. Trappers can be angry at how they — the people who built this country! — have been pushed aside. (Old westerns are full of such grizzled characters.) The smart ones will get off their laurels and adapt to inevitable change.
New Drupal workers will be in public relations, finance, advertising, distribution, sales, business relations, and content. They’ll think inheritancy and encapsulation are about wills and pills. They’ll fail to recognize coding intelligence, because they’re not optimized for such wisdom. In my experience, coders repay that ignorance with a vengeance, failing to recognize the intelligence of those “soft” skills even more. But they’ll make Drupal’s banks, markets, stores, and bars run — regardless of how you feel about them.
- New immigrants will not work on — or care about — GPL projects. They’re here for a job, not a philosophy. The first ones will become educated about open source because they’ll have to be in order to get along with the community. But peer pressure will shrink as the pool of Drupal users grows. We’ve already seen this in (for example) the Linux world: How many users understand their operating system’s origin or license? 1%? How many contribute back to the project? 0.001%, maybe.
Which leads to a hard question: Does Open Source Matter? On some level, yes, and I spent a good part of the late ’90s expounding the position that it does. But for the people building a career based on using Drupal? No, it doesn’t. They hope that Drupal remains strong, and perhaps have a vague idea that volunteers are behind it. Because they’re not coders, they won’t have any connection to those volunteers — unless the Drupal project changes in ways that make it easier for them to get involved.
That, of course, has been a topic of much discussion. The Drupal.org redesign will help, but it’s only a drop in the bucket. Ultimately no amount effort will entice the majority of new Drupal users to get involved.
- New immigrants will not be in “the community”. This will be the hardest blow to Drupalistas who have been with the project since Dries was a jongetje. It strikes at the real reason that people contribute their efforts to Drupal, or any cooperative project: Because they like the people as much as the subject.
When a group is small, members feel they can know everybody, and problems can be solved via IM. Even if they don’t know everybody, they feel they can at least trust others, and that they’ll share common beliefs.
But growth engenders diversity. I remember being part of a pretty insular bisexual activist community in the early ’90s, all working together for the recognition and dignity of Our Sort. We started interacting with some counterparts from another city and found them… tacky. Suspicious. Poor representatives of what we thought We were. We had gone beyond our tribe, and not liked what we saw.
So it will be with Drupal. One thing that’s surprised me is how little we hear of Drupal being used for right-wing political sites. Will our community, with such left-wing support businesses as Development Seed and Chapter Three prominent among us, trumpet their success as well?
So — the contrast between “old guard” and “new school” may sound harsh, but it’s actually cause for celebration. If Drupal does in fact attract such people — who don’t code, who aren’t GPL-savvy, and who aren’t community members — it’ll be a sure sign that it’s escaped its corral into a larger world. And as we can take advantage of their skills, the circle will continue to be ever-widening.
* Say, who were the first Drupal service companies? I’m assuming Chapter Three was one of them because of its leadership’s involvement in Deanspace.Web development