So You Want to Build a Drupal Product...

 Earlier this year at NYC Camp and DrupalDay ATX, I got to talk about my favorite subject: products and distributions in Drupal. And at the upcoming BADCamp Product Summit on November 2, I'm going to get to share ideas and learn from the top firms building products and distributions in Drupal. 

Earlier this year at NYC Camp and DrupalDay ATX, I got to talk about my favorite subject: products and distributions in Drupal. And at the upcoming BADCamp Product Summit on November 2, I'm going to get to share ideas and learn from the top firms building products and distributions in Drupal.

Products and distributions occupy a really interesting space in the Drupalsphere. After seeing Drupal's growth into a mature framework and platform, the natural next question is: "Where can we take this now?" Can Drupal be used to power stand-alone products? Can it be the basis of SaaS-hosted site building platforms? Are distributions best suited as tool kits for developers? Or should they be used to build "site in a box" solutions that reach a larger market of site builders? These are the questions our own product teams grapple with regularly, and that drive our work on our own distributions.

But Drupal (and open source, generally) presents a second, perhaps even more important question. Beyond "what CAN we build?" lies the question "How do we take Drupal products to market, the Drupal way?" How do we make sure we aren't sacrificing community goodwill, collaboration and contribution, and general open sourceyness, while still deploying the business models that will sustain these "Drupal products" and their further development?

To address the multiple decision points and questions of when, how, and sometimes, what to build when considering a distribution, OpenPublic technical lead (and dear friend) Erik Summerfield and I built a decision tree, tracking the many motivations, aspirations, and assumptions that we have seen in building distributions in Drupal. Our disclaimer to this decision model, which we gave in New York and Austin: none of this is meant to say that at Phase2, we've avoided every pitfall and done it perfectly. Quite the contrary. This is the result of early missteps, some challenging internal conversations, some hard decisions, a little well-earned community criticism, and ultimately, a lot of lessons learned. We share it not to say "we know how to do this" but to say "we're all navigating this together -- let's do it smarter."

Without further ado, here's our decision tree. (oh, and if you'd like to "zoom" through it, feel free to click through the prezi version online.

 

We started with the question "why" because so often, when we talk to people about using or contributing to distributions, the first thing we hear is "oh, we're thinking about building a Drupal distribution." And our natural next question is "Why?" Distributions are expensive to build, more expensive to maintain, and can be community suicide if handled poorly or neglected in the long run. Knowing up front whether you have a good reason to build a distro -- be it to build your brand and reputation, to create new offerings or business models, or to have a "base" for future builds, is vital to what you build and how you build it.

 

Once you know why you're building a distribution, there are a few decisions that might help to ensure that you're preparing for your distro to be a useful, sustainable, and well-supported product in our community. Checking to be sure that your team has built sites that solve the problem you're trying to solve and that you have people on your team who know Drupal, understand what it's like to contribute to Drupal, and know how to navigate the community can save a lot of time and energy down the road.

Finally, thinking ahead of time about your distribution's total cost of ownership can mean the difference between a successful experience and a distro disaster. Thinking about what it will cost to build, maintain, document, support, train, and market your distribution, and where you'll find the revenue models to support that cost, is absolutely key.

It's not an easy set of questions -- but when we're trying to find out "where can we take Drupal now?", it's vital to ask ourselves the hard questions (and a lot of them) in order to hold our work to the highest standard. If you want to jump into these questions (and more) I hope you'll join us at the product summit next week. We're excited to join the discussion among awesome, product-minded companies like Commerce Guys, Pantheon, Acquia, ThinkShout, Volacci, Gorton Studios, and Aten Design Group.

 

Karen Borchert