Sustaining a decentralized Drupal movement

A lot of talk has been kicked up by the recent launch of http://drupal.psu.edu .  I created Drupal @ Penn State as a hub site for all Drupal activity at the university.  Most talk has gone like this:

  • Wow, a lot more people are building then I thought!
  • Wow, a lot more colleges are using Drupal then I thought!
  • uhh..Who’s job is it to run this site?
  • uhh.. if we go Drupal who will support us?

To address the first two “wow” moments, yes, it is amazing how many people have adopted Drupal at the university.  I don’t have hard numbers for this but considering I knew about 4 Drupal sites when we started using it in 2007, and as of this posting there are currently 105 listed on the Site Listing, growth has been significant.  The list isn’t finished at 105 either; I know of about 50 or so not on the and know of 3 high profile sites actively working towards porting over to Drupal.

Now to address the last two points: Who’s job is this and how will we get support?  Personally, and this is why this posting lives on my blog, I don’t see these as issues.  We don’t need any one person, one group, one anything to determine the path that Drupal will take at this university.

The usage of Drupal at Penn State has been a completely grass-roots movement and should remain as such.  There is power in it being decentralized though money has been a big factor in it remaining that way.  Here are a few reasons for decentralization (where we are now):

  • The creation of one unit focused on Drupal development will create overhead in management, staff hirings and building space that no one can afford
  • We all think of Drupal sliiightly differently from one another (which is a good thing) so there is no magic bullet install / configuration
  • Colleges and departments can use whatever platform they want, Drupal, hacked drupal, non-drupal at anytime and still have local control over their content, design and development

So the problem / opportunity is that currently, everyone is running Drupal on their own.  They are developing on their own, creating sites and managing servers on their own.  This seems very redundant right? We could centralize everything and all run off of one Drupal core and only allow x,y,z feature set, right? Everyone can be happy and work under one banner.

…in a fantasy perhaps.

It is because we are not centralized that we have been able to:

  • take an incredibly flexible platform, add to it and make it meet our own needs
  • speak the same language (technically) and share ideas about how to fix issues we encounter because we are using the same platform (and backend technologies for the most part)
  • develop modules and themes that we can each learn from and tinker with to match our specific environmental needs

Platform fragmentation is not only good for us, it’s necessary for sustainable growth.

But we still have the question of support. Sure some of us can develop great things, but how do we get everyone “off the bench and into the game”.  How do we support people that want to get involved and use Drupal?

{enter stage left} Drupal @ Penn State community hub.  This site is the piece that has been missing.  Not a single, centrally supported solution, but a loosely knit entity which can unite us under “one banner”.  That’s not to say that central doesn’t play a future role in development, but it isn’t the gate keeper, no one is (no not even me :p).

Where do you go for help in building your Drupal site? Drupal.psu.edu, THe MyIT forums, groups.drupal.org then drupal.org.  It’s a very different way of thinking about development then most of us are used to but it is necessary for our survival. If you develop in a vacuum, STOP and embrace open development practices.  It will look good on you, your unit, your college, your university and Drupal as a whole.  It is also the only way to sustain innovative work in these tough economic times.

Jump in, contribute, communicate, ask questions, answer questions and let’s innovate our way forward together!

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