Acquia's Strategy: Drupal as the Standard Platform

Acquia is a for-profit company, based on the free/open source content management system Drupal. When Acquia was founded, a little over three years ago, I remarked on its similarity to Automattic (which is based on WordPress).

Today, Acquia and Drupal founder Dries Buytaert posted about “the vision that we’ve been working towards for the last 3 years, and… how Acquia can help simplify your web strategy.” That’s based on the premise that “you” are (or are a member of) an organization with multiple websites. Since the sites differ in many ways (scale, rate of change, etc.), you find yourself with a variety of platforms.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a platform on which it was feasible to standardize? Acquia’s strategy is to provide that platform, in the form of Drupal and services to go with it.

That’s the big picture: Drupal as the Enterprise 2.0 platform (not a quote from Dries, but my summary of his post). One of the interesting parts of the picture is Drupal Gardens, which provides Drupal as a service. Dries contrasts Gardens with typical software as a service.

Almost all Software as a Service (SaaS) providers employ a proprietary model – they might allow you to export your data, but they usually don’t allow you to export the underlying code. Users of Drupal Gardens are able to export their Drupal Gardens site – the code, the theme and data…

We call this “Open SaaS” or Software as a Service done right based on Open Source principles.

I’ve been interested in the “open software as a service as a trap” issue for a while. So it’s good to see this issue addressed head on in an account of a vendor’s strategy.

Please feel free to leave comments on Acquia, its strategy, and related issues here. You don’t have to read Dries’ post first, but I recommend you do.

Drupal Earworm

I didn’t realize until this morning that there is a Drupal song. It is infuriatingly catchy, so don’t listen to it and then claim I didn’t warn you.

I found out about the Drupal song from a post by Dries, who can claim much of the responsibility for Drupal, but can deny any direct responsibility for the song. It is an earworm: a song or other music that repeats compulsively within one’s mind.

The sequences Acquia-Buytaert and Drupal-Earworm compelled me to write the following. Social media addiction compelled me to incorporate links.

A is for Acquia, founded by Dries;
Buytaert’s his last name, pronounce it with ease.
C is for CMS (rather weird term);
Drupal‘s a CMS, subject of worm.
Ear’s where the worm lives,
Forget it I cannot.
Got to stop rhyming,
Halt it here, dammit!

I should note that the above alphabet rhyme, like all of the content at Changing Way, is under a Creative Commons Attribution license, and so can be completed, augmented, adapted, mashed up, etc., as much as you want as long as you attribute.

Trying to Understand CMS

I know that CMS stands for Content Management System, but I don’t know what that means. In order to understand what a term describes, it’s often helpful to try to understand what the term doesn’t describe. So, in order not to be a CMS, something has to lack one of the following attributes.

  • Content. I find it hard to see the interest in anything content-free. I suppose that there might be a social network so purely about connection as to be unencumbered by content, but…
  • Management. I find it hard to see the point of something that can’t be managed, especially if we have an eye to the business market as well as to the consumer market.
  • System-ness: but let’s not get into what that might mean.

Since I don’t know what a CMS isn’t, I can’t claim to know what a CMS is. But I do claim to recognize one when I see one, which is perhaps good enough for Web 2.0 (whatever that is) work.

I do understand the argument for free/open source software, in CMSs and elsewhere. So do Forrester, who just wrote a report on what they call WCM (web content management) and open source. Clients are looking at OSWCM (may as well go all the way with the alphabet soup) “as a way of controlling software costs and increasing their access to product-specific expertise in the marketplace.”

The Forrester page doesn’t provide much detail, but there are quotes elsewhere. For example:

For an open source WCM vendor to be relevant, it must have a satisfactory product offering, proven enterprise-level implementations, and a large–and passionate–community of developers and service providers. Currently, enterprises interested in open source should keep an eye on two offerings–Alfresco Software and Drupal.

That quote from the report was posted by Matt Asay of Alfresco. He of course likes the report. So does Jeff Whatcott of Acquia, who wrote that:

Forrester analysts… highlight Drupal (with Acquia backing) and Alfresco as the most “relevant”. Among a wildly crowded field, Drupal+Acquia and Alfresco stood out for strong technical architecture, active communities, and strong commercial backing that make the technology more accessible. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

By the way, Jeff is among those in the CMS world who don’t like the term CMS. We even find discussion of problems with the term at the site called CMS Report.

Having identified “free is good” as one of things I do understand about CMS, I find it hard to see good prospects for a CMS that is neither free/open source nor free of charge. Nevertheless Markup Factory just launched exactly that.

I have to agree with Mashable Paul that Markup Factory will turn away quite a few interested users who would otherwise quickly become adopters with its paid subsciption model, starting at $14.95/month and with no apparent option of a free trial. Given that, I’m puzzled that it got featured at Mashable, which I believe features only a subset of the launched products it’s told about.

Puzzling place, this CMSland. Rather more complicated than Blogistan.

Enterprise 2.0: Some Thoughts on Vendors

This post follows from the previous, which discussed strategic and ad-hoc adoption of E2. It will map vendors on to that discussion, in a couple of ways.

First, I want to map four specific vendors on the continuum of E2 adoption, anchored at one end by a purely strategic, top-down approach and at the other by a purely ad-hoc, bottom-up approach. I found myself writing down beside that continuum the following four vendors. I’ll list them in descending order of fit with the strategic approach, and hence in ascending order to fit with the ad-hoc approach.

  1. IBM. I still think of IBM as the enterprise IT vendor that gets in well with top management. That thought may of course be a sign of my age, or of IBM’s.
  2. Acquia. Drupal is ready to go… built-in functionality, combined with… add-on modules, will enable features such as content management, blogs, wiki collaborative authoring, tagging, picture galleries… Already, “Drupal powers sites including the homepages of Warner Brothers Records, The New York Observer, Fast Company, Popular Science, and Amnesty International and project sites by SonyBMG, Forbes, Harvard University…”
  3. Six Apart. 6A provides the best illustration of something that’s true for all vendors: a vendor isn’t a single point in the continuum. Movable Type is further toward the strategic end then TypePad.
  4. Automattic. WordPress requires three easy steps below to start blogging in minutes. Automattic’s projects emphasize the same ease of use and speed.

In case it’s not already obvious, I should point out that the above is a simplification and a starting point. Since first jotting it down, I’ve had conversations (with myself and others) about how to capture the richness of what various vendors offer without obscuring the basic continuum too much. But, having shared the starting point with you, I have another way to look from the strategic/ad-hoc perspective toward vendors.

The starting point for this second half of the post is the claim that some large organizations are in an ad-hoc E2 stage, and are embarking on strategic E2. Such organizations may well decide that their strategy should be based on the lessons and successes of existing ad-hoc E2 efforts. Yes, I am implying that grand strategy is not necessarily better than ad-hocery and tactics, and may often have much to learn from them.

An important challenge, then, is that of managing the diversity of E2 approaches and heterogeneity of tools already present in the organization. One aspect of this is realizing that the organization already has web-based social networks, and deriving from them the social graph.

Did someone say social graph? Brad Fitzpatrick and David Recordon did, and their
Thoughts on the Social Graph aroused much discussion. Their thoughts are couched more in consumer than in enterprise terms.

However, social graph for the enterprise looks like a fascinating arena. The most obvious contender is this arena is, duh, Google, which already has a Social Graph API, on which Brad is currently working.

UK-based Trampoline Systems may also turn out to be a contender. If I were doing E2 strategy for a corporation, and realized that there was a lot of E2 already in that corporation, I’d definitely want to take a look at SONAR Flightdeck, at the server that powers it, and at the API for said server.

I’ve mentioned only half a dozen of the many E2 vendors. That’s fine, by me at least. This post is meant to sketch out ideas, and illustrate them with vendors, rather than to provide detailed comparisons of many vendors. It’s also meant to start discussion…

Blog Software Firms Spread Their Wings

Acquia was started up by Dries Buytaert, the lead developer of the Drupal CMS, in late 2007. At the time I remarked on the similarities between Acquia and Automattic.

Now that Dries has announced Mollom, there’s a new and significant similarity. Mollom, like Automattic’s Akismet, is a spam-fighting web service. Duncan at TechCrunch reports that Akismet is the current market leader.

Here are a couple of ways in which Mollom is following the leader. In each case, the server code is closed-source, even though it comes from a firm notable for its foundations in open source. In each case, the spam-fighting service can be invoked by any client using the API: Mollom isn’t just for Drupal, any more than Akismet is just for WordPress. One of the main differences is that Mollom uses captcha, albeit only when it’s unsure whether it’s just bitten on spam or ham.

Meanwhile, Six Apart has made an acquisition that expands its range beyond blogging, albeit into a closely related domain. Mike Arrington posted a guest the acquired firm contest on Friday. It now has almost 400 comments: that guy really knows how to get his audience going.

It turns out that Six Apart acquired Apperceptive. Here’s how Rafat Ali described the deal.

SixApart, the blogging software firm with products like MovableType, Typepad and Vox, is now moving up the value chain into offering advertising and consulting services, and has bought New York City-based social media creative agency, Apperceptive. The financial details were not disclosed.

In case you, like me, were wondering what “social media creative agency” means, it seems to be how they say “ad network” on the mean streets of New York.

Acquia: Drupalmattic?

Acquia is a startup that will provide complements to Drupal. Drupal, in turn, is a content management platform supporting a variety of web sites from personal blogs on up. Drupal is free/open source software, released under the GPL.

One of the questions in the Acquia FAQ is: “Are there other open source companies that Acquia is modeled after?” Part of the answer provided is that: “Just like Red Hat, Acquia’s business model is based on an existing open source project with a broad base of existing GPL’d open source code.”

Acquia strikes me as rather similar to Automattic. Drupal, like WordPress, is a GPL’d platform on which blogs and other “social web” sites can be built. The lead developer of Drupal, Dries Buytaert, will be the CTO of Acquia; Matt Mullenweg is in effect CTO is Automattic. Each firm has an experienced CEO who sold his previous firm.

Of course, there are also many differences between Acquia and Automattic. Acquia has started with rather more venture capital: $7 million, as opposed to the million or so with which Automattic got under way.

If the name Acquia makes you think of a series of map-in-front fantasy novels (The Annals of Acquia?), then check out Mark Hopkins’ post at Mashable. “Only a few days ago did Dries Buytaert,” he starts, and goes on to remark that Drupal “has grown to no small respectability.”