Entries Tagged 'Opinion' ↓

The Decline of Drupal, or How to Fix Drupal 8

Prologue

Almost 4 years ago I wrote a controversial post entitled "17 Reasons WordPress is a Better CMS than Drupal" that caused me to be persona non grata among some of my prior Drupal friends.

But while some of the issues I mentioned have been addressed by the Drupal community most of the issues remain in Drupal 7, and WordPress has continued to gain strength as a CMS.

Unlike almost 4 years ago, I’m now seeing many people replacing Drupal solutions with WordPress and the end users becoming happier. My team is even bidding on replacing a website so we can build a member’s-only private site to go with it after the Drupal developers have not been able to deliver on the private site for over 2 years.

The Impetus

What triggered me to write this post was I was composing a long reply to a comment on the other post and it became clear it would be better as a new post.

In the comment the commenter asserted:

With Drupal 8 coming up, I am sure the difference in number of users between Drupal and WordPress will come down.

However, I think that the commenter will find that the exact opposite happens. Why do I think this? I started college shortly before the IBM PC was released so I’ve seen enough computer industry history firsthand to know a bit about the patterns that repeat related to software platforms.

Will Drupal 8 grow Drupal’s User Base?

I highly doubt it, and I think there is strong evidence in the history of software platforms that would support my view. Those patterns I mentioned above indicate to me that the strategy of changing Drupal’s architecture in Drupal 8 will be a failing strategy.

Let me explain.

Fans Like Things As They Are

As with all software products and platforms that gain a notable level of success, Drupal 7 and earlier appealed to people who valued what Drupal had to offer. Some of those things include ease of end-user configuration and other things include hierarchical software architecture and the hook-based extensions mechanisms. Or at least those are what originally appealed to me in Drupal before I discovered all the downsides I explained in the prior post.

Now Drupal 8 promises to be a lot more "modern frameworks and platforms," adopting "modern PHP concepts and standards, object-oriented programming, and the Symfony framework." Now that sounds awesome, and on the surface should cause almost any Drupal fan to cheer.

But those stated aspects require a lot more programmer skill to work with yet one of the things that appealed to a lot of Drupal users-cum-developers is that they did not have to understand object-oriented programming, nor modern frameworks and techniques. To quote Jennifer Lea Lampton:

Back in the day, Drupal used to be hackable. And by "hackable" I mean that any semi-technical yahoo (that’s me, btw) who needed a website could get it up and running, and then poke around in the code to see how it all worked. he code was fairly uncomplicated, though often somewhat messy, and that was fine. At the end of the day, it did what you needed.

Given the fact far fewer people have a high-level of programming skill many of those who do NOT see themselves as professional programmers do not want to improve their coding ability, they would rather just focus on their chosen career where Drupal is only a tool to help them.

So Drupal 8 will be will be alienating all those users and they will feel abandoned. Or as Ms. Lampton says:

Today, the majority of the people in our Drupal Community aren’t CS engineers. They are self-taught Drupal experts, people less technical than myself, and people who can get by using this awesome software we’ve developed to help make their lives easier. What is the transition to Drupal 8 going to be like to them? Well, I asked some non-core developers, and I didn’t like what I heard.

A lot of professional Drupal developers already have exit strategies.

And my guess is that most of those alienated users and new users who would have otherwise chosen old Drupal will move to WordPress.

But Pros Want to be Pros

And on the other end of the spectrum are those who DO see themselves as professional programmers and those people (almost) always want to increase their coding skills. They will start asking themselves why they are working on a platform (Drupal) that still has lots of "impurities" when the could just more over to a "real" framework such as Symfony or even Rails or Node.js, and not have to deal with all the legacy issues of Drupal?

Or as Ms. Lampton continues (emphasis on WordPress mine):

They may even have a day job building or maintaining Drupal 6 and/or Drupal 7 sites, but they go home at night and study Ruby, Node.js, Angular.js, even some are looking into WordPress. They want to be "out" before they have to learn Drupal 8. These are smart, capable people, who I’m sure - if they wanted to - would be able to pick up Drupal 8. So, why are they leaving? Because Drupal 8 has become different enough that learning it feels like learning something new. If they are going to invest in learning something new, why not Ruby, or Node.js, or something else?

What Visual Basic’s History Can Teach Us

What makes me think the above scenario is likely? Because I saw it happen with Visual Basic and C#. Visual Basic pre .NET was easy to use and became arguably the world’s most widely used programming language for a time. But it was a ugly language with many inconsistencies and was very limited in what it could do compared to C++ so it was always looked down on by "real" programmers ignoring how Visual Basic empowered so many people who never would or could develop using C++.

So Microsoft envisioned a "better" way; a .NET platform on which both Visual Basic and a new language called C# would live making Visual Basic a "proper" programming language, almost on par with C+.

Fast forward to today and what happened was that those who valued Visual Basic’s simplicity continued to use the old Visual Basic (for a while), abandoned it for other tools that were easier, or just quit developing and focused on other parts of their career.

Those who wanted to become better professional programmers asked themselves "why stay with VB?" so most everyone just moved up and over to C#. This migration effectively killed off what 10 years ago was once the most popular programming language in was the world.

And I believe a pattern similar to the Visual Basic decline will occur with Drupal starting at version 8.

When Upgrades are Challenging People Evaluate Options

And then there are those who will stick with their current version of Drupal until they can no longer maintain the solution and still get the evolving solutions they need for web and mobile.

At which point these people will be forced with a choice; migrate to the newer Drupal, or migrate to a different platform? And given how little interest the Drupal core team places in 1.) "Being backward compatible" and 2.) "Creating an interface that is usable for end-users" the choice will often not be "Move to newer Drupal."

True Believers will be True Believers

Of course there will still be people who love Drupal 8. And unlike proprietary software like from Microsoft, Drupal 8+ will continue to exist as long as a group exists who are passionate enough to maintain it. But I am almost certain Drupal’s market share will drop significantly and lose most of it to WordPress (which BTW won’t make that much different to WordPress’ marketshare, by comparison.)

Don’t Mess With My Status Quo!

And this being the open-source world, Drupal has already been forked and the fork is called Backdrop from the same Ms. Lampton quoted above as well as Nate Haug. Assuming Ms. Lampton and Mr. Haug and team executes at least reasonably well then some of the more fervent believers in "Drupal Classic" will move over to Backdrop, and Drupal 8 will loose more marketshare from yet another source.

But Backdrop will almost assuredly never be more than a footnote because it won’t have the marketing muscle in IT shops that Acquia has, and IT shops have been the primary drivers of Drupal adoption from best I can tell looking in from the other side. And Backdrop being a fork won’t have the 10+ years of supporting organization that Drupal now has. Plus, Backdrop has an unknown brand at this time and building up that brand will take time.

Old Doesn’t Inspire, It Just Fades Away

Given that Backdrop is basically a stake in the ground to avoid evolving Backdrop is highly unlikely to become "the hot new thing" but will instead be like FoxPro that for years after Microsoft acquired it was "a user base Microsoft could not grow and Microsoft could not kill"; that’s a direct quote from a former marketing manager at Microsoft.

The Shrinking Girth: Traveling Up the Pyramid

So Drupal 8 will be pushed by Acquia into IT shops, but it will be used by an increasingly narrow user base until the user base becomes so small that Acquia can no longer survive.

This long tail may take a really long time, but I am certain it is inevitable, unless of course Drupal/Acquia/Dries change strategy.

What SHOULD Acquia/Drupal Do Instead?

So here’s where I’ll divert from my criticism of Drupal and advocacy of WordPress; I’ll actually recommend what I think Drupal/Acquia/Dries should do and how they could potentially grow their business even if they do not catch WordPress in marketshare.

Announce the Drupal 8 Will Be "Drupal 7 Enhanced"

Dries Buytaert should do an about-face and announce that Drupal 8 will NOT be based on a new architecture but will instead simply be an enhanced Drupal 7, much like the about-face Tim Berners-Lee famously did when he announced XHTML was no longer the future of the web.

Adopt the Backdrop Team for Drupal 8 and Beyond

Dries should then work the Backdrop team and any of the Drupal 8 team who want to continue the status quo albeit with evolutionary improvements, much like how Merb broke off from and was later merged back into Ruby on Rails.

Further, adopt a no-breakage policy for future Drupal releases and work to ensure backward compatibility so that people are not forced into painful upgrades if they do not want to invest a significant amount into redevelopment. Learn from WordPress how to evolve without introducing breaking changes.

Announce a New CMS Called "Acquia"

Then, take all the ideas and lessons learned with Drupal that were destined for Drupal 8 and create a clean from-the-ground-up implementation of a next generation CMS targeting those who work rather program at the level of a framework but prefer to have more of the features needs for content management ready-built and available so as not to require people to reinvent the wheel.

Launching an Acquia CMS would have the benefit of being new in a way that could appeal to more than just the existing Drupal user base that does want to level up but not abandon Drupal. And Acquia is already a very strong company that has a stellar enterprise sales and support team so they would be in a great position to market a new CMS, and launching it would give them a stronger offer to sell to and support for their customers.

Acquia CMS could become the better alternative to Symfony that offers more functionality without all the legacy cruft of Drupal instead of Symfony being viewed as the better alternative to the Drupal CMS that carries so much baggage which is where I think things are headed.

Give Developers Something NEW To Adopt

And this branding is not just for technical improvements, it’s more important for positioning reasons.

Acquia CMS could have none of the negative associations developed by prior users of Drupal. Acquia CMS would be free to address all the problems I outlined in my prior blog post. And Acquia could once again become the CMS mindshare leader, a position that Drupal previously held IMO.

But Wait, Don’t Listen to Me!

If Drupal/Acquia/Dries does follow my advice, it would probably mean that I’d loose opportunities to work on certain future projects. The type of work I do with WordPress is most often competitive with Drupal in the minds the stakeholders deciding the platform the project will use. So I really hope they do not listen. :)

But hell, if they do follow this advice I would evaluate Acquia CMS and might even consider using it instead of WordPress in the future.

But really Dries if you are listening, please don’t! I’m currently really happy with the progression of WordPress and doing this would just throw a monkey wrench into my future works.

So nothing to see here; just carry on as planned. Nothing to see. :)

UPDATE

In the first version of this post I incorrectly referred to the fork as "Backstory", not "Backdrop" and I did not include a link to the Backdrop website nor mentioned Nate Haug. I have corrected the post.

Thanks to commenters Doug Vann, Brian and Jen Lampton for pointing out my error.

Why REST is More Like Religion than Most Technologies

As someone whose entire career has been involved with technology platforms, and specifically programming platforms in some form or another, it’s clear to me something which is obvious to most patient observers: that adherents of a particular technology platform tend to become very “religious” about it.

Advocates of specific a technology platform are known to rather vigoursly proselytize and defend their technology platform of choice, and they are also known to call out “blasphemy” (as they see it) against their technology platform. I guess it’s just human nature to gravitate to concepts and communities and to then defend them from perceived outside attackers. I myself have at times been among the technology platform devout over the years though I do try my best to keep it in check.

But I’ve noticed that the concept of RESTfulness in Web APIs has a religious tenor that is beyond what I’ve observed elsewhere. This post’s goal is to explain what I’ve perceived. As you read, note that I make several points along that way that seem to unrelated, but I bring them together at the end.

Well-Known Founders

Many technology platforms, while possibly having a single founder are promoted by companies and over time their marketing and promotion tend to minimize the founder’s visibility among its adherents, such as Windows, Java, .NET, Zend Framework, Sitecore and ExpressionEngine to name some commercial examples.

Yet other technology platforms have a single visible founder and they tend to be open source, for example: Linux, PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails, Drupal and WordPress to name just a few.

Like these mentioned open-source technology platforms REST also has a well-known founder Dr. Roy Fielding who named and defined REST in his chapter 5 of his doctoral thesis, titled Representational State Transfer (REST).

Architectural Style vs. Platform

Now if Dr. Fielding reads this post I’m sure he would first object to my associating REST with Platforms; he has made it clear on numerous occassions he considers REST to be an Architectural Style and not a Platform.

That’s fine and I don’t disagree in the least, but I’m associating them because they share at least one (1) attribute. Few (if any?) architecture styles have emerged that are the result of one man’s PhD definition, as I’m far as I am aware. And that has ramifications that caused REST to be treated by its adherents more like a software platform than a lower-level architectural style.

Requirements and Constraints

Unlike most technology platforms which are often not focused on the rules of how to use it properly, REST is instead a prescription for the requirements and constraints a system must follow. In other words its about both what you must and what you cannot do (in order to be considered RESTful).

Potential critics of this post might point out that that is the point of an architectural style. But this style has an engenered a level of religious fevor, similar to that seen around technology platforms that I’m not aware any of other architectural style receiving, at least not lately.

The Good Book

And this prescription for must and must not is where REST starts to look a lot more like a religion than most technology platforms. The Torah, the Bible and the Koran, for example, they are all written works that prescribe correct and incorrect behavior among their faithful. Similarly Roy’s thesis defines what is and what is not correct among the REST faithful.

God and the 10 Commandments

While most technology platforms that have a visible founder see the founder actively involved in evangelizing, writing about, and shepherding their platform on an ongoing basis, Dr. Fielding has pretty much been an absentee founder. In the earlier days of the web he was active on W3C and related mailing lists, and he wrote a seminal post clarifying (especially in his reply to comments) that REST APIs must be hypertext-driven But since then Dr. Fielding has been conspiculously absent when any of the debates regarding the application of REST have emerged.

In many ways Roy has been for REST like the God of the Old Testament; he spoke to the people in the early days and wrote his “commandments” in the form of his thesis, but since then the faithful have only had his thesis and that one blog post to clarify the meaning of REST.

Disagreement and Debate

Today, fourteen (14) years since Roy’s thesis and six (6) years after his seminal post on REST disagreement and debate rages on regarding RESTfulness and Web APIs, its relative usefulness, the level of RESTful purity required, and especially as it relates to one specific constraint; HATEOAS.

I’d link to specific debates but there are so many yet few epic or seminal debates so it’s hard to pick just one. But I can link to several conferences and mailing lists where you’ll find these debates and mentions of REST-related debates on blogs across the web:

The primary things you’ll find among these debates is disagreement on the role of hypermedia and an assertion that permeates much of the dialog among the most fervent being that most other people building APIs “don’t get it” and “are doing it wrong.” On the other hand there appears to be very little agreement on how to do it right, at least when it comes to specifics.

I will say that I do tend to agree with those debating that most people do not get it and that they are doing it wrong because parts of REST are not easy to fully understand so it’s very difficult to be sure of what exactly “right” is. And why is that?

Exegesis

It boils down to this. There’s little disagreement about who gets to define REST; everyone (I know of) points to Dr. Fielding as being authoritative and his writings canoncial. REST was defined by this one (1) man who wrote down it’s specification in an academically defined manner sans examples, and then briefly clarified it in one (1) blog post with follow up replies to questions for about two weeks after.

Since then the REST faithful have been left to interpret what REST means on their own much like the process of Exegesis related to religious texts.

And like religious movements, REST has a good many people who have taken it upon themselves to explain the meaning of The Good Book and the intentions of it’s founder. Without Fielding actively participating and making judgements on these debates who has the authority to declare who is right and who it wrong?

What if God was One of Us?

Imagine if God had decided to hang around all these years and intervene on the topic of religous debates? Imagine how much less contentious religion would be?

In that vein, I leave you with this joke from Emo Phillips as hopefully an appropriate analogy:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump.

I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”
He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

P.S. Credit for Inspiration

This entire post was inspired by Nick Kallen’s comment on Roy’s blog post about REST and hypermedia. His comment starts with this (emphasis mine):

I had a hard time with the writing in this article; I don’t normally perform exegesis on blog posts. Am I interpreting this correctly?

Thanks for Offering to Guest Blog or Advertise, But…

Once again I’m blogging on a topic I’ve previously spent much time covering in email replies. So rather than compose that email reply yet again I’m blogging it for today and for future reference.

TL;DR

Thanks for offering to guest blog or advertise; forgive me though but I’ll have to decline.

Or, If You Want to Know Why:

First, thanks for offering to write a guest post here on my blog, or to pay me to advertise here. I’m honored. But pursuing either of those opportunies is not consistent with my purpose for this blog.

I Blog for Myself

While I do obviously blog, I don’t consider myself an active blogger and I intend for all posts on MikeSchinkel.com to be written by me. My blog is for:

  1. My opinions when I get inspired to attempt to persude on a topic,
  2. To write posts about information I want to remember or refer back to later, or
  3. As in the case of this post, to refer people to read instead of writing the same email reply repeatedly.

I’m Not Interesting in More Blog Traffic

I don’t add content to this blog with a goal of generating more traffic, except for when I’m trying to persude and then only from those I’m trying to persude.

I’d Prefer to Have Fewer Comments to Answer

Plus I’d prefer to get fewer comments rather than more because each comment I get generates a “todo” which if I’m going to answer should be answered in a timely fashion. Even though a guest post wouldn’t require writing on my part, I would have a follow-up obligation to answer comments on the post should the author not, since it’s my blog. These would all become “urgent” todos even though they would almost certainly not be important in the grand scheme, they would still compete for time with my “important” todos that I constantly struggle to find time for (see urgent vs. important.)

For Me, Integrity Trumps Ad Revenue

As for advertising, if I started including advertising then people would immediately assume my goals for this blog are to generate revenue and that might call into question any position I might take on the blog; i.e. was I being paid for my opinion? Since my integrity is far more important to me than any small amount of income I might get in ad revenue I say no to any and all advertising on the blog portion of MikeSchinkel.com.

Including One Means Others Will Expect It Too

Let’s say I allowed one person to guest post or allowed one advertisement on my blog. As soon as I did I’d open myself up to be asked constantly to allow it to happen again, and then I have to craft a personal reply explaining why I said “yes” before but “no” to them. Better to just always say “no” and then nobody’s feeling gets hurt and I don’t have to spend time explaining.

Guest Blogging Begets Confusion

Although this may not apply to other blogs, my blog doesn’t have a design that would make it clear that a guest post wasn’t written by me and people might assume I wrote it. Worse, if the guest post was controversial people think I wrote it could result in a negative fallout for me. But the most obvious thing likely to happen is simply that people will start contacting me in comments, on Twitter or via email for clarification or to offer more guest posts, and that would all translate into more unwanted “todos.”

Bottom Line: I Appreciate the Offer, But No Thanks

And yes I know I’ve had this domain for over a decade and yes it’s probably got traffic and Google visibility that a site launched on a new domain today would covet, and some people see that as a waste of opportunity. But it’s my blog and that gives me the option to choose what gets published here. And I’ve decided I want to keep it non-commercial and only include posts written by me.

I thank you in advance for your understanding.

The Web Needs You To… STOP BLOGGING!

Well, that was an incendiary title. On purpose.

Now that I have your attention, let me say that I don’t literally mean “stop blogging”, I mean to object to the meme that seems to have overtaken the zeitgeist of too many lately. The “You Should Blog Every Day” meme. Here are some of it’s advocates:

As an aside I think somehow the folks at WordPress.com must have used subliminal messaging on their platform to encourage blogging addiction and thus, for them, revenue growth. But I digress…

What’s Wrong with Daily Blogging?

If you’ve read (any) of the posts above you’ve read glowing prose about how and why you should post daily, but none of the counterpoints. Just as we wouldn’t appreciate our neighbors leaving their trash bags on their lawn why do so many people champion other people to churn out non-stop pablum? Where in anyone’s good book has this endeavor been canonized as a virtue?

Lacks Depth

Daily posts are rarely more than opinion, and from what I’ve seen are usually without significant research, or links to related information on the topic. After all, who has the time for any of that when posting daily?

Adds High Noise, Low Signal

Publishing daily adds to the total amount of information out of them web. Let’s just say only 1% of US Citizens, let alone the rest of the world followed the “Blog Every Day” meme; together they would produce 1 trillion posts/year! Do we really need that much more low-information content to contribute to overload on the web?!?

More is Not Better

Daily posts focus on volume and not excellence. Unless you are one of those extremely rare prolific individuals who can be blog daily and write high quality content (and those people are usually known as “professional jounralists”) then posting daily is just setting one’s self up for #fail.

Not that you won’t be able to successful at daily posting, you might, but is daily posting really more beneficial than writing a much higher quality post less frequently?

No Time for Greatness

Similar to the previous, people who blog daily set themeselves up on a treadmill after which they’ll likely never have time to write a truly epic post. Some of the best and most valuable posts I have read on the web have been long form posts that clearly took more than a day to write. Few daily post ever gain continous linkage, at least not from what I’ve seen.

Why Should You Not Want to Blog Daily?

Besides the reasons above not to blog daily, what about selfish reasons for not blogging daily?

Busy People Will Tune You Out

Although I can’t say it’s a completely valid indicator, busier people seem to be the ones who accomplish more. As such, they are a higher value audience most of the time. If you post daily you’ll likely overwhelm people who want to consume your content but simply cannot handle the volume.

Expect More of Yourself

The first question to ask yourself is “What else could you be doing with your time?” If you spend only an hour a day blogging that’s over 9 weeks full time for a year; could you not achieve something better than a slew of blog posts?

If you are a programmer, for example, why not build and release an open-source project? If you are venture capitalist, why not take more meetings with entrepreneurs or use your network to help your existing investments more? If you are a social media maven (really? seriously?) maybe you could use your time to research all the emerging tools for tracking and analysis.

In other words, envision a BHAG project you could complete rather than just writing a new blog post every day. If John F. Kennedy had rallied US citizens around all journaling daily instead, would we ever have ever made it to the moon?

You Are Competing with Millions

If you are blogging about anything that is not highly unique, you are competing with millions.

Consider if you were paid your effective hourly rate for the time you spend blogging; would you invest that money in lottery tickets if you had it in your bank account? If not, why would you compete for the attention of people against so many others who are blogging too?

Life is Too Short

One of the mantras regarding daily posting is that you have to train yourself and develop discipline, which means that for most people blogging daily is just not fun. Why put yourself through that unless you are really going to benefit greatly from it?

But What About the Benefits?

Reading through all of the posts listed above about why you should blog each day it seems that the primary benefits stated are these, paraphrasing of course:

  • Increasing your blog traffic
  • Readers expect it
  • Developing habits are a key to success
  • Establishing yourself as an expert
  • Exercising your “Writing Muscle”

Let me tackle these one-at-a-time, in reverse order:

Exercising your “Writing Muscle”

That’s probably the best reason listed, and I agree. Except.

If it is really important to you to become a better writer, then yes, write every day. But you don’t have to push the “Publish” button, at least not for your public blog. Here are strategies that you could use instead that would excerise that muscle just as much:

  • Write a portion of a longer blog post, and do it every day.
  • Create a Facebook page and write posts for it daily.
  • Write a private journal daily. If you really need/crave feedback, invite friends to access it. But publish your best work less frequently on your blog.

Establishing Yourself as an Expert

This is another good reason. But a weekly blog can be just as successful at establishing your expertise, if not more so.

Look around at some of the leading experts you know via their blogs; how many of them blog daily? I’ve listed at least one below, Mark Suster. His expertise is well established, but he doesn’t blog daily unless he has something to blog about.

Developing Habits are a Key to Success

Agreed. But do you really need to blog daily to develop habits? Aren’t there other habits that can generate a better return in your life? (exercise, to name one?)

Readers Expect It

Sorry, this is just rationalization as far as I’m concerned.

When I was young my father told me:

“Don’t worry what other’s think; they think about you about 1/1000th as often as you think about yourself.” Similarly, most people don’t wait with baited breath for you to generate yet another post.

As for the few people who do tell you they wanted you to blog more (search for “Loyal Readers Crave More Content”) they are just feeding your confirmation bias compared to the majority of your vistors.

Increasing your Blog Traffic

Really, it comes down to this.

Yes, blogging daily is about driving more traffic to your blog, nothing else. And sadly, it works.

If your primary goal is to drive more traffic to your blog but not necessarily higher quality traffic, and the other reasons for not blogging daily are of no concern to you then more power to you. Just please don’t try to fool yourself or convince others that your daily blog ritual is for any other person than yourself.

Sorry to be harsh, but I haven’t seen anything that has given me evidence to believe there’s any other reason for it than self-promotion, and in some cases even narcissism. Maybe you can convince me otherwise in the comments below?

Are There Exceptions?

Of course there are exceptions. The ones who should daily blog (well, actually “write daily”) are professional journalists, you know people who get paid to write daily, and especially those who write news stories, which by definition require daily writing.

Also, anyone who generates highly unique content, such as content about their own company’s products or services could possibly benefit from daily blogging, especially if they have internal content developed by others from which to draw upon.

Effectively anyone who is likely to write content that nobody else is going to write could be forgiven for blogging daily. But even then, less frequently per author is better because then they have the time to write higher quality posts.

Information Overload Redux

When I was in college and learning to love programming computers there was one (1) monthly magazine that covered the programming language I was learning at the time. Each month I would read it cover-to-cover several times, and anxiously await the next issue to start again.

Today, thinking of programming for WordPress, I could spend every waking minute reading good quality articles that would be somehow relevant and informative regarding my current chosen professional. But to find the good articles I’d have to sift through the other 90% of that were published just for publishing sake, the ones that are little more than noise.

Simply put, blogging daily exponentially increases the amount of noise on the web. And that’s really not good for (the users of) the web, or humanity.

Bloggers I Wish Didn’t Post Daily

Speaking of daily bloggers, here is a short list of people who I really respect and admire and who I would love to see write some truly epic posts inspired by their knowledge and experience. Unfortunately each day I find a typically a mediocre post albeit occasionally a few almost good ones. But (almost?) never do these people product really great posts.

Fred Wilson of AVC.com

Fred <@fredwilson> is known as the VC who has funded some of the most visibly successful Internet startups in the past decade. He blogs daily, and I get an email containing his daily posts. Given his daily blogging schedule and all of his other obligations and evident success, I am constantly amazed at how good his posts are.

But more than being amazed, I’m also disappointed because he never blogs long form or in-depth. I know he has great knowledge and experience to share, but I never really feel like I’ve learned something after reading Fred’s blog posts, I just feel like I’ve been kept up to date.

Now Fred’s blog has generated an incredibly active community of commentors. Many of the frequent commentors are well-known and successful people in the startup world, but I constantly amazed at how much time these people can spend commenting on Fred’s blog in a day. It flabbergast me, frankly.

Fred’s blog uses Disqus for commenting, a company he has invested in but one where I find product usability very lacking other than I do really like the ability to edit the typos in my comments, which you can’t do on most blogs. The reason I mention this is that as soon as I comment on Fred’s latest blog I am inundated with about 250 emails that day because Disqus emails every me comment, not just replies to my comments, and Fred’s blog overflows with comments. This is clearly good for Fred’s personal branding and provides him with a posse of people he can ask for help, but then if Fred wasn’t an uber-successful VC I doubt he would get the same following from his daily blog.

After all, people are attracted to where the money is…

David Cummings on Startups

David <@davidcummings> is an incredibly talented individual. He’s a “local boy done good”; he built and then in late 2012 sold Pardot for $90 million to ExactTarget, which was then sold to Saleforce.com. Almost immediately after be purchased a 100,000 SQFT building in Buckhead, Atlanta’s prime real estate market, a.k.a where old money lives and new money parties.

David christened his new Buckhead facility Atlanta Tech Village, now home to 100’s of startups. He has become a well-known ambassador in town for high tech startups and has receive the attention of the USA Today, the Mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed, the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, Atlanta’s Creative Loafing, InvestAtlanta, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and more.

I think 20 years from now Atlanta will look back at David as the father of Atlanta’s High Tech Industry Boom, or something similar. When I tell people about David who don’t know of him I say his is Atlanta’s future equivalent of Brad Feld re: Bolder, Colorado.

CLEARLY David is amazing, one of the best business thinkers in Atlanta. And he blogs daily, and yes I get an email for every one of his posts. Unfortunately David’s posts are short and rarely ever better than a high-level outline of some topic that he has clearly queued up for the day. I receive his post via email, like clockwork, around 10pm ever night.

David has so much value to share, and he obviously devotes the time to sharing. But unfortunately David’s choice of daily bloggingmeans that he rarely if ever (has the time to) write a really valuable, in-depth post that leverages his profound knowledge, experience and expertise. For example, David frequently mentions the importace of establishing a great company culture but he’s never blogged anything that helps a would-be entrepreneur know how to establish a great culture in a startup.

Such as shame, really.

Tom McFarlin

Tom <@tommcfarlin> is one of the sharpest guys in the WordPress space, if not the sharpest WordPress guy I know personally.

Tom is also incredibly prolific. He blogs nonstop it seems, constantly writes for Envato, he’s written numerous plugins listed on WordPress.org, he gets profiled frequently, he was a partner at 8Bit which used to sell the Standard Theme he helped develop, and he was a contributor to their WPDaily blog, which is no more.

Anyway, I tried to follow Tom’s blog for a while and periodically he had some incredibly valuable posts. Unfortunately they were interspersed with numerous opinion and/or low information posts many of which generated a lot of comments but few if any dispensed any real usable knowledge, at least for me. It’s as if he set himself a goal to write daily, so by gosh that’s what he is going to do.

Sadly, I had to unsubscribe because the noise-to-signal ratio was just so high. And that made me sad, but I had to do it.

Honorable Mention: Eric Mann

I got to know Eric <@ericmann> during the time I was actively involved in moderating and answering questions on WordPress Answers. While I learned that Eric is a very bright WordPress developer with lots of relevant experience and a great ability to explain answers to WordPress questions in writing, what I admired the most about him was how even-keel he was when interacting with others on the web. Never did I see Eric involved in a flameware (unlike me, unfortunately) nor have I ever witnessed him talking down to someone online, a behavior that otherwise runs rampant online, especially in certain open-source circles. Eric really has my respect.

And when Eric blogs a how-to article about WordPress, it’s usually well worth reading, at least for me. I know Eric has interest in writing a novel, and recently it seems Eric has decided to blog every day (if I misunderstood Eric, please forgive.) My criticisms are not of his posts so much as a knowledge he wants to blog daily and I fear we’ll see more quanitity and less quality.

As an aside, it was actually that comment exchange which triggered me to finally write this post rather than just repeatedly think this sadness I feel when faced with the daily blogging of others who blog posts I would love to read, albeit not daily.

Awesome Bloggers Who Don’t Post Daily

Conversely, here are a few of my (current) favorite bloggers. They seem to only post when they have time and inspiration, but their posts are almost uniformly excellent. When I think of these people I don’t think of how much pablum they have churned out, I only think of how much I am in awe of them.

Mark Suster of Both Sides of the Table

Mark’s <@msuster> blog tagline is “Entrepreneur turned VC” and his experience just exudes from his posts. From my perspective Mark is a VC on par with Fred Wilson albeit he’s not been a VC as long thus he hasn’t had the time to rack up an equivalent number of successes. But like Fred he writes for entrepreneur’s benefit and is clearly not a VC who thinks the best way to win is to take advantage of startup entrepreneurs. Both he and Fred write as if the best entrepreur-VC relationship is a win-win relationship, and that’s why I think both of them has gained so much attention.

Whenever one of Mark’s posts arrives in my email I think “I need to make time to read that, because I know it will be worth reading.” And 9 times out of 10, it is relevant to me and my interests in startups and provides me with significant insight or understanding that I would struggle to find published elsewhere.

Kudos to Mark, he’s my favorite blogger and I would love to have the opportunity to meet him in the future under circumstances where I have something of benefit to offer him.

Price Intelligently

I don’t know who actually blogs for Price Intelligently <@priceintel> but their posts are almost consistently excellent. They blog more frequently than Mark Suster, which surprises as they are able to keep up the quality, but if you care about optimizing pricing for a SaaS then this a must-read blog.

And I’m really glad they don’t try to do the daily thing.

April Dunford of RocketWatcher

Contrary to the rest of this post, I really wish that April <@aprildunford> would blog more. I think she’s like me; she’ll get a burst of inspiration and write a few posts, and then she’ll get busy and 6 months will have gone by with no new posts.

I don’t know April well but she’s got a startup marketing blog, and it’s excellent. When she posts.

Nuff said.

At Least I’m not the Only One

Finally it seems these people agree with me, at least somewhat:

One Final Takaway

So if you are contemplating the development of a daily blogging habit, please consider this the summarization of the above:

  • Choose Quality Over Quantity

 

-Mike

P.S. I do get the irony of my blogging on this topic. But since it’s contrarian in nature I think it counts as unique. One thing’s for sure; I could not write posts like this every day.

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Proposal - Securing the WordPress JSON API

I was recently added to the WordPress API team and this post contains my thoughts about the recent authentication discussion.

WordPress have a reasonably robust authentication system built in, the username and password system and it would be possible to use it along with Basic Auth to allow for API authentication. Please forgive any typos in advance; this was long and I didn’t really have the time to fully proof it.

Authentication, Identity and Authorization

While Authentication is very important there is also Authorization to consider. Here’s a nice blog post from Apigee on the difference between three (3) terms: Identity, Authentication and Authorization (IMO Apigee are the leading experts on web API design at the moment). In a nutshell here’s what they terms mean:

The Term What it Means
Identity Who is making the request?
Authentication Are they really who they say they are?
Authorization Are they allowed to do what they are trying to do?

And as they point out we may not need them all but what we need is the point of this post.

As a side note they say "Take Twitter’s API; open for looking up public information about a user, but other operations require authentication." What this says to me is an API key would be ideal for most read activities but most write activities should require Authentication.

Authorization without Authentication

As much as we need Authentication I think we need Authorization even more. There are some API actions we’ll happily allow anyone to do such as download the list of our most popular posts and we don’t need to authenticate for that, we only need to authorize.

Why authorize? Why not just allow open access? So we can track who we authorized in case, for example we need to rate-limit their usage or even revoke their access.

About SSL

Let me get this out of the way sooner than later. Anything that requires SSL is a non-starter just as requiring PHP 5.3 for WordPress 3.7 is a non-starter. Need I say more on this point?

However we could allow support for SSL, assuming that for what we implement the SSL and non-SSL solutions are compatible.

Mainstream Options for API Security

Let’s discus the variety of methods for securing an API; some mainstream and some a bit esoteric. Bottom line is that most informed people seem to say "Don’t role your own." So with that in mind I believe we have these options:

Option Discussion
OAuth 2 Generally considered the best balanced security option for mainstream web apps where security and ease of interaction for users is balanced. But can be complex to implement, especially on the client end, and requires SSL to be secure.
Basic Auth Not as good as OAuth 2 but super easy for the client to implement OTOH it is not secure unless SSL is used.
Digest Auth More secure than Basic Auth but still not fully secure. Quite a pain for the client to implement..
Amazon Auth Well-tested and doesn’t require SSL but is non-standard (ignoring "defacto-" standards) and still requires an API key.
API Keys Very simple for the client to implement and as secure the Capabilities tied to the API key, i.e. if it can only see public data and not update then it’s "secure enough". Fully secure if used with SSL. Assuming users can’t change passwords with the API key then it’s more secure than Basic Auth because user credential are never in a position to be compromised.

(Did I miss anything?)

Given the available options it would seem to me that OAuth 2, Digest Auth and even Amazon Auth are non-starters as a requirement for use of a JSON API in WordPress core because of the complexity each of them heave onto the API client developer, at least if one of these is the option for accessing the JSON API.

Basic Auth vs. API Keys

Which leaves the unsecure Basic Auth and mildly secure API Keys. So review the pros and cons of using Basic Auth – which is tied to the WordPress user’s username and password in the current version of the JSON API – and API keys:

  Pros Cons
Basic Auth
  • Easy to implement
  • Insecure
  • If API login is compromised then user may loose their account or be made to go through the hassle of regaining access.
  • Since APIs access can be automated it’s much more likely that a hacker could capture a username/password on a non-SSL API call (calls might be made continuously) than for a user login (which comparatively happen very infrequently.)
  • Can only support one Authorization profile per user account.
  • To support multiple authorization profiles a user would need create multiple user accounts,
  • To allow another person API access they either need to share their username/password or create another user account for them.
  • If API access requires a user account some sites could go from 5-10 users to having 50,000+ users (think of smaller sites like Mashable.)
  • If multiple user accounts are required then we’ll need a way to relate user accounts and allow one user account to manage other user accounts.
API Keys
  • API authorization is decoupled from user accounts.
  • One or many API keys can be tied to a single user account.
  • If API Key is compromised user can login and deactivate it.
  • Plugins could easily deactivate API keys if they follow an abuse pattern.
  • API keys could be added with expiration dates.
  • Sites with a large number of API users do not gain an explosion of regular users.
  • Each API Key can potentially support a different Authorization Profile (example use-case: I provide on API key to a social network – the key has limited capability – and use another API key – one that can do anything my user account can do – for an official WordPress mobile app that I use to access my site.)
  • Requires what appears to be more architecture

It seems to me from this comparison that API keys are the only reasonable option for allowing JSON API access to much of WordPress. However they are only appropriate for some use-cases and not even as-is they are not as a complete solution. Let’s discuss the rest of the solution for the use-cases in which I think they apply.

It also seems to me that tying API access to users accounts could easily create an explosion of complexity and significant user experience problems as users see their logins hacked by unsecure usage and then are locked out of or even loose their blogs.

API Roles and Capabilities

One of the ways in which API Keys might be acceptable without Authentication is that some things can be made freely available holders of API keys if we add in "API Roles and Capabilities."

Just like User Roles that are assigned a collection of Capabilities we could add "API Roles" that also have "API Capabilities". These Capabilities could be used to determine the Authorization status for each (what I’ll name) an "API Service" when requested.

Note: I’m defining an "API Service" as a URL + an HTTP method (GET, POST, etc.) and I’m calling the collection of Authorizations for all API Services as a "Authorization Profile."

I’ve reviewed the code for the WP_Role, WP_Roles and WP_User classes and I think the first two could be used without modification. If so then we only introduce a WP_API_Request class. And depending on the opinion of others the WP_API_Request class could be standalone or the WP_User class could be refactored to extend from an abstract WP_Auth class thereby allowing the new WP_API_Request class to also extend from WP_Auth.

We could then decide on a convention that any Capability name prefixed with 'api_' is a capability for an API Service and we add a function current_api_request_can() or just api_request_can(). Armed with api_request_can() we could write code like the following (note that api_request_can() assumes 'api_' as a prefix and thus does not require it to be passed):

Source code example

Are We Adding Too Much Code?

Although a comment was made that "we don’t want a huge chunk of code just for authentication" I would suggest that even if it were to be a large amount of code, which I doubt there would be, it shouldn’t matter how much code we add as long as that code doesn’t require significant maintenance and more importantly does not impose significant complexity onto the admin user in terms of "more options."

  • Assume that in Settings > General we add only one (1) single checkbox with the label "Enable JSON API" which by default we leave unchecked.

  • Once the user has explicitly chosen to enable the API (the equivalent of activating the plugin we have today) a single "Tools > JSON API" option is added.

  • The Tools/JSON API admin page can use tabs to organize the information so it would not be overwhelming, if even needed.

  • To offer the user the list of API keys we can reuse/modify the Taxonomy add/edit functionality assuming we add a 'user_api_key' taxonomy to allow us to store, lookup and manage API keys related to Users who would "own" the API keys.

  • Another tab for the Tools/JSON API admin page could potentially offer the ability to add and manage API Roles and another tab for API Capabilities. Or not, we could require these be managed programmatically just like User roles currently are.

  • And finally a main tab that allows you to force SSL use, or not.

What I’ve describe above it really not that much code. Would it make sense to risk the potential downside of tying the API to username and password in order to simply avoid the code that the API keys management would require?

Handling Escalating Security Requirements

Consider the "API Services" discussed earlier; we could implement a mapping of authentication requirements to API services such that different services have different authentication/authorization requirements. Consider this table:

Requirement HTTP Methods API Services That Allows Example API Service
No API Key Required GET Access to public information with a low risk of needing a rate limiter. An API service that returns site name and other metadata. The metadata could also including a links to an API service to request an API key via API.
API Key GET Access to public information that might need to be rate limited. Return the current list of blog posts.
API Key + Nonce POST, PUT Add Content or Update Revertible Content Update of Posts, add Taxonomy Terms.
Nonce GET Add Content or Update Revertible Content Update of Posts, add Taxonomy Terms.
SSL+Basic Auth GET Returns secure information for client w/o API Key Retrieve an API key programatically.
SSL+API Key POST, PUT Updates secure information Modify User Profile, Deletes Posts.
SSL+Basic Auth POST, PUT Update highly sensitive information Change user password

API Keys + Nonces

Note that we combine nonces with API keys. One of the ways WordPress handles security is with nonces, and the API need be no different. Note that the nonce would be generated by WordPress core or a plugin for the logged in user to allow their browser’s to use the API via AJAX. These use-cases would authorize for the JSON API similar to how the current AJAX system in WordPress authorizes.

For mobile apps nonces could also be offered to last for longer, requiring a mobile device to retrieve a new nonce once every 15 minutes or so but then allowing them to just use the nonce + API key within those windows. Of course you wouldn’t want a 15 minute window for nonces used with AJAX apps

Using SSL

So if we follow the outlined approach we can provide a reasonably level of API access without requiring SSL but we can still enforce the benefit of SSL for those who are likely to have the where-with-all to upgrade to SSL.

Consider this, if they need their sensitive parts of their site updated via API then they are likely special enough that they can make sure that SSL happens. But if unexpected consequences occur and someone builds a SaaS that people want to use but that requires SSL then frankly it creates an opportunity for hosting companies to see a high level of demand for turnkey SSL setup.

And optionally we can add an 'WPAPI_ALLOW_NO_SSL' constant for those site builders and site owners with a "Devil May Care" attitude.

Summary

In summary I’m proposing for the JSON API for WordPress to:

  • Use API Keys for Authorization
    • (And if you are still not convinced, read this).
  • Incorporate API Roles and Capabilities
  • Support Escalating Authentication Requirements for API Services
  • Build Single Menu Item Admin UI for the admin to Manage the API.

Let me know your reactions in the comments below.

What the World Needs is a Markdown IDE for Programmer Documentation

As an active JetBrains’ PhpStorm user one of my feature requests was for First Class WYSIWYG Markdown/Markdown Extra Support. Unfortunately they told me (and others) to use a 3rd party plugin which given it’s lack of quality and features turned out to be a non-starter for me. So I continue to use Markdown Pro which I love for what it is but I really need an order of magnitude more features.

But today I was thinking hard about how I’m going to implement documentation for the project I’ve worked on over the past 3 months without killing myself. A sad realization came over me that using MarkDown Pro would be very painful to use because it’s really nothing more than a glorified Notepad with Markdown support and a preview window; it has nothing to support me in the developer of documentation projects.

Then it hit me; what I really need is not an ability for PhpStorm to edit markup but instead a full-featured documentation IDE targeting programmers. And frankly I think the company best positioned to offer this would be JetBrains but I’d be happy to see any company offer it, if someone just will (Maybe those Sublime guys could…?)

So if you are from JetBrains or from some other company please consider the following feature set:

Features

Here are just some of the features that I’d love to see a Documentation IDE support

  • Manage "Documentation Projects" vs. just individual markdown files.
  • Multi-pane editor like PhpStorm but with panes that support document creation.
    • Vertical or horizontal split edit and preview windows.
  • CSS-based Themes for preview.
  • File Watchers for post processing LESS, Saas another other features.
  • Version control support for Git, Mercurial, SVN, etc.
    • Support for docs in a subdir of a code repository or as independent repo.
  • Support for all major Markup/Markdown format including Different Dialects and HTML
    • Conversion between Markup/Markdown formats
    • Ability to configure all and/or specific documents to be edited in one format/dialect and saved in another.
  • Ability to Publish and Maintain Documentation Websites from DocStorm
    • Publish directly to GitHub Pages as well as maintain existing GitHub pages.
    • Publish to Evernote, DropBox, etc.
    • Offer "POST-To-Publish" feature that would allow us to publish and update using HTTP POSTs so that we could write our own server-side integrations to other locations besides GitHub such as CMS (WordPress, Ghost, etc), Wikis (Mediawiki, etc.), SaaS platforms and more using our own PHP, Ruby, Python, Node.js or other code server-side code.
  • Navigation Between Documents
    • Jump to Document via selected hyperlink
    • Jump to Section of Document via selected hyperlink+fragment
    • Jump to File by Name
    • Jump to Headings in Project (find by autocomplete)
  • Refactoring
    • Refactor Document Structure to change all affected links
      • If URL changes
      • If URL fragment changes
    • Move selected content into a new file and insert a link to the new file.
    • Provide a tree view of files and allow refactoring by drag-and-drop in tree view, with all necessary link fix-up.
  • Manage Images
    • As part of the project, relative to the project root
    • Enable images to be previewed inline
  • Search and Replace like the wonderful PhpStorm search & replace)
    • Regular expression search.
    • Highlight on up/down arrow of selected options.

Also potentially valuable would be integrations with existing documentation tools although I can’t yet envision exactly what that would look like:

Benefits to JetBrains

Back to JetBrains and why they should do this. Currently they have IDEs for Java, PHP, Ruby, Python and Javascript programmers and for the most part (I would assume) few of their customers cross over and purchase multiple tools. However if they were to offer a "DocStorm" then every one of their current IDE customers they might be able to up-sell a sizeable number of developers.

But even if they won’t do it, maybe someone else will? 

Update

If you like this idea please vote for it on the JetBrains tracker

Update 9-Oct-2013

So JetBrains considered the idea, but decided against it. :-(  But they have changed their mind in the past if they’ve had enough requests, so please vote for both these tickets, if you will:

Better yet, if you are in the editor space and looking to expand your market, please consider building this flavor of your product and I expect you will find many new customers.

17 Reasons WordPress is a Better CMS than Drupal

This blog post has been simmering inside me for while. Some might think it as link bait but frankly I don’t blog often because I don’t have the time to manage lots of comments. So the thought of posting something that will likely be controversial has me going against my better judgment (but it won’t be the first time I’ve done that. :)

Drupal is for Serious Web App Dev but WordPress is Just Blogware?!?

Say what?!?!? Although the conventional wisdom is that WordPress is really just a great blogging tools and Drupal is more appropriate when you need a full-featured CMS for business use, the conventional wisdom is unfortunately outdated. Since WordPress released version 3.0 in mid-2010 there are now very few if any good reasons to use Drupal instead of WordPress when your business needs a CMS.

Heresy?

Maybe, but history has shown much heresey to be the voice of truth later vindicated. However, rather than ask you to just take my word for it, I’m going to explain below 17 tangible and specific reasons why WordPress is a much better choice for a business CMS than Drupal. 

Just the Facts

But for those of you who can’t be bothered to read the details I can summarize in two (2) points:

  1.  Site Architecture and
  2.  Backward Compatibility

Drupal’s site architecture, which on surface appears quite elegant is in reality Drupal’s biggest weakness. Drupal projects can start very inexpensively with large initial wins but the costs to add increasing functionality are discontinuous and in my experience soon soar out of control. I’ve seen several Drupal projects fail simply because of Drupal’s architectural inflexibility; many projects becoming difficult if not impossible to complete On the other hand there is WordPress’ architecture which, while seemingly less sophisticated and with more code duplication nonetheless enables the perfect combination of flexibility and unlimited functionality in my opinion where the increase in cost for more functionality scales linearly starting from zero.

As for Drupal’s position on backward compatibility they only maintain compatibility between major versions, which means you’ll be probably be forced into having to do a fork-lift upgrade since they only official support one major version behind. Who in their right mind would put their business in such a position? WordPress, on the other hand, bends over backwards to maintain an upgrade path between 0.1 versions.

About Terminology

WordPress and Drupal have some different terms for similar concepts and the following might be confusing if you are not aware of how these terms relate.  What WordPress calls a "Custom Post Type" Drupal calls a "Custom Content Type."

In WordPress a developer uses the register_post_type() function to define a custom post type whereas in Drupal a developer or user defines a custom content type in the admin console using the "Content Creation Kit" module (a.k.a. "CCK".) WordPress calls all content items "posts" (which is the generic term for the more specific "Pages" and "Posts"; confusing, I know, but that’s for legacy reasons. Drupal on the other hand alternates between calling content items "Content" at times and "Nodes" at other times.

Both WordPress and Drupal use the term "Theme" to refer to the collection of files that collectively create the unique look and feel for a site. Themes are comprised of some or all of these items: PHP scripts, HTML, CSS, SQL queries, Javascript, Images, Flash and maybe more. Themes are designed to be interchangable so that by replacing a theme a site can be given an (almost?) completely different look.

For extensiblity both WordPress and Drupal support the concept of componentized functionality with WordPress calling their functionality "plugins" and Drupal calling their functionality "modules." Aside from some technical implementation differences both plugins and modules are conceptually the same; componentized functionality. They are both typically comprised of PHP scripts and HTML but like themes may also incorporate CSS,  SQL queries, Javascript, Images, Flash and more.

As for versioning, WordPress strives every four (4) months (but it sometimes takes six) to launch a "point 1" or 0.1 version increment (such as v2.9, v3.0, v3.1, etc.) whereas Drupal uses major and minor versions (i.e. v5.x, v6.x, v7.x, etc.) with no specific release schedule between major versions.

Now with that out of the way, on to the 17 reasons.

17 Reasons to Pick WordPress vs. Drupal:

  1. WordPress Allows Infinite Design Flexibility - Drupal not so much. Because of it’s fundamental technical architecture most Drupal sites have a certain look and feel that is very difficult to get away from (note the "I think though doth protest too much" quality of these three (3) posts),   WordPress is as flexible as HTML because of it’s architecture.

    More specifically when a browser requests a web page from a Drupal-based website, Drupal inspects the requested URL and then delegates reponsibility for generating parts of the HTML page to both applicable modules and to components of Drupal itself. Drupal then collects up the generated HTML and composes a completed  HTML page when it sends to the browser.  Drupal manages everything and this archecture is minimizes duplication of responsibilities and is an architecture that an engineer can truly love.

    Unfortunately Drupal’s architecture is also highly coupled and thus rather inflexible; when you want a web page that doesn’t fit into Drupal’s model you either 1.) learn complex and arcane methods to achieve what in pure HTML would be incredibly simple, 2.) rebuild major portions of Drupal functionality for your custom page or 3.) just give up and do it the way Drupal wants you to. Or as I like to say when explaining this unfortunate aspect of Drupal:

    As a Drupal developer you are constantly battling Drupal to get back in control of the HTML that it will output for any given URL. Drupal is like a "Roach Motel" for URLs: Once a URL enters Drupal it never leaves!

  2. Usability has been "Baked-in" to WordPress - With Drupal, usability was an afterthought until version 7 and they’ve been desperately trying to improve it; usability tests by the Univeristy of Baltimore identified many critical usability issues in Drupal (the video is a must watch.) But some things such as usability need to be central to the philosophy of the developers and not tacked on as an afterthought. In Drupal you frequently need to visit at least two different pages in the admin to affect what a user would see to be one external change. With WordPress the admin console was originally user tested by the project founder’s mother ("If mom can use it, anybody can!") and that fanatical concern for usability has permetated the project. In Drupal some of the more active developers are known to say "If you don’t find Drupal usable maybe Drupal is not for you."
  3. WordPress has a WYSIWYG Content Editor in Core - Also a usability issue but an important specific one, with Drupal there is no standard WYSIWYG editor leaving the site implementor to choose from thirteen (13!) suboptimal editor module choices, none of which are maintained at the same level of Drupal core.  In WordPress, TinyMCE has been a highly usable standard for more versions that I’ve been using WordPress. (Personally this was one of the biggest issues I had with Drupal and why moving to WordPress was such a godsend for me.)
  4. WordPress Strives to Maintain Backward Compatibility - Drupal wears as a badge of honor that they wipe the slate clean with every major version. Drupal mostly ignores backward compatibility with the prior major version because yes it is nicer for the core developers not to have to worry about backward compatibility. But for your business the reality is that if you implement a site using Drupal you are stuck on that major version until you choose to invest in an expensive rewrite of your website. 

    Ponder this issue for a moment.  In my opinion, choosing Drupal can result in a nightmare once the version of Drupal they are using becomes too obsolete and is no longer supported. This is such a huge negative that I can’t really see why any business that is doing their due diligence would ever choose Drupal no matter its feature set.

    With WordPress most upgrades are seemless and those that are not are usually easily fixed because of the attention to maintaining backward compatibility.

  5. A WordPress-based Website’s Source Code is Easier to Manage - Drupal co-mingles user content with what is in effect a website’s source code in much more significant ways than WordPress does.  For example, to design of "Custom Content Type" in Drupal gets stored in the MySQL database; in WordPress "Custom Post Types" are stored as PHP code. For any business website managed by professionals it is critical to use a source code version control system and it’s easy to submit PHP code to version control but very difficult to submit records in a database to version control. This fact alone is a extremely strong argument for WordPress and against using Drupal for any serious website development project.

    Yes out-of-the-box Drupal is easier for a non-technical power user to add custom content types compared to with WordPress, but we are not talking about the needs of a housewife to organize her recipes, we are talking about which one is the better choice for a business CMS and WordPress wins hands down in this category. (BTW, there are plugins for WordPress such as Custom Post Type UI that provide the end-user with the same ease of use for creating custom post types that Drupal has for creating custom content types.)

  6. Collaborative Development is Easier with WordPress - This reason is a variant of source code being easier to manage. Without a good version control strategy it is much harder to get a local copy of a website for development. Developers in a Drupal shop have to spend a lot more time merging their databases so the up-shot is that many Drupal developers co-develop on the same installation, and often the live installation at that which results in overwriting each other’s code and limits a developers ability to roll back.  It’s much easier to develop with a local copy of WordPress so WordPress developers tend to do it more often.
  7. Revisions of WordPress-based Websites are Easier to Deploy - This reason is also a variant of source code being easier to manage. 1 but the headaches are seperate so I list is as a seperate reason. Because WordPress maintains a lot more of its logic in PHP code WordPress is much easier to deploy than a Drupal application. Drupal developers end up writing a lot more SQL code that they then need to test everytime they need to merge data used to control new application logic into the database of a production webserver on deployment of a revision to an existing website. The significance of this is hard to underestimate.
  8. Easier to Find Skilled Designers for WordPress -  To create a beautiful website design for WordPress designers need to be good at design, of course, but beyond that they really only need to learn how to copy and paste "Template Tags" as they able to have full design freedom when producing the HTML that will be used for a WordPress theme.

    Drupal designers, on the other hand, need to be skilled PHP developers too and with a rare exceptions those two skillsets are mutually exclusive. When you do find someone who can do both and do both well, they will be hugely in demand and thus outrageously expensive but the real problem is with Drupal you really won’t know if they are one of the rare few until after you’ve paid them a lot of money to either create a "house of cards", or a really ugly house.

    With WordPress you can get a great designer to work with a great developer, both of which are easier to evaluate than combined greatness, and you are set.

  9. There are More WordPress Professionals Available - A corollary to finding skilled designers, it’s simply much easier to find WordPress professionals to hire for projects than it is to find Drupal professionals.
  10. WordPress Professionals Charge Lower Rates - Another corollary to finding skilled designers and more WordPress professional being available is it is less expensive to find a WordPress professional than a professional for Drupal.  If you ignore the fact that there are many more WordPress professionals another factor is WordPress professionals don’t need to be as proficient in as many areas as their Drupal counterparts.  People who can really make Drupal sing are really expensive.
  11. WordPress’ Code is Much Easier to Debug - Drupal’s highly nested architecture makes it so that a developer spends most of his time looping through a few core functions waiting to find which code controls what they need to modify.  Often with WordPress the developer can simply set a breakpoint on the theme’s template file and debug from there.
  12. WordPress Sites Load Much Faster than Drupal Sites - Drupal runs upwards of 100 SQL queries for every page load because of its site architecture. With WordPress the number can easily be less than 10. And the time to run those SQL queries easily add up. Drupal advocates will claim those queries can be made insignificant by the creative use of caching but the reality is that you cannot cache most items in the admin console so the end user who is forced to use Drupal will be saddled with a level of fatiged and is just not necessary, if you instead choose WordPress.

    And lest you feel this is unimportant technical concern be aware that site performance is now something that Google uses to determine search engine result rankings. Host your website on a slow platform and prepare for an uphill battle when it comes to achieve top rankings in Google’s search engine results pages.

  13. WordPress Requires Less Expensive Hosting - A corollary to page load performance is that the typical Drupal site requires a lot more server to serve each of it’s pages than does a typical WordPress site. Those who choose WordPress for a seriously high traffic site will usually find they can serve more pages with the same servers and/or that the memory requirements for WordPress will typically be a lot less. And for a high traffic sites this could either be real money and/or it can mean that the site is less likely to fail in the case of a flash mob such as a Slashdotting.
  14. WordPress has the Most Integrations -  More companies or their 3rd parties offer plugins for WordPress to integrate with their services than another other platform, specially more than modules available for Drupal. Twitter, Facebook, Freshbooks, MailChimp; you name it, they all have WordPress plugins. If you need one for Drupal and it’s not a mainstream service like Twitter or Facebook chances are you’ll have to pay to have it written.
  15. WordPress has More Robust Extensibility Method - Both WordPress and Drupal use the term "hooks" to describe their exensibility mechanisms and while there are similar there is an important technical difference. In WordPress you associate a bit of functionality to either run or filter a value based on the name of the hook and you can have as many hooks of each type as are needed. In Drupal you do the same except that hooks are identified hook name prefixed with module name which means you can only use a given hook once in a module; if you need to use it twice you have to create another named module.

    Of course the module name limitation is an annoyance but not a huge problem. The huge problem comes when you need a module to disable a hook that was enabled by another module you otherwise need. This is a technique used somewhat frequently in WordPress but when it’s needed it is essential. In Drupal, even if you need to you simply can’t. And all because of Drupal’s architecture choices.

  16. WordPress has Far More High-Quality Attractive Themes - Drupal has almost two orders of magnitude less.  Why is this the case? Because it is so much harder to create a Drupal theme (as mentioned above), designers have to be good developers to theme Drupal (also mentioned above) and there are just so many more people using WordPress.

    Now having off-the-shelf themes is great for micro-businesses, startups and even tactical projects but most businesses will want a custom theme developed to showcase their brand in the best light possible yet the existence of so many commercial themes still benefits those who need custom themes.  Why?  Because it means that collectively WordPress custom theme developers have a lot more experience developing quality themes than their collective Drupal counterparts because many WordPress designer offer up commercial themes for sale in addition to their bespoken work.

    And then there are the theme frameworks for WordPress like StudioPress’ Genesis and WooTheme’s Canvas which create excellent headstarts for theme designers with lots of pre-built functionality that designers would often have to charge clients to develop.  Drupal does have the concept of theme frameworks but they are really an esoteric option for Drupal.

  17. Lastly (for my list, at least) there is a WordPress Answers but not one for Drupal - Yes an attempt has been made but there’s just not enough community support for a Drupal Answers (yet?) And while this reason may seem gratuitous, believe me it is not!

    The official support forums for both Drupal and WordPress and even the mailing lists for WordPress evidently encourage a level of disrespectfullness that is pervasive in so many open-source communities and it can be a huge time sink for the business person who just wants a problem solved. On the other hand the mechanism used by StackExchange’s WordPress Answers brilliantly encourages timely and helpful support discourages such unproductive behavior with its reputation system.

    And whereas many support queries on the Drupal (and WordPress) forums go unanswered, the majority of questions receive a reasonable answer on WordPress Answers (currently at 94%.)  If you have a WordPress issue you need solved, or that your developer needs to solve, the existence of WordPress Answer compared with the non-existence of Drupal Answer means that solutions will come far more quickly and far less expensively.

So there you go.  17 Substaintial Reasons why WordPress "The open source blogging tool" is a far better pick when selecting a CMS for business use compared with "*The* (2009) open-source CMS" Drupal. (Oh, and the judges picked WordPress as the best CMS for 2010.) Need another opinion? See Wikipedia’s criticisms of Drupal and the relative lack of criticisms about WordPress.

Of course it would be unfair and disingenous of me to call out WordPress strengths and Drupals weaknesses without also telling you where I see weaknesses with WordPress and strengths of Drupal and for me not to tell you what are the use-cases where I’d be hard-pressed to dismiss Drupal in favor of WordPress. So here you go:

  1. Drupal Allows for More Flexible URL Design - Since WordPress grew up as a blog they hardcoded the URL routing logic which has resulted in some rather odious limitations in how you can design your URLS.  Drupal’s URL management is no panacea either — you can end up with a difficult to maintain mess — but at least Drupal *allows* you flexibility that is often just too hard to implement robustly with WordPress

    (Note: I have a plugin on the drawing board whose goal is to remove this limitation from WordPress. Once it sees the light of day  I believe WordPress’ URL routing will be much better than that of Drupal. But alas, at least today, Drupal wins in the URL category. If someone using WordPress really badly needs better URL routing in WordPress and can fund the plugin development please contact me as by nature my priorities are defined by my client’s needs.)

  2. Drupal Offers Out-of-the-Box Content Type and View Creation in the Admin - Yes, out of the box a saavy end user with adminstrator rights can create and define Custom Content Types with custom fields and even custom reports/queries called "Views." This enable and end user with the time to learn Drupal to build a content-based system without any developer help. And for certain scenarios this would be invaluable, such as in certain government or academic departments were there is zero budget for development today, there never will be budget, and the end user either does not want to or is simply incapable of learning how to write the simply PHP required to register custom post types in WordPress.

    On the other hand, there are WordPress plugins that duplicate the functionality of CCK and there are numerous plugins that expore the Custom Post Type registration via a UI in the WordPress Admin.  Still, as far as I know, there really is not WordPress equivalent of Views.

    Still, even though you can create custom post types in WordPress using a plugin that exposes an admin UI it doesn’t mean you always should. As I said above I highly recommend that anyone business that is having custom solutions built using WordPress not build them using an admin UI for defining custom post types but instead embed that logic into version-controllable PHP files.

    As for Views, it’s basically the same recomendations as for custom post types; rather than store them in the database like Drupal does it works much nicer just to code calls to WP_Query into PHP code; easier to version control and also easier to test, verify correct and certain that aspect of the site to be bug free.

  3. Drupal has Positioned Themselves Better in the Eyes of Large Enterprise - Here’s where I think Drupal has succeeded brilliantly. Because of the efforts Acquia’s products, services and solutions there are many large companies that believe in Drupal. I believe they have done a much better job of courting the Fortune 500 crowd than WordPress has via Automattic and it’s VIP Support and Hosting offering.

    That’s not to say there are not some really phenominal companies delivering enterprise class solutions on the WordPress platform such as Voce Communications and TayloeGray just that there is a segment of decision makers in large business who will only consider working directly with the primary vendor and in these two cases the primary vendor for WordPress is Automattic and the primary vendor for Drupal is Acquia. And while I love WordPress and think highly of the team at Automattic it’s clear to me that Acquia have done a much better job of positioning themselves as a company that provides enterprise class support for their platform.

But what about Drupal for Community Sites?

One of the use-cases oft cited for Drupal’s superiority is for community sites.  But frankly, I don’t buy it. 

As an active member of the Drupal community for two years (speaking of which, I need to update my profile there) I found drupal.org to be an extremely frustrating website in which of participate in a community. The forums were not at all effective in the ways that other forums I’ve seen like vBulletin have been effective, and using them as a user was far more pain then pleasure (by contrast I find StackExchange mechansim at WordPress Answers to work brilliantly but alas it’s not software you can implment for your own community.)

Actually at this point I think it’s counter productive to set up yet another social network but if you are convinced your strategy makes sense I’d be included to launch it on BuddyPress instead of Drupal, and BuddyPress is now a plugin for WordPress. And one of the really great aspects of BuddyPress is it that it leverages the brilliant network/multisite feature of WordPress which has completely nailed the "single install - multiple website" architecture.

Who am I to Judge WordPress vs. Drupal?

Full disclosure, I’ve been making my living as a WordPress specialist for almost two years and I plan to launch a company that provides tools and support for professional website developers and interactive agencies who have chosen WordPress as their platform for client solutions. The reality is that I could easily choosen to do the same for Drupal but did not. 

I spent two years working with Drupal as my preferred platform, from mid 2007 through early 2009 and I gained experience working with versions 4, 5, and 6. I was drawn to Drupal by it’s elegant architecture (I’m an engineer by degree and thus appreciate elegant technical architectures) and frankly by the fact that Drupal was the only solution of the three main open source CMSes that  could actually be used as a CMS without obvious issues (why I avoided Joomla is the story for another day.)

Back in 2007 using WordPress as a CMS was simply not an option, so I moved forward and became enamoured with Drupal and it’s Custom Content Kit, Views and so many other (what seemed like) wonderful modules. I became active in the local Drupal Meetup group and spoke at several of their meetings. I registered a "DrupalCamp.com" domain with plans to launch a local DrupalCamp and more. I really drank the Drupal koolaid.

But then by happenstance I had finished a Drupal project and was looking for another when a 6 week project to write custom admin plugins for WordPress 2.7 fell in my lap.  Since I far prefer to develop admin functionality than full websites I figured "How hard can it be?" and took the job.  While I worked on these plugins I discovered WordPress much easier to develop for than Drupal but I still held on to the notion I’d return to doing Drupal work once the project was done. As the project progressed an inner conflict raged as I came to prefer WordPress all the while mourning what I would be loosing if I were to leave Drupal (CCK and Views, mostly.)

However by the end of the 6 weeks it became crystal clear to me; WordPress was a much better system than Drupal even without all the CMS features. I was reminded of how many personal Drupal projects I had unfinished simple because it’s do hard to get a good looking site completed in Drupal, the last 15% it pure hell to complete. So I decided I would build my own CCK equivalent and use WordPress instead. Honestly, it didn’t go so well with WordPress at first. Trying to create my own CCK was fraught with frustration and I wasted copious time trying to bend WordPress to my will. But I did and limped along.

Then v2.8 came out. And then v2.9. And then finally v3.0 was announce with Custom Post Types and fortunately I was in a position to just on the beta version. It soon became clear to me that the WordPress team got Custom Post Types right and that v3.0 was going to be a watershed release and, as they say, the rest is history. 

As I write this v3.1 is going into beta and with its Internal Linking Dialogs, Post Formats and more WordPress continues to prove that it really is the best choice for almost every business CMS need out there.

So Why Did I Write this Post?

Recently I met with a Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation at a large well-known non-profit who is planning to launch a major initiative and he’d narrowed his choices of platform down to two (2): Drupal or WordPress.  On a personal level we hit if off fabulously so if it were just personalities I think he might be inclined to take my recommendation on faith but I sensed he is enough of a real professional that he looks beyond the personality of the advocates to assess the actual best solution for this organization.

What he wanted to hear from me which platform I thought was the best and why. I had already reviewed their design brief and wireframes so I had a good idea of what they wanted, and on the surface it looked rather much like a community app. Because of this and also because he had previously talked with several Drupal advocates I think he was leaning towards Drupal.  But looking at his requirements and given my issues with Drupal that I detailed in these 17 reasons it was clear at the day is long that WordPress would be a far better platform to meet his needs.

Still, as I tried to explain to him why Drupal would not be a good choice I felt that I might have been coming across as a bit too much of a WordPress zealot whose opinion was not based on objective reasoning. So I decided that I should  writing this up to make the case using objective criteria for anyone evaluating the two.

But I still didn’t get around to writing it up because there are always too many other things to do in a day. It wasn’t until a series of posts on Quora with the leading title "Why do so many people use Drupal instead of WordPress?" that I got off my duff and finally wrote this post (even though I have clients whose projects I probably should be working on!)

In Summary

While Drupal had the lead as best open source CMS for many years, WordPress has eclisped Drupal as the best open source CMS as of mid 2010 with the addition of Custom Post Types.

More specifically Drupal’s site architecture makes it a less than ideal platform for business websites when compared with Wordpress, and Drupal’s philosophy on backward compatibility make it really hard to recommend it to any company for almost any reason at all.

Postscript: About Comments and Revisions

If you are going to post comments:

  1. Be sure to include something specific about the post in your comment rather than a generic like "Yes I agree" or I might think is spam and delete, and
  2. If this post gets a lot of comments (which I fear it might) be aware that if your comment doesn’t appear for a few days it’s simply because my client demands have limited my free time and I haven’t had time to release it from moderation.

FYI, I plan to revise this post if new evidence comes to light, somehow I got my facts wrong, or I just identify more to add. Frankly I’ve never much liked the "write-once, forever outdated" form that most blog posts take, so why conform?

UPDATE (2010-12-13)

Alastair McDermott has just written a blog post on a very similar subject entitled "Why I Recommend WordPress as a CMS." It’s a good read.

UPDATE (2010-12-17) 

If you are going to leave an inflammatory comment criticizing my post then at least have the integrity to leave your full name, your email and a link to something where I can verify who you are and I’ll be happy to publish it (you know who you are.) Otherwise I’ll simply moderate your comment into the trash.

And for what it is worth, it looks like even the Drupal community knows about many of the problems with Drupal:

 

 

Beware AppleCare!

I ordered a MacBook Pro last April, the first Apple laptop I’ve ever owned. 

I remember when because I ordered it on my birthday. I ordered it after happily using Windows for decades. I did so because I was weary, weary of listening to friends I otherwise respect admonish my use of Windows whenever I’d ask simple questions  like "What’s a good Windows apps for taking screenshots" and "How do I use TortiseSVN?" They’d tell me if only I were to use a Mac the angels would bless me and ensure I’d never experience a bad day, ever, from the day forward owning a Mac. They promised continued sunshine where ever I went, and that the temperate would never dip below 72 degrees. (None of that ever happened, but I do digress…)

Of course I didn’t believe them but like Patty Hurst back in the 70s I had lost perspective on what was real and what was hyperbole. I was fatigued. I wanted to be able to ask a question and get a suggestion without all of the bravado and bluster. I just wanted it to stop. So I caved. I spent about $2500 on a MacBook Pro instead of waiting a few months to spend the saner $1250 for a Dell running Windows 7.  And like any good new cult member would have, I pruchased AppleCare to go along with it.  A full $350 worth of AppleCare.  Hey, I had purchased Dell’s 3 year extended service, why wouldn’t I purchase AppleCare?

So my new MacBook Pro arrived and I decided I would give it my all. It was frustrating at first (the Mac is designed for people who don’t want to use the keyboard; it’s all about click, click, click. But once again, I digress.)  After almost a year I’ve gotten around most of it’s annoyances (software like Cinch and TotalFinder have made a real difference, but there’s still lots missing.)

Of course I dropped my Mac about a month after getting it thanks to the magnetic "MagSafe" power cord snagging and caused me loose my grip on the computer (I "quoted" MagSafe for a reason…) It fell about a foot. Didn’t actually cause the computer a problem, gotta give it that. The screen was fine. The hard disk continues to run fine to this day. I was impressed even though I’d easily dropped my Dell similarly several times of which I never experienced agailer. But dropping that Unibody did put a kink, literally, in the (evidently) butter-firm aluminum case. And evidently I’m not alone in my sturdiness test results, either. Ouch, just like your first dent in your new car, and so early in my ownership. Ah well.

Fast forward to today. In less than one (1) year my battery was failing (took 1.5 years for my Dell) and my Enter key "broke." The little pin-sized flinger on the back so small I can’t take a clear picture of it, that’s what broke.  No problem, I’ll head to the Apple store where they’ll take care of me and my keyboard and if I’m lucky they’ll give me another battery for having proven my loyal Appleistsa credentials since I bought AppleCare for my less than 1 year old objet du désir. Little did I know what was waiting for me at the Apple store…

As a quick aside, I came to love my Dell during my 2+ years with her runing Windows Vista as my primary computer.  She gave me about 7 hours of battery life between charges on 2 batteries. I would go places and rarely ever bring a power supply. It was awesome.  (With my Mac I’m always painfully cognizant of being battery powered cause I know it ain’t gonna last…) Once my Dell she had a bad battery which they happily replaced, no questions asked. Twice I had her mouse key break yet Dell sent me a new case for free each time (they didn’t sell the mouse key separately. Silly, but hey, they replacde it!)  Still, time marches on in ‘puterland ahd she was getting weighted down with too many files in too little of a hard disk. And her processor just wasn’t as captivating as those of the younger models. It was time for a new relationship. That’s when I succumbed to the siren song of the cult of Mac.

Back at the Apple store they took my Mac and did unmentionable things with it in the back, I’m sure, only to return after a long stay to tell me how they would going to replace my battery as a favor (viola!) However, because of my MagSafe mishap they decided to void my AppleCare, that which hadn’t even started! And that meant they were not going to replace my broken enter key "Because the dent might have caused the Enter key to break!" (he didn’t say that, but he implied that by saying "We can’t know what problems your dent caused.")  Give me an f-ing break; the dent didn’t cause the Enter key to break.  So there you go; my 11 month old Mac with AppleCare purchased but Apple won’t replace the keyboard that broke due to faulty design (they admitted the new MacBooks have different Enter keys; might there be a reason there, eh?)

"Of course you can send it back to be recertified and that will restore your AppleCare" he said. "How much?" I asked? "Between ~$600 and ~$1200." WHAAAAAT?  "You mean I have to pay 1/2 as much as I paid for the entire computer one year ago just to recertify my warranty?  Are you serious?!?" And he replied "Yes" with a straight face. So let’s see, I can buy a brand new 15" Dell with a faster processor, the same memory and a larger hard disk for $499, but it’s gonna take 150% or 300% of that for Apple to fix my case dent and reinstate the warranty I already paid for, even though there is no other sign of damage to the computer?

"So what are my other options?" I asked. He said he’d be happy to replace the Enter key if I could come back to the store and periodically ask if they have a late-2008 DOA that they could cannablize.  I asked "Can you just keep track and let me know?" "Oh no, the Apple Store at Lenox is too busy for that." He suggested I drop by the Perimeter store. I said I’d just call ahead and he said "Oh no, the people answering the phone won’t have to time to help you with that." Great, my option is to drive around town to stores wasting time and gas to just ask if they have an older model that can be cannibablized so I can get my g-d Enter key fixed? And hell, they don’t even sell those Enter keys sans full keyboard notwithstanding the fact that in my certified opinion they are clearly of faulty design. Hello?

In frustration I told my Apple attendance I’d just get a keyboard off of eBay to which my Apple "Genius" countered: "Oh no, if you open the computer Apple technicians will know and they will tag my computer’s serial number as unservicable!" I couldn’t believe this. This is the company that has people stanpay outrageous prices, and then rave about them? Are Apple cult members mad? Or are Mac zealots always just in a Stockholm state of mind?

Now some members of the cult of Mac will admonish me saying "DON’T DROP YOUR LAPTOP" but they are missing the point. I didn’t ask Apple to replace my dented case, I asked them to fix my keyboard. The Enter key did not break because of the dent in the case; any fool can tell that. And I’d be fine with a caveat that if something failed that could reasonably have been caused by the dent then I’d be okay if I had to pay for repairs. BUT TO VOID THE ENTIRE WARRANTY?!?  They didn’t even offer to refund of the $350 I paid for AppleCare given I haven’t even gotten past my first year of ownership where the standard warranty should still apply! 

Apple, you suck.

Hell, turns out I’m not alone in having my AppleCare voided willy-nilly. Seems that Apple looks for many reasons to void AppleCare (hey I’m a militant non-smoker but my enemy’s enemy is my friend.) Steve’s gotta keep those profits up. Guess the iPod alone’s not enough to keep Wall Street happy.  Sheesh.

Lesson Learned? You can’t trust Apple.  Skip the Mac, buy a Dell; you’ll thank me for it.

P.S. Yes I know there are some alternate solutions which I will pursue, but I paid a premium price for a premium product and I paid extra for extended warranty and it got me treated by Apple like a Saturday night drunk at a Waffle House.  Not what I expected, not when I deserve.

P.P.S. Though admittedly not as bad, this scenario is starting to remind me of the time American Airlines lost my reservation and then had the manager’s manager call me a liar.  My $500 AA ticket turned into an $1150 ticket, but USAir sold me one for $850 instead. So American’s custom dis-service cost me $350 in 1990 and I was called a liar. And over a million frequent flyer miles later I’ve avoided flying AA whenever possible and probably told this story 500 times over.

P.P.S. Want to turn this around Apple?  Do the right thing. Just reinstate my warranty.

25 Best Practices for Meetup Organizers

Meetup.com LogoI’ve been organzing meetups in the Atlanta area since January 2007.  Over that time I’ve organized over 50 meetup events, they’ve typically achieved average ratings of 4.5 of 5 or better, they’ve typically had 50 or more people attend, I’ve helped at least five (5) other people launch their meetup groups, and the member list for my original meetup group has grown to having more members than all but one other business-focused meetup group in the Atlanta area. During that time I’ve learned a bit about what it takes to be a good meetup organizer.

Recently someone asked me yet again for advice on how to grow their meetup so I decided this time to blog about it. Let me give the caveat that this is what has worked for me and for my type of meetup but it might not be perfect for yours. My groups have been focused on web/startup/marketing/tech and so I don’t know what works best for a mom’s meetup, for a hiking group or a singles club. Still, people are people and I’m sure anyone organizing a meetup can find something of value here. Here they are, in no particular order (some I fail to do consistently though I know I should; sometimes life just gets in the way):

  1. New organizers always try "to get input from everyone." From experience I’ve found that to be a waste of time. Find two (2) other people and form a planning team. Map out 5-6 topics, possibly starting with a "101" meetup and build from there.
  2. Meet quarterly with your planning team to plan so you always have 3 events on the calendar, more if possible.
  3. Do listen to feedback, but don’t wait for feedback before moving forward. Most people just want to attend meetings, few actually are willing to contribute a significant effort on a consistent basis even if they say or think they will. If people promise to contribute expect they will not follow through until they have proven otherwise.
  4. As much as possible be the catalyst and facilitator, not the featured speaker at every meeting (people will get tired of you if you do.)
  5. Schedule 3 to 6 presenters for a monthly meetup (more than 6 works if it’s a workshop and they are there to provide expertise.) It gives multiple perspectives and it keeps you from having failed meetings from building anticipation for a meeting, having lots of people show up and then only to learn that your featured presenter’s "kid got sick" so they decided to cancel.
  6. Do your best to get people from outside the people who usually attend your meetings to present. There’s the old saw "Familiarity breeds Contempt" (i.e. "I don’t need to attend to hear them talk; I know them already and can talk to them whenever I want.") Bringing in outsiders also makes people aware of your group that might not normally seek it out or attend. If they have an influence base such as on Twitter they will promote your group because it promotes them.
  7. Only ever schedule a person to present to the group once per year. If you frequently schedule the same people to present your members will think "I’ve already seen them, I don’t need to see them again." That means be sure to get them to talk on the topic where they are the best sui have the most bang for the buck since a lot of people will jump at any chance to present and you really want to get them where they will shine.
  8. Post a meetup page for each meetup event that includes links about the people who will be presenting including their Twitter account and a short bio. I like to link to their LinkedIn page for consistency, and also link to their company. Be sure to include an evening agenda so people can see when it starts and when it ends. Here’s an example meetup page that has all these things.
  9. Set up a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page. Always tweet and post about your events in advance and to thank your presenters/participants afterwards. 
  10. Set up a Twitter hashtag for your meetup group (i.e. @StartupAtlanta and #OnStage.)  Give people a handout at each meetup with the account, the hashtag and all the presenter’s/participants Twitter accounts and ask your members to tweet about the event.
  11. Send out emails in advance of your meetups that are hand formatted to look different from the one’s send out automatically by meetup as people tend not to read those. Here’s an example notification email.
  12. Send an email out about the most recently meeting and reminding them about the next meeting and thank the people who participated/presented.
  13. For my groups I have focus mostly on featuring local people for our regular meetings but when nationally known people are presented I make them special events. Some organizers always try to get one national calibre "rock star" for their events, and that works for them. Pick what works for your group.
  14. Keep vendor influence to a minimum; keep it about the people attending.
  15. Run a meetup only if you really want to help people and/or build a solid community and not if you’ve just got the idea "Hey I can sell my services to this group." The latter can be a serendipitous result but it’s painfully clear to practically everyone who might attend that if your motivations are to sell them (almost) nobody will want to attend.
  16. Pay it forward, focus on what’s good for the group and the community you envision building, not what’s you are hoping to get out of organizing
  17. Shake up the format. Have presentations, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops, etc. The topic should make the format obvious. For workshops, recruit lots of helpers. Don’t over worry about format, try a bunch of them, communication will happen ad-hoc (suggest Twitter or make a Google group), and let the topics you pick determine the level of competency. The more detailed your topic announcement the more likely you’ll get the right people.
  18. Don’t be afraid to ask anybody to present. I’ve never once been turned down except for people simply not being available at the given time.
  19. Look for ways to hold joint meetups with other groups that have cross-over. (Beg meetup on their forums to more easily enable shared meetups.) If possible take the lead in these joint meetups and get people to RSVP at your meetup group’s page (if possible, and at least until meetup enables shared events.) If you do these frequently you’ll all get lots of benefit and you’ll grow your group.
  20. Charge for meetings, $5 to $10, starting with your 3rd meeting (assuming you are gaining momentum.) If you don’t charge more than half of your RSVPs will be no-shows. If you charge, only between 10-30% will be no-shows.
  21. Be aware that many of the people who attend your meeting early on will start attending only sporatically as their lives evolve. That’s normal and don’t take it personally.
  22. Don’t try to do too many different groups. Unless you are able to make a living from organizing meetups, which is a potential but a really hard way to make a living, it’s really hard to do more than one well, two at the max. I’ve made that mistake and I’ve recently pared back to two with a potential to phase out of one of them in the near future assuming I can find the right people to take over.
  23. Find a good place to have meetings, not a restaurant unless its set up for meetings in a special room. This is the hardest part. Look for a local coworking space like Ignition Alley. A college or university may also be very open to hosting community meetings as Georgia Tech has been for some of my meetups. 
  24. As for location, you’ll need to decide what works here. In Atlanta you’ll find a bulk of in-town people and a bulk of "up 400" people, and then everyone else is scattered. Pick one and let someone else do the other (you can’t please everyone, so don’t try.)
  25. Finally, set a consistent date, time, and location. Always have it there so people can get used to it, and if at all possible, never cancel a planned meetup or many people will loose faith in your ability and stop RSVPing for your events.

Well that’s about it for today. I’m sure I missed a few of my own "best practices" and I’m sure there are a ton of other’s I have yet to uncovered but these should get you started.

If anybody has other suggestions please give your best practices in the comments. Be sure to mention your group(s) and how long you’ve been organizing,  and include links to their pages on Meetup.com.

Are Entrepreneurs Born or Made: Does it really matter?

Photo of Lemonade Stand Entrepreneur

Yesterday Vivek Wadhwa who has recently become one of my favorite authors on startup-related topics wrote a somewhat inflammatory post on TechCrunch entitled "Can Entrepreneurs Be Made?" In it he asserts that entrepeneurs are made, not born, and it’s somewhat inflammatory because he calls out Jason Calcanis, Fred Wilson, and other Silicon Valley VCs as being wrong in their previously stated beliefs that what drives someone to be a great entrepreneur is innate, and thus that they are born.

In reaction Mark Suster, a entrepreneur-turned-VC and another of my favorite authors on startup-topics, responded with "Entrepreneurship: Nature vs. Nurture? A Religious Debate." Mark takes issue with Vivek’s thesis citing his experience and intuition as a recent father and calls out Vivek’s use of stats by implying his was based on a "faulty model" although he does state up front his point-of-view is "purely subjective." Mark goes on to presume Vivek may have "used hyperbole to get more readers" (which might be true though I’d expect that the TechCruch editors are more likely to be the culprit there…) and then complains about Vivek "attempting to “prove" unprovable facts (based on) this kind of data manipulation."

I have incredible respect for Mark but I can’t help but sense a tiny bit of defensiveness in his post. As a VC Mark makes decisions every day that will have profound effect on the lives of entrepreneurs and their families and fortunes. But it’s not uncommon that a subconscious defensive reaction is triggered when evidence comes to light that indicates a person’s important decisions might have been made on faulty criteria (see: choice-supportive bias, post-purchase rationalization and escalation of commitment.) I’m not saying  Mark is wrong (or that he is right) but it felt like he was being defensive (as I have been recently.) Even so, if Mark was being defensive I’ll willingly give him a pass because it’s hard to overcome that which makes one human.

Back to the debate at hand; I sit on the fence. While I don’t know which perspective is correct I think the focus on this debate is actually harmful.

I assume that Mark shares Vivek goals and the goals of many others which are "…to boost economic growth by increasing the number of successful high-growth startups."If true then escalation of this nature/nurture debate is taking the eye off the ball.

If Mark and those who strongly believe in the nature convince policy decision makers they are correct then chances are those policy decision makers won’t explore subtlety. If there’s nothing we can do to cultivate entrepreneurs since they’ll bubble up to be recognized on their own, why do anything? Game over.

Wouldn’t it be better to look past the debate and instead focus on cultivating and educating entrepreneurs regardless of if they are made or born? Google has spawned a huge number of startups; were they all born?  Maybe they were; Goggle has had many other employees who have not gone on to launch startups. But the fact that Google has spawned so many and most other companies in other regions haven’t proves (at least to me) that a strong catalyst results in more latent entrepreneurs taking action and launching innovative companies. When such a catalyst doesn’t exist those latent innovative entrepreneurs continue to do what their experience and environment present to them as options: be an intrapraneur climbing the corporate ladder or launch a replicative business.

In Atlanta where I’ve lived most my life, the holy grail for many is to work for one of the eleven (11) Fortune 500 companies that litter our landscape. As a graduate of Georgia Tech, one of the better technology schools in the nation and one that houses a very active state-funded accellerator, the majority of students aspire to work for one of those big companies because that’s the local culture. That’s what students talk about and that’s what the administration talks about. Going to work for a big company is what is expected of successful Georgia Tech graduates.

Most people aspire to the level of their peers. If their peers are not launching innovative startups the majority don’t even think to launch innovative startups. To say the vast majority of students who attend Stanford where many of those ex-Googlers who are now launching startups attended are genetically predesposed to be entrepreneurial whereas the vast majority of students who attend Georgia Tech (a top 10 ranked educational institution itself) are not strikes me as a bit too much confirmation bias.

As an aside: I think having so many Fortune 500 companies in Atlanta might be much more of a curse than a blessing. We have over 50 interactive agenies locally and they mostly suckle on the teets of these companies rather than aspire to create the next Google and drive real economic growth in the region instead. The people running these interactive agencies are entrepreneurs but the local culture and entrepreneurial patterns they are familiar with has had then focus on replication and not innovation. And sadly our local Fortune 500 companies do almost nothing I am aware of to foster startup innovation in our region.

Consider Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most dominant players in the history of the NBA. Would O’Neal have ever been drafted by the Orlando Magic if he had never met Dale Brown in Europe who was LSU’s men’s basketball coach at that time? Consider Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Would they have acheived Google’s level success had Sergey’s parents never left Moscow or if Terry Winograd had discouraged Page from analysing the link structure of the web? Clearly people who launch successful innovative startups are influenced by their life paths, their peers, their mentors, the options they are presented by society and a huge amount of luck, no?

Put another way, what’s the likelyhood that situated in remote villages in Africa or in the Amazon there are not 100s of would-be Shaqs who, without opportunity, will never be discovered? How many young car enthusiasts might end up being a leading NASCAR driver if they only had the ability to try? What if every University throughout the country had the startup culture and experienced startup advisors found at Stanford?  What if government money across the nation spent on economic development was less focused on the zero-sum game of getting a large employer to relocate from another region and instead were focused on encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs to launch innovative startups?

I’m a rarity from Georgia Tech; I started my first real business about a year and a half before I graduated. But that was after working as a co-op student for many quarters at both Owens-Corning Fiberglass and later at IBM. When I started IBM I was completely enamored with them. After two work quarters though I left IBM thoroughly disgusted and started co-oping with a small consulting firm. It was there after watching my employer fumble I came to realize I could easily join forces with a co-worker and we could run our own business. Since then I’ve run many businesses, a few of which have done well and one that grew very rapidly over five years. During that entire time I can honestly say I had few if any real mentors and thus made more mistakes than any one person should be allowed to make! Had I had a better experience at IBM or had the owners of the consulting firm I worked for not been incompetent I might never have become an entrepreneur; it was my life experiences that moved me in that direction instead. And I’m certain I would have been far more successful entrepreneur had I had a better startup education and quality mentors along the way.

Still I won’t argue being an entrepreneur is purely experiential. I also won’t argue it’s all in the genes. But I will argue that in the grand scheme it just doesn’t matter.

What matters it that there is almost certainly a huge pool of untapped latent innovative entrepreneurs who could transition into active entrepreneurs launching high-growth startups. As Azeem Azhar wrote on the subject:

There are those who may have many pop out of the womb on the far end of the distribution, but emerge in cultures where the things that can make one an entrepreneur are not valued. The pastiche of this would be the high-performing child who is driven back to the fat-middle of law or consulting by school, college and parental pressure. I am sure this group keeps many a psychiatrist and divorce lawyer in business as they hit their forties and reality dawns.

How about we discuss how latent innovative entrepreneurs can get the encouragement, mentoring and other forms of support that are crucial. And since "swinging the bat" more often results in more "home runs" let’s find ways to minimize the potential of finanical devastation of a simple "strike out"to encourage more prospective entrepreneurs to "swing" once and/or to swing more often. And as Samidh Chakrabarti asserts, let’s get more people to pursue their passions as innovative startups by helping them see it as an option and by providing education in the skill sets needed by would be successes but are only obvious to most after they’ve failed.

So why don’t we stop this fruitless back and forth about nature vs. nuture and (at least from a public policy perspective) instead focus on finding and cultivating latent innovative entrepreneurs?

P.S. Fred Wilson, another VC I greatly admire, wrote on this topic back on the 19th in his post "Nature vs Nurture and Entrepreneurship." I wonder where he stands now on the idea of encouraging more latent innovative entrepreneurs vs. continuing the nature/nuture debate?