Will Drupal Starshot Help Drupal Compete?

A quick summary of Drupal Starshot, why we need it, potential roadblocks as it progresses, and how we intend to help it succeed.

Recently, Dries Buytaert announced the Drupal Starshot leadership team. Lullabot's Cristina Chumillas will be the UX lead. In this role, Cristina will "define the design and user experience vision" for the product.

Announced at DrupalCon Portland, Starshot represents a vision for a new version of Drupal with a polished, out-of-the-box experience for ambitious site builders. The goal is to create a fast-moving open-source product that guides new users in creating powerful, dynamic websites using only their browsers.

Drupal core isn't going anywhere. In fact, Drupal Starshot will build off the strong work of Drupal core to create a new product tentatively titled Drupal CMSDrupal CMS will be the new default download and aim to provide a better first impression for users new to Drupal.

Why a new product?

Drupal still powers 1 in 8 enterprise sites and 1 in 40 of all websites. Contributions to the platform are up. Drupal 11 will continue that momentum and promises many improvements.

So why a new product? There is this sense that Drupal is being outpaced by alternatives, partly because of one glaring weakness.

It makes a terrible first impression.

It's hard to set up and get going unless you are already an experienced Drupal user with some development chops. However, as Dries noted in his talk, the more people use Drupal, the more they like it. Drupal has seen a rise in positive associations over time, which is the opposite of other platforms.

Drupal has improved, but the results have been mixed. We need a leap forward. We need an effort focused on adoption, user sentiment, and innovation. And we need this effort to be nimble and quick, apart from the staid governance model that, with good reason, keeps Drupal core development slower-paced and predictable.

Enter Drupal Starshot.

While it's still early, and there are many questions to answer, Drupal Starshot will be great for Drupal. It will also be great for service providers building solutions with Drupal and for the future of the open web. Here's why.

Drupal adoption and business development

Drupal is not a product. It's a powerful framework, and previous attempts to make products from Drupal (like distributions) have fizzled out in various ways. But Drupal is constantly compared to other products, and this is one of its big challenges in the marketplace.

For anyone in a product-minded mode, evaluating Drupal presents a mental hurdle that can be hard to leap over. Evaluators can't just open the box and see what's inside. After witnessing dazzling product demos of rich digital experience platforms, vanilla Drupal can feel flat. It doesn't matter that Drupal can offer many of the same features and benefits.

For anyone evaluating Drupal, it's difficult to install, run, tinker, and see what it offers. Pantheon allows you to boot something up quickly and easily, but as soon as you need to add a contributed module, you're skirting the edge of developer territory. It becomes overwhelming quickly.

Starshot will place Drupal in the same space as other DXPs and WordPress and let people consider it a product. This placement will help with CMS evaluation and put Drupal on a better footing.

Dries mentioned how NBC found Drupal through Drupal Gardens, an environment that allowed users to build and manage Drupal websites without needing to handle server maintenance or complex configurations. While anecdotal, this is a powerful point that rings true. Many of us came to Drupal in a similar way. We started by tinkering with it and then suddenly woke up and realized we had stuck around for a decade.

People reach for whatever is convenient, so if they reach for Drupal and see that it can solve their needs, we all win. Smaller sites that use Starshot/Drupal CMS might organically grow into bigger sites and larger enterprise projects. Just like someone can outgrow Squarespace, someone might start with Starshot and eventually grow into something more, and Drupal has already proven it can handle the growth.

Competitive strategy

The Drupal market has shifted more toward government and higher education. If that remains our target market, it's hard to see how Drupal Starshot will help Drupal and Drupal service providers compete.

Regarding layout and presentation, these clients are more worried about accessibility and consistency. But if Drupal can create something unique with the new Experience Builder, not just for low-code/no-code users but also for developers, it could land on a sweet spot.

A hybrid approach, where some parts of a page have strict guardrails while others have more flexibility, could place Drupal in a good position. This is especially true if it respects structured content and the importance of presentation layers. Accomplishing this will be a tightrope walk.

However, even if some of Starshot's improvements are not directly applicable to government and higher education, we are still hopeful. The improvements would still lead to wider adoption of Drupal, which would be a net positive. More money would flow toward Drupal hosting, Drupal service providers, and ultimately, contributions to Drupal core and contrib. 

This shift won't happen overnight. The CMS market is a titanic beast, and even if we had complete control over the reins, it would take a while to change its direction.

Much of the web has moved to social media (Instagram, Facebook, TikTok), where what we see is controlled by opaque algorithms. Traffic that used to go to websites isn't going to websites anymore. Other parts of the web are being segregated into walled gardens, and with AI gobbling up content, it might get worse. Drupal has long been a champion of the open web, so what will its place be in this landscape?

The good news is that Drupal could be powerful, even for websites requiring access logins. Starshot could tout a "Build your private blog membership site," for example. Empowering users to create their own private version of Substack could bring a lot of value.

Which brings us to recipes.


Drupal Starshot will require a robust recipe system to allow people to build feature-rich websites using only their browsers. The success of Recipes depends on its execution, and there are still many questions surrounding it.

We are cautiously optimistic. Typically, we have started our projects with vanilla Drupal because we didn't want the baggage and assumptions that come with distributions. Recipes, however, are not separate products. Recipes are a way to start your website. They could make project onboarding easier.

For example, we've had to create one totalizing content model for universities that has to serve many different websites: college sites, department sites, facility or location sites, alum sites, and more. Could Recipes be used to bundle up content types and functionality? A college site could use an academic Recipe that adds structure to programs and courses. Meanwhile, the campus history museum could ignore that and use an events Recipe.

But we have some questions. What about Recipe rollbacks? Can you install a Recipe, try it, and then uninstall it? What should Drupal do when two Recipes want to change the same settings or implement similar features that might clash?


There has to be a clear product vision and a strong steward for that vision. Dries is playing that role now, but will he play that role forever? Managing a product is far different from managing an open-source project. Without a strong product owner, decisions could get lost in committee, which will be detrimental to the initiative.

Also, simply building Starshot isn't the path to success. Just because we build it doesn't mean people will come. Marketing will be essential. We'll need to present our results to the world in a way that makes sense, and that will require a lot of thought and energy. We're hopeful that the new brand, combined with a DA-led marketing push, will make the presentation of Drupal commensurate with the product. This may require a singular vision just as the product does.

How we plan to help

We've already contributed much of what will make Starshot possible, like the Admin UI and Single Directory Components. Some of the modules we created and sponsored, like Type Tray, are in the Starshot prototype, and we hope to make them part of the default build. You could say we worked on Starshot before Starshot existed, and we plan to continue helping push the initiative forward.

For her part, Cristina has been leading core initiatives in Drupal for seven years. Starting at the end of July, she'll be dedicated full-time to the project. As the UX lead, she'll ensure the project takes a user-centric approach backed up by research and testing. This will allow Lullabot to continue working on improving Drupal's design and UX, as we have with our contributions to Claro, the default admin theme for core, and Olivero, the default core theme.

We want Starshot to succeed. For an initiative that will live or die on its user experience, Cristina will help make success much more likely. 

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