Drupal, MODX: Open Source Communities, Vendors, and Giving Back

This week, I received an email from some marketing folks that Acquia was announcing they are open sourcing their mobile application code for posting content to Drupal sites. For those that don't know, Acquia is a commercial open source software company that provides products, services, and technical support for Drupal. This isn't the first time Acquia and other Drupal vendors have given code back to the Drupal community and you can be assured it won't be the last.

Honestly, I had not been following the development of Drupal Create so it's taken me some time to better understand the significance of this story to open source. SparkPR's Eric Sokolsky explained it to me in his email this way:

Today, Acquia released source code that will allow Drupal website content owners and developers to create their own customized mobile content publishing apps.  These apps – the first of their kind on the Drupal platform -- will enable developers to create or curate content on their iOS phones and publish it directly to their existing Drupal-based sites – without being tethered to a laptop or desktop computer.  Some use-case scenarios would be uploading photos or videos from a rock concert in real-time, or publishing breaking news as it’s happening – right from your phone.  These apps can be built around any features available on the iOS device, including geo location and social media APIs.

The codebase, called Drupal Create, was developed by Acquia in collaboration with WorkHabit, which has invested significantly in the development of real time, mobile and social applications for Drupal. Acquia and WorkHabit built Drupal Create on top of the Drupal iOS Software Development Kit, both of which are available on GitHub.

If I didn't know any better, I would have thought Acquia was eavesdropping on some recent discussions I've had regarding my observation on the potential conflicts between open source vendors and open source communities. Their action alone suggests that perhaps I worry too much. Let me explain.

During the past week we've had a lot of discussion here at CMS Report with regards to the non-ending debate of open source CMS versus proprietary CMS. My take on this topic is that companies and organizations depend more and more on a combination of both open source and proprietary solutions to remain efficient and competitive. Relying on only open source or only proprietary solutions doesn't sound like a way to stay competitive. I envy the business model purists, but I don't think it's business practical to base your product decisions on the license. It's not a question of "versus" for IT as much of a need for the discussion to drive toward the reality of "and".

In a spillover of this discussion in a CMS user group on LinkedIn, I also added that the success of open source vendors as well as open source within sofware as a service is also changing the way we think of open source communities.  

When open source software is made available commercially through the Cloud (especially as a SaaS, PaaS) does it remain truly open source? I can name a number of open source communities that are dealing with a culture change once larger companies get into the mix and modify the code in-house but don't necessarily redistribute the changed code thus are not legally obligated to give back to the community. When does open source stop being open source? 

When I wrote the above lines, I wasn't just thinking about Drupal and Acquia, but more recent uncomfortable events within the MODX community. The announcement of the re-branding of MODX Cloud to SiphonLabs startled a few people, to put it mildly. Such announcements in an open source community can create the fear of uncertainty for all parties involved. It takes awhile for open source as a community to respond positively to the changes that new or successful vendors may bring to their community. Most new vendors in open source soon realize that their standing in such communities is ranked not by their company's success but by how much they give or don't give back to their open source community.

I'm a huge fan of Drupal, so from my perspective, there is probably no bigger open source vendor that stands out in my mind than Acquia.  I've covered stories about Acquia since its origin. Over the years, I've been very enthusiastic and eager to see this company grow and prosper. I'm a firm believer that when commercial providers are successful at promoting and supporting open source to their customers then open source communities and the content management industry also prospers. Whether you're a fan of Acquia or not, announcements like this one from Acquia give me hope open source is a good business model for companies to follow.

What I find silly about this week's proprietary versus open source discussion is that I don't think proprietary is the biggest threat to open source. The biggest threat to open source is from within. Open source as a whole needs to do a much better job in preventing the discussion of  Open Source Community versus Open Source Vendor from getting out of hand. Open source must accept the role commercial vendors have in their community or they will soon find their community is financially unsustainable and difficult to be taken seriously. Vendors must also prove to open source that the community is better off with them then without them or as a vendor they are going to have have little influence at the community's leadership table.

I've been watching, participating, and writing about open source and open source communities for more than ten years. I've learned some things along the way. There exists good and bad open source communities as well as good and bad open source vendors. Those open source communities and vendors that I would label as good are the ones that almost always welcome new people, new ideas, and new discussion with open arms. These are the open source communities that understand there is no middle ground in the dichotomy of valuing everyone or valuing no one at all. 

Above all else "good" open source never takes anyone or anything for granted in what makes open source successful. So this is why I like to hear stories about large successful open source companies like Acquia giving back to the Drupal community. This is why I like to read about communities such as MODX working through their growing pains optimistic that as new vendors arrive the MODX community still has a future of its own to chart. This has been a good week for open source and me. My belief continues to be validated that Drupal and MODX are two of the "good" ones in open source that business needs to get to know better. An a CMS enthusiast and an open source advocate, I can't think of a better week then the one we had this week.

 Whether you're a fan of Acquia or not, announcements like this one from Acquia give me hope open source is a good business model for one to follow.


 Whether you're a fan of Acquia or not, announcements like this one from Acquia give me hope open source is a good business model for one to follow.