On Drupal, Twitter, and the future

10 Mar

For the better part of last week, I was in Washington, DC attending this year's North American DrupalCon. Although a bit exhausting, mentally, it was a pretty interesting and enlightening experience. My first foray into the wider Drupal community was at last year's equivalent of this event, in Boston. It was there that I was more or less hired on the spot by the New York Observer, where I still find myself today. This year's conference was considerably larger (1400 attendees, up from 800 in Boston). I also noticed a distinct shift in tone. A year ago, the economy was still booming (or seemed to be). Development shops, media companies and even non-profits were in a hiring bonanza and looking to crank out new sites left and right. This year, everyone seemed much more contemplative.

The conference still featured a number of sessions designed to get new and intermediate users and developers up to speed on how to get things done with Drupal. However, the keynotes struck a more philosophical note, discussing things like the morality of open source software and the concept of identity on the Internet. People in general seemed less interested in how fast we can use Drupal to get this month's new online property out the door, and more interested in regrouping and thinking about how Drupal fits into the emerging form the Internet is likely to take over the next decade.

I also noticed that while “social media” was still mostly considered another service or property last year, this year the question of how we go about integrating social media into our sites was paramount. In fact, I do believe Twitter was probably the second most discussed topic after Drupal itself. This was actually useful for me, since it helped me gain some perspective on what the point of Twitter actually is and why people other than the early-adopter who finds technology interesting for its own sake should consider joining. Rather than thinking of it as a mere duplication of Facebook status updates, it's better to view it as a means of divining what the Internet hive-mind thinks about a certain topic today. Along the way, I was introduced to a number of entertaining Twitter monitoring tools, like Twitterfall. I also realized that part of the mystique of Twitter, at least for developers and designers, is that they as a company have not really tried to dictate in any way how you should use their data. They just supply a raw stream of tweets and let you have at it.

It's clear that Drupal has made some major inroads into the “mainstream” of the IT landscape. Even if it was so last year, it is much more so now. I do hope the community maintains its unique sense of collaboration and quirkiness, but I look forward to seeing where the next few years take us.