The future is here. What's Drupal got to do with it?

"The future is already here— it’s just not very evenly distributed." —William Gibson

An increasing number of people do work mediated by APIs.  Self-driving cars (and trucks) work.  Algorithms, big data, and programs akin to artificial intelligence are increasingly people's everyday interaction with their phones.  We put general purpose computing machines (similar in principal to your laptop, smartphone, or the servers Drupal runs on) in some people's bodies, and many more of us spend a lot of time inside computers (any modern car or airplane, and many modern houses).

What does any of this have to do with Drupal?

Despite all the (genuinely real awesome) awesomeness we hear about in session after session, Drupal is still in a 2001 world in some fundamental ways.  It is a site on a server.  People can log in to edit text and upload files.  This was a huge increase in power ten years ago for people who should not have to edit HTML or use FTP.  With a little up-front help from a web developer, anyone could make updates that the whole world could see, at a domain they owned on a site they controlled.  That had a touch of magic to it— more than a touch with what modules could add for the presentation of content and business-critical functionality like e-commerce.  Now content management is commonplace.  Meanwhile, the magic more and more comes not from a module, but from an outside service.

If our work isn't providing the value, inevitably our work will not be valued.

Sure, we can hook Drupal up to the Internet of Things or any other buzzword that comes along, but we're just an afterthought. This is not unique to Drupal; the web itself is becoming a second-class citizen of the Internet.  What may be unique to Drupal is the community cohesion needed to put Free Software at the center of meeting people's needs, wants, and inchoate desires.  If we don't, the experience people expect from technology will get harder and harder to provide with code we (and they) control.

Indeed, the experiences people expect, right now, frequently rely on technology that spies on them and, presently, is provided by opaque, proprietary services.

Ceding, to a consolidating cadre of corporations, control of the computers that run our jobs, cars, games, homes, conversations, and even bodies is a grave threat to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The moral case against allowing this to happen makes itself.  A moral case has never been sufficient, however. I will make the business case for engaging seriously with the sort of technologies and platforms that define our present future.

This session will suggest how Drupal can become relevant to four large markets that we have bypassed (with some Drupal products providing notable exceptions that will be noted), or that have bypassed us:

  1. Static sites editable by one person who just wants to manage content (most domain registrars now offer some abomination that sort of works for this)
  2. Content management as a service (SquareSpace,
  3. Vertical-specific applications (learning management systems, club management software, library catalogs, you-name-the-business)
  4. Everything where the value comes from network effects or simply a large enough number of people pouring feedback into the system (social networks, spam filtering, maps, voice recognition, search engines, digital assistants)

For those of us building web applications, if we don't take a step back and look at what is providing value to our customers (and could-be customers), we're going to be at the mercy of those providing the APIs to what does provide that value.  For those of us making small, medium-sized, and even large sites, our lunch may be eaten by SquareSpace and (disclosure: Agaric is a beta customer, if they ever come out with anything).

Machine-built web sites or artificial intelligence doing parts of our jobs is nothing to fear, necessarily.  Drupal already has the same effect, replacing more than half the work of crafting a web site with a ready-made framework.  Ideally, we're freed to work on ever more interesting and important goals.

The challenge is to use the Drupal community—our own network effect, so to speak—to coordinate partnerships and projects which will produce value with tools that belong to us all, rather than locked-down services controlled by a few.

You will leave this session with a better sense of web development and Drupal in the context of the unevenly-arrived future, and at least a glimmer of an idea for a way you can profitably be a part of building a better web, and world.

Session Time Slot(s): 
Sep 11 2015 - 3:00pm-Sep 11 2015 - 3:50pm
Allowed Types: 
Speaker Bio(s): 

Benjamin Melançon is a co-founder of Agaric, a web development and strategy consultancy which helps people create and use powerful Internet technology. The principals of Agaric, a worker-owned cooperative, live and work to connect ideas, resources, and people.

Benjamin is a programmer and web application developer specializing in Drupal, an open source free software content management system. With Agaric he has worked on web sites for businesses and non-profits of varied kinds, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Studio Daniel Libeskind and Zeit Online, and Partners In Health and the National Institute for Children's Health Quality. He attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on a Commonwealth Scholarship and studied journalism, economics, political science, and information technology. He was awarded a grant in the inaugural round of the News Challenge of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for 2008 and a Google Summer of Code grant for Drupal development in 2007.

A founding elected director of the Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham, Massachusetts, Benjamin has supported numerous artistic, journalistic, and social ventures.

Once upon a time, he led 34 authors in writing the 1,100 page Definitive Guide to Drupal 7.