Originally posted on the NetSquared blog.

Jeff is part of a team excited about the future of the web with Drupal.  You may have heard some of the early news already, but more is sure to come.

What’s in the works?  “…an easy-to-use platform for groups, individuals and businesses to create powerful dynamic social websites. Historically, these sites required huge time commitments and expert developers; this platform will allow users to harness the power of Drupal and its wealth of add-ons with a streamlined point-and-click, drag-and-drop interface. With these tools, even newcomers will be able to build feature-rich multi-user websites that go beyond the boundaries of simple blog sites.”  –Lullabot news

I recently connected with Jeff to get the complete story.

lullabot logoJeff’s background, in his own words

Over the last couple decades, Jeff has had a varied connection with the world of the web, including projects with O’Reilly in the early 90s (like buildling the Global Network Navigator, the first website with ads), starting Liquid Media (web design company), performing and making music with Orbit (band, member), and serving as the defacto ‘tech guy’ for A&M Records.

After the band’s contract ended eight years ago, Jeff jumped into the world of web 2.0 by building websites with his wife; clients included bigger and bigger names (like Ringo Star!).  The team was using WordPress and Movable Type for the client websites when they decided on Drupal for a specific project.

The same thing that has happened before

As Jeff worked through this new project with Drupal, he experienced the state many have before: “starving for Drupal information” in a sea of praise for the platform and the many, many options available.  This is when Jeff reached out to the Drupal community for help and connected with Matt Westgate.

The two wanted to start a company that would provide the help so many people need, including Jeff, when starting a project with Drupal to avoid getting overwhlemed.  And thus, Lullabot was born with a central focus on empowering people with workshops, podcasts, as well as hiring people who are involved in the Drupal community as experts to help out.

What is Drupal?

According to Wikipedia, “Drupal is a free and open source modular framework and content management system (CMS) written in the programming language PHP. Like many modern CMSs, Drupal allows the system administrator to create and organize content, customize the presentation, automate administrative tasks, and manage site visitors and contributors.”

Jeff describes Drupal as a blogging software on steroids.  A blogging platform specializes in one type of content (blog posts), whereas Drupal can handle any kind of content and has the capacity to build things that aren’t content management-based, like e-commerce systems.

So, where did the idea come from?

Jeff and Matt attended N2Y2 in San Jose, CA.  The pair entered the conference with the goal of better understanding what was going on in the nonprofit community and how they could help.  What they found, though, was a huge community of people who had already been told they should use Drupal for their project or website but had no resources on how to do it, told they should get an ‘expert’ to do it so they don’t ‘screw it up.’

After scratchy voices and lots of new connections, they realized there was no good way to help individuals individually—it was a problem that needed to be tackled at the platform level.  As Jeff explains, “Drupal is the promise of modular ease, but it isn’t actually that easy.”

So, Jeff wrote an article about how Drupal will save the world.  He said, “wouldn’t it be great if…” as a way of brainstorming how to tackle the platform level of the problems and confusions he was seeing people experience, like: wouldn’t it be great if there was some entity that could give the Drupal community a chunk of money (Jeff suggested $50,000) to work on the platform for a year with the specific goal of making it easier to use.  They didn’t get the money, but they did get interest and ideas.

Drupal will save the world

Jeff then attended O’Reilly’s Foo Camp where he presented on how Drupal will save the world, talking about the ideas he, Matt and others had been thinking about and discussing.  This is when Google’s Jeffrey Veen posed the question of whether people even need to install the software or not—why can’t they just do all that they need to on a website?  Jeff couldn’t come up with an answer of why they shouldn’t.

Together with Ed Sussman, formerly of Mansueto Digital and FastCompany.com, the idea emerged to form a business out of this idea.  The team grew to include Karen McGrane from Bond Art + Science, who’s experience includes designing the current version of NYTimes.com.  The team began working away on this new project to allow users to build Drupal sites via the web in an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop, type fashion.  They were working quietly, experimenting internally, until Friday the 10th when Ed announced he was leaving to come head up the project.

What now?

There is no name yet, and it is still quite early, but the group is in progress with the idea, and with the process of finding investors and hiring developers to make Drupal easier to use.  They want to build something that is more feature rich than Ning but faster and open source.  It is a graduation from the blog, though it’ll have an import fundation so you can move over whatever content you have elsewhere.  It will also be optimized to run larger scale website than most blogging software as it assumes a higher ‘high end.’

Who is it really for?

There are a lot of different groups, and everybody needs a website!  Jeff asks the question, “what website would you build if you could?” and says there are endless options.  People who are building websites, web designers, and the like will probably be interested first, for natural reasons; but Jeff hopes the tool is for everyone!

And for the future…

Jeff compares speculation of the future to the developments in the past: it used to be about code, functionality was held very close to the chest for developers and companies.  Social networking helped change that as companies began building the same applications for people to select friends on their platforms, and once the same features were being reproduced everywhere, the magic was gone.  What’s magical now, is how we assemble features, which tools are put together and how.  While there is definitely still skill involved, it becomes less of a hurdle and more people can start doing larger things online.  The building blocks are out of the way!

Do It With Drupal logoDo It With Drupal

In addition to this new project, Lullabot is organizing its first large-scale Drupal event — a 3-day learning conference called Do It With Drupal. The event is happening at the Marriott in the French Quarter of New Orleans, December 10, 11, and 12th. Speakers include many “big names” in both the Drupal world and online community building experts. There will be sessions on building and nurturing online communities from Flickr’s community manager Heather Champ and author Tara Hunt. Sessions will be given on Drupal building blocks such as Views, CCK, and Organic Groups, from the programmers who wrote them. jQuery author John Resig will be speaking as well as Lockergnome’s Chris Pirillo. There are also some fun sessions such as a look at clone sites of YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter, all built in Drupal.

Do It With Drupal is meant to be an easy on-ramp into the Drupal community and all sessions will be geared at attendees with a wide range of Drupal experience. If you’ve ever felt that drowning-in-Drupal feeling, this event could be of great help!

Check out Do It With Drupal for more information and registration.

Interview with Jeff Robbins – Drupal & The Future!
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  • Nice write-up, Amy. The idea seems really exciting — too bad the conference in New Orleans costs $1000 — a bit steep for your typical nonprofit communications or IT staffer.

    Keep us all updated on this!