Backdrop and Drupal from a product manager’s perspective

I was really interested to read about Backdrop.  I’d felt for a long time it was pretty obvious someone significant would create a fork of Drupal.  As a number of people have pointed out, forking is part of what makes open source so compelling.  And from a community perspective, things evolve - they always have done; I wonder if when Nate announced plans on backdropcms.org he felt anything like Martin Luther at the church door in Wittenberg.

It’s very early days for Backdrop and I’m sure a lot of people’s thoughts on it will change over time as that project evolves.  Here though are some of my initial reactions to it.  Just to place my thoughts in context, as an MD and Product manager within my own business, miggle.co.uk my role involves finding projects, scoping and resourcing them and then getting them out the door, so my thinking is limited to that.  It isn’t driven by anything under the hood.

Access to developers

Whatever CMS approach anyone takes, someone has to build out solutions.  Dries mentions in his blog about the rationale behind the big architectural changes in D8 that one objective is to try and bring more developers to Drupal - and that an object orientated approach is key to this.  I buy that, but I kind of think, in respect of trying to find Drupal talent, if D7 is akin to fishing with a spear, then D8 will be like fishing with a rod - whereas what I could really do with is a net.  

That said, if I want to use a net, should be focussing my businesses activities around WordPress?  (It’s a rhetorical question, and one I’ve already emphatically decided is a No for a number of reasons.)  If I did though, I could net a lot more practitioners in that way - but, with nets, you don’t always end up with the fish you want or need…  In our business, finding new talent is an on-going challenge.  While D8 may make that easier, it’s also going to create a requirement to skill up some of our team to meet the challenges that working to an object orientated approach will require, when we go from D7 to D8.  So it’s a double edged sword.  A viable fork, that gets embraced, if Backdrop becomes that, could lessen that need to reskill across the board, or over the long term, give us more strings to our bow.

Drupal7 is not going to disappear overnight  

Drupal7 is still going to be a large focus of the drupal.org community for a while yet and the client demand will be there for some time too.  So there’s no reason to be deleting your drupal.org ID over a fear of D8 just yet…  

It’s also too early to tell in what circumstances a migration from D7 to Backdrop makes more sense than one from D7 to D8.  That will depend on client use cases, business objectives, roadmap, level of usage etc.  For us, I’d say the D8 route is more likely, only because the type of projects and clients we have would seem to have more need to evolve in that direction.

Using Backdrop from the outset

There are certainly use cases in which Backdrop might make more sense than Drupal8, or Drupal7 at such time when Drupal8 is more established - which let’s face it, is probably still 15-18 months away.  It’s clear that a number of developers would want to embrace the new fork and the intro on backdropcms.org alludes to this pretty strongly.  Backdrop as small-scale Drupal, which becomes a viable and more scalable, future-proof alternative to Wordpress is no bad thing.  Recently, I’ve wondered as to the ease in which a sole professional can easily deploy end-to-end solutions in the same way as you can with WordPress, because WordPress doesn’t place as many demands on it’s designers/developers as Drupal does.  

WordPress has clearly been a great thing for the front-end web designer who five years ago was making brochure-ware websites in Dreamweaver.  As clients have asked for more, WP has provided an easy way for web designers to add to their skills.  How many WP practitioners do you know who use version control? (or rather what’s the ratio between those who do/don’t as compared to Drupal?)  I remember in a session at DrupalCon Munich someone asking the question in a session as to  how many people used version control. There was still a high number of people in the room at the time who didn’t.  While that drew gasps of horror from those for whom the lack of version control would render use of Drupal impossible, it doesn’t make not using it any less valid for certain projects.  

If Backdrop creates an environment where more single professionals can manage end-to-end developments that’s a good thing for anyone involved in Drupal.  When I think now of sole traders I know who use Drupal, they’re largely specialists around one area, like theming for example, which means cutting a living as a sole trader requires different challenges to doing so with WP - and those challenges have become more pronounced over time.  Backdrop changing this might be a good thing.

Ideology

I do wonder though how much of the fork at this stage is based around ideology and whether that’s enough to grow it (it could and/or should be) - but from an engagement point of view, a later fork might make more sense (or perhaps rather, Nate still needs to be extolling the benefits of backdrop over a continued timeline, as it’s going to need a while to gain traction.)

From an ideology perspective, there’s such an alliance between Drupal and Acquia.  Acquia of course *don’t* want to own Drupal, but don’t seem to be able to stop themselves from talking about ‘Acquia Drupal’ at the same time either.  A more enterprise ready CMS like Drupal 8, based on Object Orientated PHP, with the levels of separation which have long been talked about, will build Acquia’s business (and maybe ours too) more effectively.  Commercially the requirements needed to build Acquia’s business has had to have had some significant impact on the D8 roadmap and it would be disingenuous of Acquia to pretend otherwise.  In terms of suppliers, Acquia needs to back horses.  It can’t be all things to all people.  

So, given that the enterprise approach won’t work for everyone - D7 and/or Backdrop provides an alternative.

The Enterprise

Will we see Acquia embrace Backdrop.  I’d be surprised, based on my points above.  But I wonder what more established creators of popular contrib modules or distributions might do.  It depends on engagement and take up I guess.  How that all pans out will have some impact as to whether this splits the community or not.  In the 30 months we’ve been using Drupal we’ve seen the community grow and diversify and that’s not a bad thing.  Backdrop needn’t split it, or those who embrace it end up feeling out on a limb, even if at it’s point of creation there’s a clear ideological difference.

A word of caution though.  Let’s say Backdrop is a stellar success and drives a lot of migration of sole traders from WordPress.  Will Backdrop then become like WordPress, where prospective clients are choosing the technology because they’re involved in a race to the bottom in terms of price (never realising that you get what you pay for).  There is a tonne of WordPress work out there - but a lot of it is shit work. Equally, Backdrop could become a target solution for poorly conceived and managed projects.One thing’s for sure, I’m looking forward to hearing what others think about this all at DrupalCon Prague. Interesting times, as ever….

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