Part 1 of a 2-part conversation with Angie Byron in front of the cameras at NYC Camp 2014. In this part of our conversation we go over some of the inspiring and thought-provoking ideas we encountered there, and then jump to some of the benefits to users of the technical improvements built into Drupal 8.
What are the consequences of your technology?
Angie explains why she was excited to be at the UN for NYC Camp, "I felt really energized coming in here. I got into Drupal from a humanitarian angle. I love the whole open source ethos around empowering other people. I am really excited that an organization like the United Nations is using open source and especially Drupal (!) to make a difference in the world."
Inspired by the keynote and subsequent panel discussion with the CITO of the United Nations, Atefeh Riazi and thinking about the role of technology in change and what the Drupal project could do to make the world a better place, Angie points out, "We always thing, as idealistic programmers, that everything we do with technology is going to make the world a better place. It was interesting that she challenged that notion a little bit to actually look at the full picture and really think 50 years ahead at what the actual social, economic, and environmental impact of those things will be. That was really thought-provoking."
Developers often get caught in technical minutiae, fixing bugs, and such, "but then ignore the other ways that those things could be used both to the benefit and detriment of humanity. That was a neat angle, pushing us to think broader than our own selves in terms of our impact on the world as open source developers.
Empowering others with Drupal
Atefeh Riazi's suggestions for where Drupal might make a difference included mapping and predictive analysis, she mentioned the challenges of limited bandwidth and mobile devices. "Drupal can play a really big part in this [helping and empowering others]." Here, Angie expresses very elegantly what I consider the fundamental decision that has informed how we design and build the software itself. What I get excited about is that in Drupal essentially, what we do as Drupal developers is we make really abstract complicated programming concepts accessible to non-developers. When we write things like the Views module, you can do very sophisticated queries, and charts, and maps, and all kinds of things just by clicking a few buttons without having to understand all the code that comes underneath it. What I get really excited about is the idea that Drupal – particularly in Drupal 8 – could be this vehicle through which we create really easily accessible things that could be piped through a mobile application or usable on the internet, and used as a tool to help those people who are on the front lines trying to make the world a better place. We can build technology to enable that.
This is not top-down. Drupal empowers anyone with access to the internet to communicate with the world: their peers, their neighbors, or even create communities of common interest and common action with others in similar situations around the world. "One of the core pieces that Drupal helps people do is community. It helps people engage with others even if they can't do that physically. Drupal is a wonderful tool for enabling that, as long as we can get the user experience right so that it is accessible to as many people as possible."
Drupal 8's role in empowerment
Empowering people in developing countries with technology today often involves mobile networks and devices, limited bandwidth and other challenges. There are a few features of Drupal 8 that will really help empowerment. The Web Services Initiative is probably the biggest one. It will transform Drupal 8 from from this thing that assumes that everything it is serving out to is a desktop browser rendering full HTML pages. Instead, it just turns everything into a request and a response.
"We can do things with that like have Drupal be your central repository where you keep all of where people are," in a mapping or disaster relief application, "You can easily update it on the website, but also have that piped out to a mobile application that has real time updates of where people are. So when you're on the ground and have your GPS coming in you can locate someone."
"The potential for mobile application development is enormous. Cell phones are basically tons and tons of sensors," and connectivity and notification systems, "The possibilities are virtually limitless. The idea that Drupal could be the hub that powers that stuff is really exciting."
A few other benefits Drupal 8 has to offer
CMI: Easy migration from development server to production server. A dramatic reduction in the time it takes to do builds because it's all built into core. You just get the workflow down, build it all out in your development environment, do an export, import into production and you're good to go. It's going to be a money-saver for people; it's going to be a time- and effort-saver for people, everything will be tracked in version control, so it'll be a lot more seamless. There are tangible business benefits and also just sanity benefits for Drupal developers.
Authoring and site admin experience: Following analysis of the authoring experience of a number of Drupal's competitors, the Acquia-based Spark Team made improvements to Drupal like: WYSIWYG in core, in-place editing, improved content-editing back end, with the aim of making that experience "a lot more seamless out-of-the-box." These improvements were built and tested in Drupal 7, "but the advantage of it all being built into core is that it's really easy to configure your WYSIWYG editor incorrectly [using contributed modules] and open up security problems on your site ... Tightening that up has been amazing. The other thing it helps with is the adoption of Drupal itself. [Until now] we lose people right out of the gate because it doesn't look like a CMS, it doesn't behave like a CMS. Having features like that in there, will hopefully help the adoption of Drupal itself because it looks and acts like everybody else." Returning to the core theme, "Anything we can do to make Drupal more accessible to non-technical people is a really valuable thing. Those people are the ones actually using our tool to get their business goals done or to change the world or whatever they're doing with our product. It's wonderful to be able to empower people like that."
Completely customizable back end: Drupal 8's back end is built using its own technology – Views, mostly – allowing Drupal site builders and admins to customize the administrative experience for users. This will let Drupalist construct precise, simple, targeted interfaces for any given use case. "If you're a photo upload website, you don't need a content listing that's just got titles. You want to see the pictures. You can change the content listing to see all of your pictures. That sort of thing will be configurable out-of-the-box. There's a lot of tools in there to make it easier for site builders to build a highly-focused, granular interface for the specific tasks that the people using the site need to do. That's going to make Drupal a much better product." Having all this in core, again saves time and money, "The first 30 hours of a Drupal project is often just massaging all the things, putting the right modules in the right places, tweaking the right checkboxes to get it to look like a normal thing ..." :-) ... "Now, in Drupal 8 you start there. Now you can spend the first 30 hours actually solving the customer's problems instead of trying to get to a base point."