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Taking aim at a box of Legos

One can only assume that Wordpress, Joomla! and Drupal are making it hard to close deals for Adobe's Business Catalyst (BC). Why else would Brent Weaver - a BC partner(?) - have to blow off steam shooting pieces of paper with a machine gun?

Brent is apparently preparing to show the world that BC does some things better than all three of the major PHP CMS solutions. Looking at the marketing video it isn't hard to imagine what they are:

  • Nice content editing interface
  • Email marketing as a first class feature
  • Easy to set up a basic web store
  • Instant analytics for the above features
  • It's a hosted solution so all you have to do is pay to start

(Check out the open source response video to idea of shooting guns at open source. Also look at Jam's response to the BC Gurus challenge.)

Let's give Brent the benefit of the doubt and assume that he's aware of Drupal's 8,000 modules, multiple distributions, and various hosted services, and that he's actually going try some of them to before writing his articles. He wouldn't really take the cheap shot and show a default installation and then say "hey look, BC does what BC does better than Drupal!" would he?

But here's the problem; Drupal is like a box of Legos. You open it up and a world of possibilities are available to you, but you have to build it yourself. Even if Brent does download some statistics and graphing modules, one of the email marketing solutions, one of the WYSIWYG solutions, Drupal Commerce, and a nice theme, and installs and configures all of them, he'll still probably be able to show fairly effectively that Adobe has a better product.

Wait?!? What? Did I just say that Adobe has a better product? Yes. Focus on the word "product" and ask yourself just what kind of product Drupal is, on its own. It's not a product in the same way that Business Catalyst is, because it wasn't designed to serve the needs of just one type of customer and serve them well. It is much more of a blank slate on which products can be built. It's a box of Legos.

Progress is being made with the productization of Drupal. Acqiua's Drupal Gardens can be fairly compared with Business Catalyst in many ways, although it is designed for a different customer in mind, and therefore has a different feature set. Distributions like Open Public and NodeStream will also take us a step further towards having real products. But until more people and companies make more progress with bringing more finished products to market, the Brents of the world will be able to take pot shots that, at first glance, make us look bad.

The sad thing is, the problems that Business Catalyst has solved have been solved in Drupal, Wordpress and Joomla! a hundred times over. Unfortunately, they're typically solved within the context of one client's website. At best the resultant toolset modules will get contributed back to Drupal.org, but the actual solution, the product, is locked into the one website that got built. I call this "Islands of Isolation" - the websites that are the products, and only ever have one customer.

Jeff Walpole and I talked about this problem in our DrupalCon Chicago presentation titled Drupal as a mature software industry. Drupal is taking steps towards becoming more of a product (while retaining its leadership position as a framework). Jeff Eaton's Snowman project for Drupal 8 is a great sign of this. Hopefully, if nothing else, Brent Weaver shooting guns at open source will at least alert people in open source that proprietary software is a threat, and the threat comes wrapped up as products.

Comments

Posted on by Brent Weaver.

Hi Robert,

As I posted over on Jam's post as well - we got some of the right pressure and decided to remove our video. The whole point was to stir a little debate between the products (or framewords/communites).

I am on vacation at the moment, but if you are game, would like to include you in some of my follow up's about each of the products. Thanks for the feedback.

Posted on by Robert Douglass.

Open source communities add value to society in a way that can't be easily measured. They are a true force for positive change. We also treat every user (and critic) as a potential contributor.

As you prepare your comparisons where you will show the supposed superiority of BC over Drupal, Wordpress and Joomla, try to figure out which of those systems you might have the most affinity to. You'd probably make a great open software evangelist (no guns, please), and it would make a great "conversion" case study. I look forward to your first contributions in the issue queues and forums.

Posted on by Tom Geller.

I arrived late to the "Drupal as a mature software industry" talk and then kicked myself, because it quickly seemed to be one of the most crucial ones at DrupalCon. But it's not on archive.org yet! Any ideas why that is, or when it might be?

But, yes: Glad to see more people talking about the "total product", which is a key component of my (business) religion.

Posted on by Richard Jones.

I really hope the audio from the DrupalCon Chicago session 'Drupal as a mature software industry' is uploaded eventually as I agree it was one of the most thought provoking sessions of the conference. In the run up to DrupalCon there was a lot of noise and speculation about both the 'Drupal App Store' and the business of Development Seed / Phase 2. This session put context to both these issues.

Whilst some may think Robert is stirring up the community with talk of an App Store, I happen to think he's right - but the most important thing is not necessarily the licensing / selling / DRM and generally 'making money' issue. What this is really all about is ease of use- that's why Adobe has a case. I don't pretend to have the answer to the App Store licensing and DRM conundrum but that doesn't mean we should stop talking about it. In the Drupal community we know what can be achieved and we absolutely have to be working towards a place where there are either multiple distributions to suit different markets or an easy way to plug in features to core Drupal.

Not every Drupal shop has the resources to develop and support a whole distribution, but most that are able to create a module will be able to create a feature that they can support given an appropriate distribution method. As the barrier to entry for Drupal and other open source projects is lowered, everyone needs to be thinking about how our businesses need to adapt. These discussions are vital for finding our way through the next phase of the community's evolution.

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