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Evolving Web: Drupal, Two Decades Later


On January 15, 2021, Drupal turned 20! I was so busy helping with the official press release that I missed the date to write my own take on the big day.

Drupal has a classic origin story: an open source platform (originally a bulletin board) that started in Dries Buytaart’s dorm room in the Netherlands, and quickly grew into a global phenomenon, attracting developers from around the world to contribute to and use Drupal.

📺 Need a primer? Have a colleague who’d like to know what Drupal’s all about? Join us February 17 for a free 2-hour intro to Drupal webinar.

Back in the day

If you take yourself back to January 15, 2001, this was the same day that Wikipedia was founded, before the rise of Google, before wifi was available everywhere you went, and before cat videos were popular online.

Drupal emerged as a new model for building a website.

In contrast to the competitive atmosphere of the dotcom era, open source and Drupal in particular showed a more friendly and collaborative way of building and sharing tools to publish content online. As contributors rushed to write Wikipedia articles to contribute to the world’s open knowledge repository, developers were eager to contribute to Drupal so that websites would work better.

Drupal pioneered features like taxonomy and a flexible, configurable content model. Multilingual came out of the box in the second release.

Look at us now

Over the years, massive organizations started adopting Drupal, and today it’s used for some of the most ambitious digital projects by governments, institutions, non-profits, and companies around the world, from the UN to Tesla.

How Drupal changed my life

My own Drupal journey started in 2008, as I was looking for the best platform to build multilingual websites for our clients here in Montreal. It was a pleasure to use a system that was actually designed to handle more than one language.

Drupal camp Montreal 2018 group shot
Smiling faces at DrupalCamp Montreal 2018, one of many Drupal-related events we’ve sponsored and contributed to over the years

And right away, as we started adopting Drupal for more and more projects, I was caught up in the excitement about what was possible. I remember spending months creating a Ruby on Rails app, and then rebuilding it in a couple of days using Drupal.

As a “self-taught developer”, I got so much out of the open source practice of sharing knowledge, best practices, and code. I am continually amazed by how the open source community works, and how features make their way into Drupal before I realize we need them. 

Suzanne at DrupalCon

The future is friendly

The truth is that a flexible CMS can be hard to use, because there are just so many options built in. The Drupal community has always been hesitant to assume what the site builder wanted to do, so that you can turn Drupal into whatever you need it to be.

But recent updates, particularly the Umami, demo, the Claro admin theme, a built-in Media Library and content moderation workflows, have made huge improvements to the core content editing experience.

📚 Read next: Drupal 8 vs Drupal 9: more features for content editors

In Drupal 9 demos and training, users have been impressed by the simplicity and friendliness of the authoring experience, and I know that there’s more we can do to design better defaults to improve this experience and make the update process easier for non-developers. And I’m thrilled to see that that’s exactly what’s on the roadmap for Drupal in the coming months and years.

How can we do better?

I hope that the future of Drupal is also more diverse, because we need a diverse community to build the future web.

I think that there are lots of things we do right: having many organizations around the world contribute to Drupal, for instance, and prioritizing accessibility so that content—and Drupal’s content editing tools themselves—are available to a wider audience.

But we have so much to do to proactively build a truly inclusive community. As Drupal has shown what large-scale open source code contribution can look like, we can also lead the effort to make open source more inclusive.

Drupal’s 20th birthday inspires me.

That we can build such a valuable resource collectively, and continually build something better as a community is awe-inspiring. Let’s keep going! Reach out to us (we’re @evolvingweb on Twitter!) if you have ideas for how to take Drupal to the next level—or, better yet, check out the Promote Drupal initiative to help spread the word about our favourite open source CMS.
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