Drupal and Dries: A business model that works

I just completed one of the most exhausting days at work I've had since switching over from operations to IT. Everyone wanted a "minute of my time" which translates in the real world to 20 minutes (if I was lucky). The last thing I really wanted to do after work was touch a computer. Yet, I find myself too excited to not type about some great news.

What is the good news? Dries Buytaert, project leader for Drupal, is starting his first Drupal startup. The working name for the company is Acquia.

Thus, I'm starting a Drupal company whose current working name is 'Acquia'. Acquia's software products will include a number of Drupal distributions -- for community networks, digital media properties, corporate websites, and others. In addition to providing Drupal distributions, Acquia will build the Drupal-tuned analogue of the RedHat Network, over which we can deliver a wide variety of electronic services intended to be useful to people developing and operating Drupal websites. An example such service is an automated upgrade/update service, an uptime and performance monitoring / reporting service, a configuration management service, etc.

Does anyone else see the irony in Drupal's founder not beginning his first Drupal startup until seven years after releasing Drupal publicly? Think of all the developers, IT leaders, and companies that have prospered over the years from Drupal. In all that time, Dries has been very careful to not benefit more than others in the Drupal community. All in all, I think Dries has shown the highest respect for open source as well as loyalty to the Drupal community.

Already, some of the other CMS news related sites are wondering how the Drupal community will react to Dries' announcement. Comparisons are already being made to other open source CMS projects that have been torn between commercial and community interests. Take this CMS Watch post for instance:

And yet, large raucous communities don't always cotton to even the hint of one of their members assuming a leadership mantle (or oversized share of profits) out of the blue...

...I won't go out on a limb and predict the kind of turmoil and forks that befell Mambo and threaten Joomla! even today. But if you have staked your website, or even your start-up, on Drupal, you'll want to watch your interests very closely as this unfolds.

Some people here are looking for, and maybe hoping for, a story which unfolds and shows conflict between Drupal's founder (now seeking commercial gain) and the Drupal open source community. However, I think the real story to tell will be that there is no story to tell. It has been my observation that the open source projects that appear to suffer the most from conflicts are those that originated under commercial companies in the first place. Open source projects that were initiated and fully under the control of the community seem to do quite well...even when their founders move on to other competing interests.

Drupal.org, though has never mixed business with pleasure (open source). Drupal.org does a great job in promoting those individuals and companies providing Drupal services that have also given back to the community. More remarkable though, is despite all the contributions made to Drupal by commercial interests, the project has never been dependent on any one company to prosper as a project. Put it this way, unlike some other sites for open source projects, I've never seen at Drupal.org a price tag attached to a theme, contributed module, or advice given. Drupal.org doesn't mix business with pleasure and it suits them well.

Furthermore, I'm [Dries] expressly permitted to make decisions within the Drupal project that may not always be in Acquia’s best commercial interest. This was a hard requirement for me. Acquia fully expects that a portion of my time will be spent on activities associated with the project at large (vs. Acquia’s own software development). In essence, since the health and vitality of the Drupal project at large is extremely important to us, we’ve taken great pains to make sure that I am able to continue to act for the best interests of the Drupal community at large as I have done for the past 7 years.

The above statement from Dries is an important one. In essence, Dries is stating for the record that his company and other like it are dependent on Drupal. Drupal on the other hand remains independent. The growth of the Drupal project needs to benefit the community first and not an individual company. I believe most in the Drupal community will take Dries for his word on this. His statement wasn't written for a press release, but is a reflection of the core values that has been a part of Dries and other Drupal core developers for much of this decade.

Also, I don't see the conflict occasionally witnessed in the Joomla! community as unhealthy. If you think about it, the Mambo-Joomla split that "threatens Joomla! even today" isn't really a threat to Joomla! The conflicts that do remain with Joomla! are continued evolutionary steps necessary to reduce the project's dependence on commercial interests. None of the these moves at Joomla! are anti-business and are actually for the benefit of both individuals and businesses. By removing the "price tag" for code associated with Joomla.org, the developers, individual contributors, and other companies contributing to the project are all put on the same level of the playing field. In some ways, Joomla! is on the road to doing things more the Drupal way. That's good news for Joomla! and open source.

So if you've read through this blog and still don't understand why I'm excited that Dries is finally going commercial, let me spell it out for you. Drupal.org and Dries' company will likely become a perfect example of how open source and business should work with one another. In open source, communities must lead and companies will benefit more by following. There are a few other open source leaders that get this. It just so happens Dries is likely the next one we'll all be watching more closely in the future.

Edited 11/30/2015 to fix or remove broken links.