Sneak Preview: Get Ready for a New OpenPublish

Ok, ok, ok everyone. You've got questions about OpenPublish on Drupal 7. And we've got answers. 

We know you're eagerly awaiting a roadmap, a timeline, and a sneak peek into what's coming in the next OpenPublish, and we are excited to share that with you. We have learned a lot in our first several releases of OpenPublish. We've learned how people are using it, what works, what doesn't, and most importantly, how much is "enough" vs. "too much."  

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Ok, ok, ok everyone. You've got questions about OpenPublish on Drupal 7. And we've got answers.

We know you're eagerly awaiting a roadmap, a timeline, and a sneak peek into what's coming in the next OpenPublish, and we are excited to share that with you. We have learned a lot in our first several releases of OpenPublish. We've learned how people are using it, what works, what doesn't, and most importantly, how much is "enough" vs. "too much."

OpenPublish 3.0, built on Drupal 7, is going to look and feel very different from OpenPublish on Drupal 6, because we've gathered up all of those lessons learned and incorporated them into the plan for the new build. Want to know what we've learned?

Lesson #1: Lose Some Weight

If you have used OpenPublish before, you may have discovered that  it is built with a boat load of contributed modules from the Drupal Community.  The modules were built directly into the OpenPublish distribution, and new releases of the product often consisted largely of patches and security fixes to the suite of modules that makes up OpenPublish. You also may have noticed that OpenPublish has started to run a bit more slowly in more recent releases.

We’ve learned the “heavy distro” lesson, and have opted for a lighter architecture in Drupal 7. The base distribution will have fewer modules, and fewer “bells and whistles,” but it will be far more performant. Additionally, the new architecture will allow for pluggable features (an element of our OpenPublic distribution we call “Apps”) that create the opportunity for extension of the platform, without the heavy infrastructure. We are currently testing this concept in OpenPublic, and find that the ability to create packaged, simple-to-install, usable “apps” creates needed and wanted functionality, without  requiring every user to install the same set of modules.

Lesson #2: We're Not Experts in Everything

OpenPublish on Drupal 6 has a lot of integrations with Drupal modules as well as third parties – DocumentCloud, Apture,, workflow, you name it. Our goal with OpenPublish has been to give publishers all of the tools they need to publish their sites. This has been very exciting for some users, but has also introduced an element of confusion and “feature bloat” into the product overall.

But as it turns out, we don't know the best specifications, configurations, and interfaces for every third-party service our users need. Those companies do. It's why we're investing time in a system that allows third parties to easily integrate their products and services as pluggable apps -- optional for users, maintained by their owners, made available through OpenPublish.

This decision doesn't come without trade-offs, and we know that going in. OP 3.0 will be a lighter distribution, with fewer overall features out of the gate. Not every third-party service we currently work with will decide to create an App for OpenPublish. And we cannot control when every module will all be available on Drupal 7. We really encourage users to be vocal about the features and services that are important to you, and to participate actively in contributing apps and themes to OpenPublish.

Lesson #3: Usability & Deep Functionality Gotta Get Married

We heard you. We have been fielding usability suggestions, questions, and criticism for several releases of OpenPublish now, and we’re going to make it a lot better. Perhaps because of its many features, or perhaps because we’ve built the product over many iterations, many of you find the site administration interface to be challenging. While most of you praise the admin interface we use, there’s just a lot to “get through” when you’re adding content, editing it, or making it appear on your home page. If you have a relatively small team that can invest some time and energy in learning to use OpenPublish, this is no problem. But for large or disparate teams trying to administer their sites and content, the usability of OpenPublish leaves some room for improvement.

Drupal 7 inherently creates a much more friendly site administrator’s user experience than Drupal 6 did.  A dashboard helps you quickly find the site administrator tasks you really need and use often; creating and editing content is easier; and the interfaces overall are more intuitive. OpenPublish on Drupal 7 will take advantage of these improvements, as well as adding some of our own. And don't worry: we're not dumbing anything down for the sake of usability: semantic tagging capabilities, professional theming, monetization, and user engagement features aren't going to be stripped out. They're just going to be easier to use.

Ok, sneak preview time. One of the usability features we're building will change the way you build pages, section fronts, news specials, and even your front page in OpenPublish. Using the Context module, we're building drag-and-drop functionality that allows customization of layout for any page, promotion of specific stories and images, pre-configured lists, and specialized feeds. Bottom line: it's going to be way, WAY easier to put the content you want, exactly where you want it.

OpenPublish Sneak Preview

Now, before you say "but what about…?", please allow us to answer a few questions we’ve heard the most:

1. When?! 

We expect to release OpenPublish on Drupal 7 in late Summer, 2011. However, this is not a hard and fast date, and can be affected by many factors. And to reiterate, the first release of OpenPublish on Drupal 7 will in fact be lighter on features than its predecessor. It will have the capacity and opportunity for much greater extension and feature building, but “out of the box” it will be a lighter product. We also believe it will be more performant and more user-friendly, but yes, fewer bells and whistles for sure. 

2. Can I start on OpenPublish on Drupal 6 now, and upgrade to the Drupal 7 Version later?

Unfortunately, just like any web site built on Drupal 6, there is no simple way to “upgrade” to Drupal 7. These versions of Drupal are very different in their architecture, and there is no simple way to take your site from 6 to 7. If you are interested in eventually staying on Drupal 7, we’d highly recommend building on Drupal 7 in the first place.

3. Will OpenPublish on Drupal 7 be open source?

Yes, absolutely.

4. Will Phase2 be releasing any more updates or versions of OpenPublish on Drupal 6?

We do not plan to release any more versions of OpenPublish on Drupal 6 at this time.

5. Will Phase2 continue to publish documentation and support OpenPublish customers who are using the Drupal 6 version?

Yes, we will.

6. Is Phase2 going to start offering support packages for developers on OpenPublish like there is on Open Atrium? 

Yes, starting with the OpenPublish on Drupal 7 version, we’ll be offering buckets of hours to help you develop your OpenPublish site.

7. Is Phase2 going to be providing any OpenPublish training this year?

Yes! Stay tuned to the Phase2 web site and Agile Approach blog for more information on upcoming trainings.

Excited? We are.

The "clean start" philosophy has taken hold here with the OpenPublish teams. We're building OpenPublish using each of these lessons in mind, along with the collective knowledge we've gained building sites like The Nation, The New Republic, PBS Newshour's Student Reporting Labs, and many others. But just as much, we have been inspired by what many of you are doing with OpenPublish, and we're building with you in mind.

The leaner architecture, pluggable infrastructure, and commitment to usability goes beyond creating a great product. It's important for the Drupal community's involvement in OpenPublish's future development, too. A more straight-forward structure creates a much simpler way for more developers, users, and community members to contribute their custom functionality for the benefit of all. And that's key to the success of any open source software package.

Karen Borchert