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.

WordPress Winning By Being Free as in…

In the future of blogging, “the winner will be WordPress.” That’s the way it seems to Philip Leigh, writing at MediaPost (via WordPress Publisher Blog). Philip goes on to imply that blogging will be an important factor in the future of media.

He identifies two reasons for the success of WordPress: it’s free, and it’s free. He uses open source rather than free, or free as in speech, or GPL’d, to describe the second cause of success. The first cause is free as in beer, gratis, cost of zero, etc.

I refer to the MediaPost article, not just to quote it – it’s been fairly widely quoted already – but to remark on some of the questions it implicitly raises. In particular, consider the following.

WordPress is not merely a blogging tool. It’s a platform that can lead to an explosion of new media properties capable of text, video, audio, music, animation, interactivity, online merchandising, podcasting, and even social networking.

WordPress isn’t the only such platform. It isn’t the only such platform that’s both free and free. Drupal and Joomla spring to mind. So what is it about WordPress that will make it the winner? Is it the trajectory from simple blogging tool to rich publishing platform?

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.

Drupal and WordPress, Two Years On

Drupal and WordPress are often compared. Here’s a summary of my summary of a comparison between the two platforms: WordPress is easier to get started with; Drupal has the advantage when it comes to more complex sites.

That was two years (and two weeks) ago. A lot has happened in those years, and early 2010 is a particularly busy and important time for both communities: Drupal and WordPress. If I had to provide a soundbite (blogbite? tweet?) right now, it would be: Drupal and WordPress are becoming more similar.

The best example of convergence from the Drupal side is Drupal Gardens, the slogan for which is: “Building Drupal websites just got easier.” It was indeed easy to establish a little outpost of the Changing Way empire at Drupal Gardens. runs on, of which Gardens is the Drupal counterpart.

Gardens runs on version 7 of Drupal. I love this line from Jacob Singh about developing Gardens on that new version, rather than on version 6: it’s like playing Jenga on a cocaine addled elephant riding a skateboard being jabbed in the ass with a hot poker.

WordPress is also in the midst of a new major release. In fact, this very post is a fringe member of a current and ongoing series about WordPress 3.0. Much of what’s in 3.0 (e.g., multisite) is already in Drupal.

The above account of convergence between Drupal and WordPress is very broad-brush. But it’s also about as long as I like a single post to be.

Comments – especially yours – are excellent for filling in gaps. They are also excellent for asking questions, and for offering me inducements to write more detailed comparisons of Drupal and WordPress and the communities and organizations behind them…

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.

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.

Choosing Between Drupal and WordPress

That choice was the theme of a talk recently given at a conference in San Francisco. You can see a video of the talk at the blog of either of the presenters. Andy uses Blogger, Selena uses WordPress. I found the video via Kieran, who uses Drupal.

Here’s my summary of the 18-minute video.

  • Preamble. We’re not trying to pick a winner, but to highlight the differences between D and W.
  • Getting site started: W+.
  • Managing site as it grows more complex: D+.
  • What does the software want to do with data? D: whatever you like. W: publish it.
  • Who’s the focus of the community? D: developers. W: users.
  • Wrapup.

OStatic: GigaOm on Open Source

Yesterday, Om Malik announced Ostatic, the newest member of the GigaOm family of blogs. Here’s how editor Sam Dean introduced the site: “OStatic’s mission is to be the most comprehensive web destination for information and insight on open source software and services.”

Mike Arrington asked, is Ostatic built on open source? The answer is yes: it’s built on the Drupal platform. I think that it’s the first of the GigaOm properties not to be built on WordPress.

I can see two reasons to use Drupal, rather than WordPress, for OStatic. First, the site, including much of the content, was developed by Vox Holdings, rather than by GigaOm, so the GigaOm preference for WordPress wasn’t as strong a factor as it might have been.

Second, Ostatic differs from existing GigaOm sites in that it’s more than a blog. It includes a database of open-source projects. Hence Drupal, a content management system (CMS), may well have been considered a better fit than WordPress, which is more of a blogging system with some CMS-like features.

I certainly don’t think that Om’s choice of Drupal for OStatic reflects any lack of confidence in WordPress, or any lack of open-source-ness on the part of WordPress. WordPress (like Drupal) is under the GPL.

I wish all the best to Om and to OStatic, even as I disagree with his description of it as a blog – it’s more than that, in so represents a bigger step for GigaOm than might at first appear.

Talking of LiveJournal and Drupal…

After posting thoughts on LJ, it occurred to me that few of the blogs to which I subscribe are on LJ. The only two that occur to me are science-fiction-related. One is the group blog theinferior4+1. The other is Nicholas Whyte’s From the Heart of Europe, which has a fair amount of personal and political content as well as the sf.

I think that Universal Hub is the sole Drupal representative in my feed reader. I have recently found myself at another Drupal-powered site: Green Plastic, a site dedicated to Radiohead. The most recent post there is two weeks old: Anyone out there familiar with Drupal? If you can help, please email us.

Most of the sites to which I subscribe are powered by one of: WordPress, Movable Type, TypePad, Blogger. The order is some kind of approximation to the representation each has in my subscriptions.

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.”