The Future of Drupal
This post explores the challenges facing the leading open-source CMS Drupal and its path forward through improving ease of use, modernizing its technology, and appealing to a wider audience beyond technical users. It's based on a presentation given at the DrupalDay Portugal 2023.
A quick disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this presentation are my own.
I'm not sugarcoating or trying to make Drupal look nicer.
Drupal has been a leading open-source content management system (CMS) for over 20 years. But with recent declines, some are questioning if Drupal remains a viable platform.
Source: https://trends.builtwith.com/cms/Drupal September 2023
Usage of Drupal appears to be dropping, following similar downward trends as other established platforms like WordPress, Magento, and PHP.
Over 50% of Drupal sites still rely on outdated versions like Drupal 7, which will reach end-of-life (EOL) soon. Most of these outdated sites will likely never upgrade to newer Drupal versions. Of the modern Drupal releases, only 2% have adopted the latest Drupal 10.
Number of modules per Drupal version
Source: https://www.drupal.org/project/project_module September 2023
There are also signs of strain on the Drupal ecosystem. Over 2,000 projects need new maintainers and 3,500+ are marked unsupported. However, Drupal remains one of the most actively contributed open-source projects, with over 7,000 contributors in 2021.
To remain viable in the future, Drupal needs to address some key challenges:
- Staying modern and flexible for new technologies
- Finding and retaining talent
- Managing costs and complexity
- Funding innovation in open-source
- Improving ease of use compared to competitors
- Updating perceptions
What, for whom and why?
Looking from a business perspective, here’s Drupal’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP):
- Open Source DXP - Drupal offers enterprise-level DXP capabilities as an open-source platform with no licensing fees.
- Flexible and Customizable - Drupal is highly extensible and customizable thanks to its API’s, modular architecture and theming system.
- Modular Architecture - With thousands of modules, Drupal sites can be built in many configurations to unique needs.
- Structured Content UI - Drupal provides an intuitive interface for managing structured content models.
- Multilingual and Accessibility - Drupal has robust multilingual and accessibility capabilities built-in.
- Large Project Suitability - Drupal works well for large, complex sites and has a community with deep expertise.
Over time, Drupal has become a niche solution primarily used for medium to large projects with complex technical needs. But to thrive in the future, it needs to appeal to a wider audience.
Solutions per segment
With the rise of low-code and no-code platforms, Drupal must evolve to better serve less technical users who want to quickly build and deploy sites.
The Virtuous Cycle of Relevance
If Drupal can widen its relevance to a broader audience, it could create a virtuous cycle of benefits:
- Increased relevance would lead to greater adoption by more diverse users.
- Broader adoption would drive increased economic impact, creating more business opportunities and Drupal jobs.
- More economic and human resources would allow greater investment in innovating and improving Drupal.
- A better, more innovative Drupal would then become even more relevant and attractive to users.
This cycle of relevance driving adoption, resources, and innovation could propel Drupal forward in a sustainable, self-reinforcing way.
Naturally, this can go both ways. We can argue that if we are less relevant, we’ll have fewer resources to innovate and keep up with the competition. We need the spiral to be upward and not downward.
Drupal serves a wide range of audiences with diverse needs.
Leaner codebase and services
Drupal needs to be streamlined by removing deprecated or less relevant code and improving existing services and APIs. This will produce a smaller, more maintainable codebase with a better developer experience (DX). While backwards compatibility is important, it shouldn't come at the expense of the DX. Recent Drupal versions are a significant improvement over the past.
More from outside
Drupal needs to keep adopting outside innovations,- like we did with Symfony, Composer, and CKEditor - bringing in best-in-class capabilities from other projects.
Better Developer Experience
Decoupled approaches have become an unavoidable trend in modern development.
Drupal should fully embrace decoupled both in its architecture and out-of-the-box experience.
The existing Field UI offers a solid foundation for managing content models in a decoupled way, with leaner JSON responses.
The tools available for Drupal development are still fragmented and require a certain level of expertise, which can discourage developers from other backgrounds.
The documentation could also be improved and standardized.
Easy to Setup and Maintain
Allowing easier site creation and enabling automatic updates.
Seamless content authoring
Drag-and-drop page building with layouts coupled with intuitive admin interfaces would enable less technical users to easily create sites.
Embrace components that can be easily reusable while building pages with real-time previews.
Integrating AI through plugins to add advanced capabilities.
Intelligent search, personalization, content moderation, conversational interfaces, and voice assistants are some of the opportunities that AI can bring to improve the experience for users, content creators, editors and developers.
Drupal's integration capabilities have been a strength, and we need to continue to build on this. Drupal should be included in the integration lists of other services. Not only will make life easier for people building Drupal, but will also improve awareness and possibly bring users to the project.
Reducing the technical demands of launching new Drupal sites.
Our limited resources mean we must prioritize. Investing in modern technologies to improve ease of use will drive adoption across all segments, providing significant value. Therefore, it is a top priority.
Work In Progress
The Drupal community is committed to continuous improvement. Work is already being done through incremental improvements, strategic initiatives, and funding community initiatives.
To address its challenges and strengthen its position, the Drupal community is working on several strategic initiatives to improve the platform.
On the technical side, efforts are underway to modernize Drupal's developer experience (DX) through adopting GitLab for code collaboration and to better continuous integration and deployments.
For site builders and content authors, the focus is on making Drupal easier to set up "out of the box" with a way to visually explore modules, and recipes to be able to start with ‘pre-cooked’ solutions or easily extend the functionalities. Automatic background updates will also help sites stay secure and current.
Better DX (BE/FE)
Easy to setup and maintain
Funding Community Initiatives
Funding has been a problem for most Open Source projects, and Drupal also struggles to be able to capture some of the value that it creates for others.
This year, a new initiative, inspired by “Shark Tank” - a popular TV show that matches entrepreneurs with investors - to try to fund grassroots initiatives. More initiatives like this are important but they require strategic coordination and project planning to increase the impact on the Drupal ecosystem.
Better DX (BE/FE)
Seamless content authoring
Drupal has always embraced emerging technologies, so as we look to the future, many exciting possibilities could emerge.
Change is hard but necessary, but we need to keep looking for bold ideas. Here are a few examples:
- Drupal could leverage natural language processing to create a website builder assistant that allows users to describe what they want in plain language instead of needing to understand Drupal's architecture.
- Drupal's Twig templating engine could be replaced with React to enable smoother integration with decoupled frontend frameworks, opening up access to a vast pool of front-end developers.
- We could learn with other projects like NextJs, creating and managing static assets, along with some sort of incremental static regeneration (ISR).
- AI capabilities could understand a site's content model and automatically manage content translation, recommendations, and more.
As an open-source project, Drupal will go where its community takes it. Contributions of new ideas, code, training materials, and promotion efforts will all play a role in shaping Drupal's future.
While Drupal faces real challenges, I am filled with optimism about the platform's future. We have an amazing community of contributors and users who are passionate about Drupal's success.
Imagine a future where Drupal delivers seamless integrations, intelligent assistants, and smooth workflows to build beautiful digital experiences with ease. A future where both technical and non-technical users can bring their ideas to life on Drupal. The possibilities are endless if we work together to ensure Drupal remains relevant, adopted, and well-resourced.
Be the future of Drupal
The future of Drupal depends on each of us.
We all have a role to play in shaping the platform's continued success:
Contribute code, design, documentation, training materials, and translations to make Drupal even better.
Help train and mentor others to grow the pool of Drupal talent.
If you can, support developers who are seeking funding for their work. Consider donating on Patreon, Open Collective, GitHub, or another platform.
Promote Drupal in your work and communities to drive broader awareness and adoption.
Your contributions can make Drupal more innovative, accessible, and valuable to people everywhere.