Welcome to Amsterdam, the "free ride" stops here
For a long time I’ve harboured the belief that too few in Drupal receive the recognition they deserve. I often wonder how many bright (young) stars fall through the cracks of our vast community, fade away and perhaps leave altogether. When the Drupal project was small if you did some heavy lifting, people noticed. Now our numbers have swelled beyond 1 million it is no wonder worthy effort goes relatively unnoticed.
Few of us are seeking the limelight but being noticed, that’s another matter. It’s not just recognition either. We should be mentoring emerging talent, supporting promising businesses and championing contributions from end users. But with such a vast and growing community, as Dries so eloquently put in his keynote, the status quo is unsustainable.
“Social capital and altruism is what we already do and I don’t think it is very scalable”
We should remember the material for the Dries keynote was crowd sourced and as he said we should “keep an open mind, don’t draw to conclusions”. Now is the time to debate openly, engage in constructive conversation and help invigorate Drupal.
What struck me at Amsterdam was that when the audience members having contributed to Drupal Core and contrib were invited to stand, surprisingly few remained seated. In many respects talking to DrupalCon attendees was preaching to the converted. The job is for us to reach the rest.
Understanding how our ecosystem works is a very important first step
I believe the path to a healthier community hinges on how we record contributions, not how we recognise them. Currently we track what individuals contribute and there is a fixation on code based contributions. How about documentation, organising camps, mentoring, community affairs, design and so many more valuable activitites. Introducing a way to differentiate between efforts made by individuals, agencies and end users and a move towards “Track all types of contributions” for me is a giant leap forwards. It couldn't happen sooner.
How we might use this new data is less important than the ability to "track how our community really works”. Most significantly it will bring to the surface things are not working. Who is funding what? Are we depending too heavily on small groups or certain individuals? Could specific areas do with more help? Achieving the tracking Dries would like, could happen within weeks. The Rankomatic? I like to think of it as Drupal Analytics, which is open for all to query. Expose the data like data.gov.uk and the community will surely hack insightful mashups and we will have something very empowering.
Is D.O ready for a reboot?
What word is conspicuously missing from the D.O homepage? Contribute, yup, seriously. How can we expect more people to do so if we don’t clearly signpost how? When Dries talked about “Free riders” I reflected on how long (years) it took me to find a niche in Drupal. I existed on the fringes under employed. It was only when I was noticed by Isabel Schultz during DrupalCon London that things really flew for me. We need more "talent scouts". Why is Get Involved buried in the footer and not somewhere more obvious? Are many “free riders” just looking for a way to engage?
Rewarding contributions through enhanced visibility, leading by example will certainly help. Encouraging companies who don’t contribute to start doing so via subtle design changes to user and marketplace profile pages has merit. Will invigorate the contributors themselves to even greater heights? That's certainly how I roll.
What Dries suggests is sweeping change. In this respect the cynic in me worries about the glacially slow speed of change on Drupal.org (D.O). 5 months ago I created an issue proposing the community spotlight feature on the homepage of D.O. It had unanimous support but nothing ever happened. Maybe I did something wrong? Perhaps I don't understand the process?
The good news is the Drupal Association has hired staff whose role is to deliver these kinds of enhancements. It also feels like a more measured and strategic approach is being taken. I hear talk of user personas. The concept designs by During his TED Talk Harish stated companies that will thrive in the future are those who "play their role in terms of serving the communities who actually sustain them”.
Drupal is a platform having a community that sustains many thousands of businesses. Drupal has strong evidence that Harish’s hypothesis is already true. Drupal shops, even end users who contribute to the project tend to be the ones enjoying the best outcomes. The problem is we operate in a bubble, where everyone is hooked on open source. Out in the real world people’s thinking is years behind and the principles of open source sound quite peculiar even alien. Those coming to use Drupal need introducing to the benefits of taking a benevolent role.
We know who Lullabot, Palantir, Phase2, Wunderkraut are. The various Drupal shops are contributing, often in bucket loads. What we actually need is more companies like that. Indeed we need more end users contributing back too. Like how Oxfam, The Whitehouse, Sony have been instrumental in developing significant contributions to the Contrib space. Again Dries’s advertising model could help to champion these organisations, communicating why they chose this path and the benefits they have reaped over time. It’s not about penalising “free riders” it is more about persuading them to engage with Drupal, to start contributing.
“If everybody that used the commons contributed a little bit things would be perfectly fine”
Dries talked about The Tragedy of the commons - overgrazing in Drupal translates not to the software rather the "Free riders" are depending too much on people’s generosity, personal time or indeed time which they should be running their business. I’ve seen situations where people have neglected their business for the benefit of Drupal. This goes way beyond the well known plight of Alex Pott, I assure you. I'm sure the few examples I have seen are a small fraction. Here everyone loses.
Time for change
As Dries said “An imperfect solution is better than no solution”. We’ve tried for some time to encourage those who sit on the sidelines to start contributing. Now is the time for a small revolution. Recording, recognising, rewarding code and non code contributors on D.O is simply a way of scaling how it has always been. And if that sounds too radical, how about we try it out on beta.drupal.org? We need to take a leap. After all, aren’t we the round pegs in the square holes? We are the ones who think different. It’s way overdue we took some of our own medicine.