It's been a scratchy couple of days in the tech blogging world for Drupal, as a review of David Mercer's new Drupal book veered off-topic and turned into a discussion of Drupal's appropriateness for various projects. As is to be expected in a fast-moving Slashdot discussion thread, opinions were heated and curmudgeonly grumbling was the order of the day. Today, Acquia's Jeff Whatcott notes that blogger Scott Miller is writing that Wordpress, Drupal, and other web frameworks are bad for innovation. Miller admitted readily that he'd never used Drupal, and the emphasis of his post was on people using blog and CMS frameworks to build custom applications when they should be starting from scratch. Still, for those of us who drink the Drupal Kool-Aid, it can be tough seeing these kinds of statements tossed around. How should we, the folks who build and use Drupal, approach these kinds of discussions?
To some extent, they are inevitable. The more visible a given technology or project is, the more critics will chime in. Back in the 2007 Predictions thread on Drupal.org, I said that backlash would be coming as Drupal transitioned from a niche web CMS to a framework with broader usage.
[In 2007 and beyond] Drupal will 'arrive' and no longer be seen as the hot newcomer. This will be evidenced by individuals and companies that use 'Drupal' as a resume-fodder buzzword without actually knowing how to work with it, an increase in of 'Drupal backlash' on sites like SlashDot and Digg, and blog stories by disgruntled former Drupal users. This won't be an inherently bad thing: it's what every system experiences. As Yogi Berra once said, "No one goes to that restaurant anymore: it's too busy."
That's exactly what we're seeing -- Drupal has a much higher profile than it did just a couple of years ago. Where does the backlash come from? Some have legitimate criticisms that we should take to heart. Still others just didn't find Drupal a good fit. A handful don't know much about Drupal at all, and are just parroting stuff they read on Slashdot or expressing annoyance at the latest group of enthusiastic framework advocates. That's certainly nothing new -- every technology faces that. ColdFusion? ASP.Net? Django? Even the Rails community saw controversy when one of its influential members became disillusioned.
Drupal's successes with both large and small sites over the past several years demonstrate that we don't have anything to prove. While it's obviously not a good fit for every project, Drupal has proven itself as a great tool for building content-centric community sites. As the folks at Acquia are fond of saying, Drupal isn't just about blogging or social networking or portals: it's a social publishing tool, and a great one at that.
The challenge for all of us, I think, is to stay in the realm of the pragmatic. Drupal isn't a perfect piece of software (such things don't exist!) and those of us who work with it daily are aware of its limitations as well as its strengths. We have a commitment to improving it, educating others about its strengths, and honestly discussing its weaknesses. One of the common threads in "I tried Drupal and got burned" stories over the last several months is a feeling of being snookered -- site stakeholders were told that it could do anything, and were frustrated when "anything" proved more difficult than anticipated. Honesty, and the assurance that goes with it, can be a great strength for Drupal evangelists and the community in general.