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When do we Reach the Tipping Point?

Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 best seller The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference describes how certain “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses” throughout our society and how they take hold and transform the world around us. These phenomena happen without much forewarning and can be difficult to see as they’re taking place and even difficult to comprehend when trying to understand them in retrospect. Why, for example, did Hush Puppy go from selling only 30,000 pairs of shoes in the early 1990’s, after a steady decades-long decrease, to nearly 2 million pairs by the late 1990’s? How do we explain that phenomenon?

Is Drupal in higher education at the tipping point? First introduced to the world a little over ten years ago and virtually unknown in higher education even five years ago, Drupal has become the leading content management system for colleges and universities with nearly 30% market share and has relegated several longstanding, entrenched proprietary CMS solutions to the graveyard. In a short period of time Drupal in higher education has moved from being unknown to known, from an outsider to the ultimate insider. How do we explain that phenomenon?

Gladwell maintains that tipping points happen when three distinct agents of change are involved that help spur adoption and acceptance at accelerating rates. Gladwell calls these “the Three Rules”. Like other phenomena, Drupal's rise in higher education can be linked to its association with these three rules.

The first rule is the “stickiness factor”: does Drupal have qualities and characteristics that make it valuable to the user beyond the simple appeal of being part of a phenomenon? That is, is Drupal in and by itself appealing to prospective users and sticky to current users? The answer is of course decidedly yes. Drupal has seen widespread adoption first and foremost because it is a robust, flexible, user-friendly content management system that supports all the unique requirements of colleges and universities. Is there a stickiness factor with Drupal? Hands down, yes.

The next rule is the “power of context”: does Drupal address those unique needs that have arisen out of certain macro situations that colleges and universities are being challenged to respond to? That is, is there larger context (or disruption?) in the industry that is helping to drive Drupal’s acceptance? Again, the answer is yes. Colleges and universities are trying to rapidly respond to a proliferation of digital needs, including mobile delivery and social integration, and many of these needs are putting pressure on the core business of higher education itself: recruitment, admissions, student retention, and student and alumni engagement. With its superior development community that drives agility and innovation, Drupal can help institutions respond to these needs in a way that other systems simply can’t. And of course, Drupal is open source and now more than ever colleges and universities are under inordinate pressure to rationalize investment and do more with less. So does Drupal have the “power of context”? Yes. Clearly.

And the last rule is the “law of the few”: is Drupal’s success in higher education partly attributable to “the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts"? Particularly, as Gladwell outlines: (1) “Connectors “– people in the community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions, (2) “Mavens” - people in the community who connect us with new information and who accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others, and (3) “Salesmen” or “persuaders” – charismatic people in the community with powerful negotiation skills and who have indefinable traits that makes others want to agree with them. Do these people exist in the Drupal community? Does the Drupal benefit from the “law of the few”? Absolutely without a doubt! There isn’t enough space here to identify all of those – all of you – in the community who play these parts but if there is one place where Drupal shines above all other solutions it is through the power of the community. So by definition alone the Drupal community is itself the embodiment of Malcolm Gladwell’s “law of the few”.

Is Drupal in higher education at the tipping point? Ultimately it’s hard to say and perhaps at some point in the future we’ll be able to look back and identify the time when Drupal in higher education became the amazing phenomenon that it is. But for now we can confidently say that Drupal is undeniably the leading digital platform for colleges and universities and has both significant momentum behind it and an amazingly powerful community underneath it - more so than any other solution out there. As a result, Drupal will undoubtedly continue to as the digital platform of choice in the industry for a long, long time to come.

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