The Drupal way
I've been in the streets of Dries for three and a half year now. It feels even daring saying it are Dries' streets because I know he does not like it if people give him too much credit. But it is true. Dries I believe the key factor for Drupal's success is your astounding ability to gather the right people around you. This combined with a mixture of leadership and fostering self-empowerment appears to work pretty well.
Having started with using the system for my diploma (I guess you say bachelor elsewhere), it has been an amazing ride. But the story of drupal is not so much unique as it is a story of open source. Seeing a new youtube star the other day one can feel the upside of the digital revolution and the new channels of communicating and doing things via the internet.
Like in every other social community there are downsides as well. Even at my first drupalcon in Barcelona I was a bit worried about the quasi-religious way Dries keynote was celebrated. This was not much different from Steve Jobs presenting the Iphone. Give us a sign, we will celebrate whatever you say.
Still this does not need to have negative effects. Personally I find it very important to go outside the community from time to time. Yes, there is a life outside of drupal. Take a bit of distance now and then and balance comes back quickly. Also Mr. Buytaert takes care of staying a normal community member as far as this is possible. If you have been inside the project for a while, he will come up to you at a Drupal Camp and have a little chat. Simple, ingenious method. Which does not say there is not a real interest in the person spoken to.
So what are key factors for Drupal to keep up its momentum? Well, there are a lot :) Generally spoken the success will be hard to stop, because we have a head start in the special field somewhere between Product and framework. The rivaling systems serve a different set of tasks and people.
The recent blogpost of Mr. Buytaert about his trip to J-Land and the discussion on the blog raised a lot of comments that centered around "teaching people the drupal way".
The Road to Mandalay or the highway to hell?
So what is this way? Drupal does a great job at being open. If you come in you will experience a lot of friendly people, that try to feed you the koolaid ;). You can also choose the wrong door. If you are bad at hitting false notes, here is the perfect guide :P
Recently there are worries, what the inevitable consequences of success will do to us. People coming in that just wanna make money with Drupal, or that may even hate it because it is their day job. Unimaginable. Or not?
There is sorrow that the spirit may get lost. The spirit of openness, sharing, giving back and helping each other. Very similar worries became loud when Acquia was founded. Do we over-commercialize and in the end maybe lose our soul?
I don't think so. The basis, which I would see in the center of the community, appears to be quite strong. Hard to say how many people you count into that. The figures of the top core committers gives a hint - 25 people that contributed about 50% of Drupal 7's code.
But there are more. Think about all those that give support on IRC and on forums all day, those that organize events and evangelize. There are many ways to contribute.
So maybe there are 200 people at the very center, surrounded by another 1000 that are still very committed to Drupal. There are clear social rules that are lived by those. As it is a lot of work to stay inside that center (you need to commit quite some energy to the project over a long time, and build up sincere credibility) it is improbable that someone or even a lot of people can come in quickly and spoil the spirit. This needs devotion, and you can only get that far if you respect the rules. Here talks a survivor of the issue queue ;)
Outsiders - midsiders - insiders
When this self-repairing effect of the community became very apparent was the D7UX project. Being myself rather a UX guy, I was very positive about this, which was not true to all. It was something I am not sure had happened before. People from the outside were brought in to do an operation at the very heart of Drupal, and even to foster a change of paradigm.
This was not natural, but a top-down action. Everone must judge himself if this was good or bad. But one could ask, if this did harm to the community on mid term. There were a lot of ill feelings, and on the other hand a lot of people who welcomed the initiative. Leisa and Mark were Outsiders, got to midsiders and maybe are between midsiders and outsiders now again.
In spite of all the after-effects (that are still raging, mention the vicious overlay, /me ducks): it proved the stability of the community. Though there was polarization and shift of alliances, it did not break us. The common goal to be a real roaring success with our software is something that we all share. There are a lot of people that like and respect each other. A lot of people make their living out of drupal. By far too many reasons to keep us from getting at each other's throat.
Them are coming
So what about all those marketing people, Joomla people, whoever outsiders that want to become midsiders, what should we do about them? No need to teach them the drupal way. If our way is good they will happily adopt, and if it is the way in, they will even accept rules that are not pleasant. Instead we can learn a lot from them. Fresh people with fresh minds. While it is definitely different than ours, e.g. the Joomla crowd seems pretty healthy. It may not be as coherent as the Drupal lot, but maybe it is more tolerant? We won't start selling modules tomorrow - GPL firmly prevents that. While an app-store for Drupal might even be sexy :)
Fresh eyes see different things and can only do us good. Drupal is so incredibly strong in its market it does not need to fear. The more diverse minds and talents we can integrate, the stronger the project gets. My favourite slogans for the blue system are "... the linux of the web" and surely the most recent one that will hopefully make it: "Come for the software - stay for the community". Both pronounce a goal of universality. And it says that the people are more important in the end than the software. So get me brilliant minds with the heart in the right spot, and the kingdom will build itself :)