The Open Source Wall Revisited: Drupal and Commercial Modules

wallI’ve been on record here saying that Open Source project should focus on learning from one another rather than competing.

So it’s been interesting to see the Drupal community talking about commercial modules this week. It’s very similar to the discussion that took place in the Joomla community during 2007 and 2008. Back then I wrote a post detailing the experience of some friends and colleagues called “Hitting the Open Source Wall“.

Earlier this week an eerily similar post started the conversation in Drupal: Is it Evil to Ask For Payment?. You can follow some of the debate by following the #drupalappstore hashtag on Twitter.

For those that don’t know, the Drupal project has never really embraced the pay-per-product model that Joomla and WP have. There are at least four major and relevant differences between the Drupal community and Joomla and WordPress that explain their different stances on modules: 

1) Tradition: Don’t underestimate how hard it is to change community habits that have existed even for a couple of years. Both Joomla and WP have struggled to change their commerical and licensing standards. 

2) Interdependency: Most Drupal modules rely on several others. Most Joomla extensions and WP plugins are standalone and so easier to sell. 

3) Collaboration: Drupal has long had a much larger focus on collaboration than either Joomla or WP. 

4) Scale: The volume of people who need support is different in each project:

  1. gets 2 million visitors per month.
  2. The Joomla Extensions Directory (JED) alone gets over 3 million visitors per month. That’s half of the traffic that’s frontpage gets so, using the same ration, it’s not unreasonable to estimate that the Drupal modules area gets 1 million per month.
  3. Given the current size of the WP marker, I’m sure the WP Plugins Directory gets even more traffic: my guess would be at least twice as much as the JED, which would likely make it at least 6 times busier than the Drupal modules area.

That means it’s not unreasonable to surmise that average Joomla project gets 3 times as many support questions and requests and that the average WP project gets 6 times more.

There may be some relation between those last two things on the list. Successful collaboration becomes harder at scale.

The WP and Joomla projects have been down this road before – as the traffic increases and the added support requests flood in, lots of those Joomla and WordPress developers have been forced to think hard about how they can sustain their code.

The same thing is true not only for modules but for whole projects. Joomla, WordPress (via Automattic) and Drupal (via Acquia) all paid people to get their latest releases out of the door. As the scale increases, so do the stresses and strains and the desire to consider commercial solutions.

The Drupal community is on a path for continued growth and so it’s not unreasonable for expect developers to ask the same questions as their Joomla and WP counterparts in the past. Whether the answers are the same will be interesting to see.

The Joomla and WP communities can learn much from Drupal in terms of succesful collaboration. The Drupal community can learn from Joomla and WP when it comes to the compromises and changes required by a larger-scale ecosystem.

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