Jul 27 2016
Drupal 8 was released on the 19th of November, 2015. Just a touch under five years from the 5th of January, 2011 release of Drupal 7. In web terms, an epoch. To put things in context, in 2011 AngularJS had not reached 1.0, React was two years out from being released and the term “Devops” was only whispered in dark corridors. Now that Drupal 8 is finally here the front-end revolution is led by AngularJS and React and articles are proclaiming that “DevOps is dead”. In short, much has changed.
Understandably, this has created some concern within the Drupal community. Has the huge Drupal 8 release cycle hurt Drupal in some irrevocable way? Is Drupal still a relevant technology? Is it too little too late or, as some argue, too much too late?
At the New Orleans DrupalCon, roughly six months after the release of Drupal 8, many were trying to glean some answers from available data. One fact cited is that after the first three months of the Drupal 8 release there were roughly 60,000 sites compared to 30,000 in the equivalent time period for Drupal 7. However, others argued that that is not necessarily a positive number because (as is pointed out here) the Drupal community is also three times bigger now.
In addition, the reasons that are holding people back from moving to D8 were discussed. Dries Buytaert’s keynote at the New Orleans DrupalCon covers that very well, with the leading factor being the migration of existing modules from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8.
However, as Dries goes on to explain, the number of sites and the number of upgraded modules are not the only relevant metrics. He argues that this increase in the richness and reach of Drupal will ultimately mean that Drupal 8 will see much bigger numbers than any other Drupal release.
What I will attempt to do in this blog post is add to the discussion by offering some simple facts that are very revealing about the actual state of Drupal and are relevant to any organisation trying to decide whether Drupal should form a component of their web strategy for the next five years.
2016 marks the year where it is no longer a novelty for leading Drupal agencies to employ people with a very specific mandate of working directly on Drupal core issues, or large Drupal 8 contrib modules (here at Deeson this is exactly what we do with the Group module, Rainmaker, Warden and our monthly Coder Lounge). The amount of ongoing direct investment from Drupal agencies and other organisations easily runs into multiple millions.
Acquia alone is investing $500,000 to speed-up the migration of popular Drupal 7 modules to Drupal 8. This means that popular modules will be ready faster and, more importantly, the quality of those modules will be higher as the maintainers will be able to dedicate focused time to get upgrades right. Using Drupal 8 means you are using an open-source CMS that is built to very high standards from some of the best developers around.
There was a time when a big site launching on Drupal would represent headline news in the community. It would receive applause at conferences and would be tweeted widely. This is no longer the case. Everyone is still happy to hear about big names joining Drupal but it is not news, it is the normal state of affairs.
These big launches span from media brands like ITV to multinationals like Johnson & Johnson; from pop singers to large cultural institutions. While the absolute number of sites running a CMS is important, the number of large complex sites using Drupal is arguably more significant to an organisation looking to set out its strategy for the next 5 years.
If you haven’t attended a DrupalCon yet, you should. One of the most interesting ways DrupalCons have evolved in the past few years is that they are no longer just about Drupal. There are dedicated tracks on project management, business development, user experience, PHP, front end technologies and much more. This is proof of a maturing community.
As the community has matured, interests have become more diverse and the breadth of shared practices has grown. Drupal has community sharing in its DNA which means that, by using Drupal, you are tapping into a very rich world that is willing to share knowledge about every aspect of a web strategy.
The Drupal release cycle has changed drastically from 7 to 8. This is an often overlooked “feature” of Drupal 8. While with Drupal 7 we essentially had the sum of features at the start and new functionality could only really develop through contributed modules, Drupal 8 brings minor releases that can add completely new functionality.
To prove the point we are already at Drupal 8.1.7 with Drupal 8.1.0 seeing exciting new features such as the addition of the BigPipe technique to Drupal. This finally allows Drupal to adapt and adjust its course, and the days of worrying about Drupal becoming irrelevant as the rest of the web marches on are behind us.
0 is a strange number to be touting as a success. But Drupal 8 now realistically allows you to build a front end that is 100% Drupal free. At Deeson we are currently building amazing front end experiences using React and taking advantage of Drupal’s powerful content model to store information and allow editors to quickly add and update information. The wider community is developing modules and best practices around this (for example, the great work happening around the Decoupled Blocks module).
Now, given the above is Drupal a relevant technology for a modern, forward-looking web strategy? All indications point to an unequivocal yes. Drupal 8 is more relevant than ever. It is the most advanced open-source CMS and it is built in a way that allows it to embrace and enhance a range of other technologies. The best news is that we are just at the start of what Drupal 8 will be able to do and, as best practices and experience accrues, the possibilities and the efficiency with which projects can be delivered will improve.
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