Rafe Needleman interviews Drupal developer and Acquia CTO Dries Buytaert.
While blogging platforms like WordPress and Movable Type have considerable name recognition among Web users, few outside the development community know about this flexible and open-source content management system Drupal, which powers sites like Sony BMG's Myplay, PopSci.com, and the Web 2.0 blog Center Networks.
Drupal's avid developer community voted the product into a Webware 100 award earlier this year, so when Drupal creator Dries Buytaert came to town this week I took the opportunity to catch up with him and learn a little about the upcoming commercialization project for Drupal called Acquia.
Acquia, of course, is not the first company to take an open-source product and try to commercialize it; the most popular company in this game is Red Hat, which commercializes Linux.
Acquia will be available late in July, Buytaert said. The open-source app at its core, Drupal, will be free, and Acquia will package it into a distribution with the necessary (also open-source) supporting apps and installers for Apache and MySQL. The company will make money from support contracts (various fees for various levels of support) and pre-installation consulting. It will also offer some online services for Drupal setups, like a "heartbeat" or monitoring service, and an anti-spam solution.
Acquia may also set up a free certification program for Drupal contractors. The company will not, at first, offer hosting services for Drupal. Rather, Buytaert hopes to partner with current Drupal hosts.
All together it is a decent model for building a product, and a community around it, and then turning it commercial in a way that can feed some financial rewards back to contributors. Buytaert contrasts this model to the schedule of building a product first in a commercial setting and then unleashing it as open source, as Six Apart is doing with Movable Type (my example, not his). Buytaert says this plan is more of a marketing scheme than a development strategy, and that it's the wrong way to go if you want to build a community of open-source developers.
Buytaert was the original developer of Drupal and is still The Man when it comes to coordinating the community code that goes into the core of the platform. He says "Acquia doesn't own Drupal," even though Acquia will be the company that commercializes Drupal.
While I am always suspicious of products that are built without business models--as Drupal clearly was, at least at first--looking at the history of the platform and the timing of the Acquia launch does reinforce the fact that there are alternate ways to build a technology business. If you can win over a group of fanatical developers while the platform is still pre-revenue, then you know you really have something. The trick is to move these idealists into the commercial world.
After talking with Buytaert and with Acquia's CEO, Jay Batson, my sense is that this company can do that. Buytaert is the real deal, a community leader, not just a technical architect. And Drupal is not just a science project, either; it's a technology platform that serves a market that will only grow.
See also: Joomla.