Exactly 2 weeks ago, the Drupal Association canceled DrupalCon Sao Paulo. I believe that this provides us with a unique opportunity to reflect about how DrupalCons are organized and how we can make them better in the future.
A Brief History
Before looking at DrupalCons now and into the future, let us first go back in time and analyze how DrupalCons got started. The Drupal Association has a nice page that summarizes all DrupalCons. The first one was in 2005, and it was co-hosted with FOSDEM. Less than 50 people showed up and the event was free. It's nice to see so many familiar names (and pictures): Moshe Weitzman, John VanDyk, James Walker, Matt Westgate, Neil Drumm, and of course Dries Buytaert himself. The topics seem surprisingly relevant even today: Drupal Commerce, Multimedia, Workflow, and (oh my) CCK!
Sure enough, the first DrupalCon was not as glamorous or fancy as current DrupalCons, but I bet it was a truly marvelous experience. Since then, year after year, DrupalCons have grown in size, attendance has exploded, entrance fees got more expensive, and the event is becoming more like a trade-show.
The Community Spirit
Many individuals have expressed their concerns about DrupalCons losing their community spirit. Luckily, DrupalCons are still run by volunteers, who work hard to provide this community feel. Sadly, these “amateurs” are losing their voices more and more, while professionals are taking over the organizing process. DrupalCons used to be organized in a bottom-up manner. More and more they are being organized in a top-down manner. If this trend continues, sure enough DrupalCons will lose their community spirit and become a truly corporate event.
DrupalCon Sao Paulo failed for one simple reason: lack of community involvement. This was not because the community did not want to get involved, much the contrary. It was because they weren't allowed to. The organizing committee was composed by the Drupal Association and 3 locals, of which I was one of them. We were forbidden to reach out to the community. When I did reach out, the reaction from the Drupal Association was so humiliating that I decided to leave the group (this was on February 2012). From then on I believe things only got worse. The Latin community did not participate in the planning process of the event. Even the 3 locals who theoretically were part of the organizing committee felt out of the loop several times. The community was only allowed to participate in the execution of a flawed plan. Their time and effort into this was totally wasted and I can only imagine what we could have accomplished if it were more valued. Volunteer time might be free, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have value. Much the contrary. It's just like free software. It has more value than ever!
What happened to Sao Paulo unfortunately is not an exception. I have confirmed with a few past DrupalCon organizers that this is indeed a trend. It's a battle between bottom-up and top-down management. It's a battle between community events and corporate events.
Corporate events might be highly successful and profitable, but you have to throw money at it to have a return. Community events are not so dependent on money, but you do have to open it up for community participation. You can't have one's cake and eat it too.
It was a sad coincidence that the day before the cancellation of DrupalCon Sao Paulo, Dries Buytaert tweeted the following: “People ask me how big @drupalcon can get. Let this article spark your imagination?” The article talked about large corporate events like Salesforce.com, with 70,000 attendees, Oracle's OpenWorld, with 50,000 attendees, and VMworld, with 21,000 attendees. Interestingly enough, some members of the Drupal Community immediately tweeted back expressing their concerns.
I hope our inspiration for future DrupalCons are not Salesforce.com, Oracle's OpenWorld (sic), or VMworld. I wish our inspiration comes from the event who has received the very first DrupalCon with open arms: FOSDEM.
Taking on the World
Felix Delattre, who is a leading member of the Latin Community and who was a Community Lead for DrupalCon Sao Paulo, has a very nice write-up with reflections about the Cancellation of DrupalCon São Paulo. I specially like this quote:
It seems very strange to me that there is this iterative thinking that DrupalCons should always grow to show success and professionalism, when extending to the world is a so much bigger success because it is about people and their work. This might be a better resource for Drupal than money of northern markets. Why is the DA taking this as the meta/objective? The community might have a very different view on that.
I agree with Felix: let's grow Drupal horizontally, not vertically! There is a whole world ready to join Drupal and solve the Talent Gap! If we would only give them a chance...
Let's spread Drupal everywhere, specially in places that have so far received little attention. Let's expand Drupal to new horizons and foster new opportunities in places where it's most needed!
Closing the Gap
One might think that Drupal is not mature enough in these places to deserve our attention, but I believe that this is a classic chicken-and-egg problem. The more we concentrate our attention in promoting Drupal in North America and Europe, the bigger will the gap get between Drupal adoption in North America and Europe when compared to the rest of the world.
There is a tendency for undervaluing the importance of Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America. The reality is that, despite the challenges, there are huge markets in these regions. For example, we have Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
Furthermore, and most importantly, it's a matter of social responsibility promoting Drupal participation in these regions, since these are the regions where Drupal has the biggest potential for truly changing people's lives and making the world a better place.
Nurturing the Ecosystem
If Drupal is truly suffering from a Talent Gap, the world can help. And by help I'm not suggesting offshoring Web development to emerging economies for a miserable price while ripping-off huge profits locally. This only hurts the world and local developers alike. I'm suggesting nurturing a healthy business ecosystem with no boundaries or frontiers.
This is the opportunity to close the gap between those who are at the top of the pyramid and those who are in the bottom. Let's stop admiring companies like Microsoft and Apple, with their ever-increasing accumulation of wealth and power, and seek inspiration from individuals and small businesses, who are the true responsible for the creation of most innovation.
Freedom to Innovate
Drupal, the software, is as powerful as it is today because of its healthy ecosystem, where most innovation comes from the edges (the contributed modules). Think about every great thing in the Drupal world: Fields, Views, Rules, Entities, etc. Every single one of them started either by an individual or a very small team, “scratching their own itch”. This is the beauty about free and open source software. The freedom to study, to learn, to adapt, to collaborate, and to contribute back. The freedom to innovate!
This same reasoning applies to businesses and events. We have to cherish this freedom to innovate not only in software development, but also in business management and event organization. We have to promote a healthy, bottom-up, free and open ecosystem worldwide!
DrupalCon 2.0, Latino Style
After the fallout of DrupalCon Sao Paulo, the community decided to pull itself from the burning ashes and reinvent itself. DrupalCon Latin America, as it was being organized, was a huge distraction. We went back to concentrate our efforts in organizing an international event BY the community, FOR the community based on our previous experiences in organizing DrupalSummits and DrupalCamps. That's how DrupalPicchu came to be. We are organizing the event in a totally open and transparent manner and everyone is invited to participate:
DrupalPicchu is DrupalCon 2.0, Reloaded, Latino Style.
With the mission of “celebrating the freedom and cultural diversity of the Drupal Community”, we are looking forward to bring together individuals and businesses who share these values and who are determined to build a healthy ecosystem.
We would love to have this humble and adventurous spirit in our event:
The Drupal Association 2.0
Let me start out by saying that the Drupal Association has done a wonderful job in many areas, specially in terms of providing the infrastructure that the Drupal community needs. Also, initiatives like the Drupal Community Cultivation Grants and the Drupal Global Training Days are an example to be followed because they provide incentives to the communities without taking over the process.
However, the Drupal Association needs to completely review their top-down approach that they take in some areas, specially regarding the organization of DrupalCons.
I believe the role of the Drupal Association should be to act as catalyst, identifying emerging initiatives and throwing all its weight in to make it spread faster.
For example, we have Drupal DownUnder, a successful Drupal event that has been organized by the Australian/New Zealand community in the last few years. Identifying this emerging initiative and supporting it by having a DrupalCon in Australia is exactly what the DA should do. By support I don't mean taking over. I mean letting the community still organize the event independently, but help them to achieve the next level by giving them guidance and visibility.
A similar emerging initiative has happened in Latin America, which is the Drupal Summit Latino. But for DrupalCon Latin America, the DA took over the planning/organizing process of the event and didn't let the community participate until the last few months, when it was already too late. This is the reason why DrupalCon Sydney will succeed and why DrupalCon Sao Paulo has failed.
People like to think that Drupal will conquer the world and become a dominant force.
But the truth is that Drupal is mostly irrelevant. It is just a tool.
What really matters is the community, the people, the heart and soul that they put in to make things happen.
We need to nurture that with love and care.
If we ignore them, then we have already lost, no matter how successful Drupal becomes.
Let the burning ashes of DrupalCon Sao Paulo be a reminder of what we want to avoid. And let the free spirit of the Latin Community be an inspiration to where we want to go.
Dedicated to my friends - Fernando Paredes Garcia, Nancy Contreras, Joaquin Bravo, Karim Boudjema, and Felix Delattre - who have gone above and beyond for the Drupal Latin Community. Let us have the strength to reach the top of Machu Picchu together!