Drupal 7 is out to the world. Its adventures are still untold. Yet the workful bunch that its community is, everybody is rolling up their sleeves to plan ahead for Drupal 8. As the project and its audience is growing and evolving, so are its challenges. While everyone is rightfully proud of what we achieved, our processes are often a pain.
We need to improve the general structures to be able to aim higher. Being from rather from the design / UX camp I read with great interest a blogpost that Leisa Reichelt wrote recently. She outlines a plan how to keep and grow the momentum of Design / UX that had a great push with the D7UX Project and led to a big focus on an improved UX for Drupal 7.
She advocates to have a dedicated team with different roles to get to that goal. One thing in particular is interesting: she wants the positions to be at least partially funded.
So let's get to the recent practice to fund important key positions in community work.
In order to the redesign out of the door, the Association took drastic measures: they hired temporary full-time personnel to guarantee more focus and coordination. Most notable were Sam Boyer for the Git Migration and Neil Drumm for the general management of the redesign. While I am not sure if these are still paid positions, as to all I know Sam and Neill are still very much on their tasks.
Drupal is a volunteer-driven project and that is and will be its strength. But to get certain especially hard or unthankful jobs done, there has always been additional funded work. What is new is to do this in such an official way and to put people into key coordinator positions. I cannot speak for the general experience with that. But the impression is that having paid people gives a much better counterbalance to all the volunteer work. The paid staff is less to not distracted by their dayjob, because their task _is_ their dayjob. They do not need to make their living besides their position. So they keep focused in a much more reliable way.
Given you choose the right people for the job - as in this case happened, the gain can be enormous. We have a lot of people in the community who have proven again and again their great commitment to the project. Putting them in such a chair you can be sure that they will work hard and with great enthusiasm. Making the jobs temporary makes sure for fresh minds and no one to get too comfortable.
Back to Leisa's outline of some key positions. She describes them well, concerning their task and what kind of person would suit the job best. While hardly anyone will argue her plan and foresight, there are two questions that come up in the comments.
1. Why only fund designers / UX people?
2. Where to get the money?
And it is true: why not fund across all disciplines? So this should definitely not be limited to the UX / Design people. Any funding should be limited for a definend timespan first. Yet we know that UX / Design / Marketing is where we suck most: there are by far too few of these people inside the community, so the probability to have some volunteer leadership emerge is small. This area needs more paid support in my eyes, as well as it needs to attract more volunteers. Leisa proposes six months for some roles, so I'll take as a rough base for calculations. Keeping jobs temporary prevents people from seeing it as a way of living and keeps the focus on the fact that a certain task has to be completed.
But we are a diverse community, so if funding is happening, it needs to be balanced. There are a lot of painpoints that could need help, of which I try to outline some later.
But now to the thing that gave me the idea to write this post in the first place.
Would you like to see the nice badge at the top of this post on your website? Would this make you proud? Does not make a bad impression, does it. Your clients know you are really dedicated to the project you build your business on. You illustrate you do not keep everything to yourself, but instead invest in constant improvement of Drupal. Your clients in return benefit from that, because the foundation of their website gets more solid every day.
If 20% of all Drupal shops would give 3% of their yearly profit... I don't know the money you make off Drupal, but I guess this would be a lot. Say the average profit is 50.000 dollars, and 50 shops participate, so we would have 75.000 dollars. If this pays off and people stay on board, we would have that permanently. Probably - or at least hopefully people give more voluntarily than these 3% of the profit. But it is a sum that should hurt no one and serves as a basis: everybody can be sure that every other participant gives at least this. I could also imagine other "big players" that are not even Drupal shops might happily chip in. Guessing that many of the shops participating have a much bigger yearly profit, I would speculate for about 100.000 - 200.000 dollars. Divide 140.000 Dollars through 8 people that get hired and say you pay each of them 3500 / month. We would have 8 full-time and enormously motivated people for 5 months. This should get some serious work done...
One thing is important: no one buys a right to have a word on the direction of Drupal. If they want to do this, they still gotta climb the community ladder. See Larrys great post on this. It means trusting the community they will make the right decision, as described later.
Let's not get into too much detail here, because this is speculation. The percentage may appear too high or too low. This may be changed and improved. (Still this could be before taxes and may help you to lower your tax payments :) ) The Drupal community has proved many times before that it can raise serious money and is willing to give if it is for something good. Thus I am pretty sure the numbers given are realistic to even conservative. When it comes to tasks that involve drupal.org and not Drupal core development, the Assiciation can chip in some as well.
This could be a hard one: building another committee that no one wants and create even more tangled structures. No.
First off, there needs to be an open application process, so people can put themselves on the stage like we do for the Drupal Association - successfully, as it looks. Why should they get the job, what commitment and skills do they have to offer?
Who decides who gets the job is rather easy: the ones that decide the direction of Drupal are Dries, his co-maintainers and - this I would wish - the subsystem maintainers that hopefully get more formal authority for Drupal 8.
I see it as a given that Dries does not lock himself in a room and make lonely silly decisions but rather talks to people and looks for advice and opinions, even if preserving the right of being the project lead.
Now on to the what - what are the painpoints that itch most?
The issue queue is the place to go when you want to achieve anything in Drupal. Yet it is extremely inaccessible and frightening to newcomers, awkward at best for locals but still the best we got. We all know it has to improve a lot, but the task appears at least as ginormous as the git migration. Probably even worse - as a lot of user interaction is involved and changes would affect people much more directly: we have accustomed to the way it works and changes always face opposition.
But man, we all could imagine it being more than a bugtracker, many of us work every day with much better systems. It could be a real workbench that inspires and enhances productivity.
But argh - it is based on the project module. The project module is a problem in itself. Hardly anyone uses it outside of drupal.org so who works on it by free will? The maintainers are doing a great job, but to trigger bigger changes in project module and get the team the time it has been funded before.
Dries has stated repeatedly: if we want a broader adoption of Drupal, the key factor is making it easier to use (and look better). The competition is far ahead here. Drupal 7 has taken great steps, but it can only be a start. To read more about this I reference again to Leisa Reichelts Blogpost.
Some have said you can only gain reputation in the Drupal project if you commit code. This is at least partly true. Documentation is even a lot more unthankful than doing design. It is very hard for people working on docs to get the credits they deserve. And in spite of all their dedication, the docs lack in general structure. It is hard to search through, Version-specific docs (what is true for D6 may be outdated for 7) add to confusion. This is a place where serious top-down thinking, planning and structuring is needed.
There will definitely be specialists in the community that have built docs with great structure and browsability elsewhere. Still the Drupal docs are just too big and to hard to maintain they can ever get to a point where they can invest as much time and energy as they would like to. Some interesting ideas about re-structuring are already in the making, but need support to get anywhere.
These are just some of the painpoints. Everybody knows a lot more - collect, sort, and prioritize. By hiring 8-10 people for 5 months we could kickstart something with real impact and make the difference. Probably the funded people will still be on a high energy level after their 5 months have gone by and they will be on the task quite a bit longer. Let alone the visibility of being a hero ;). The investment might be quite long-lasting. Drupal has outgrown the size of a pure volunteer-driven project. Maybe it can be balanced better and not rely so much on people that work too hard and often get too little reward.
Whatever comes out of this - to not only talk we stand up to our pledge and give 3% of our 2010's profit. As this is my freelancing site, it is actually not so bad since income is mostly profit. Rock the piggy bank!