With The Gloom And Doom Of Drupal 6, Let’s Learn From Our Shortcomings

Thursday November 19th, 2015, was a momentous day for the open source community. After 1,716+ days of work by more than 3,312 developers, the Drupal community finally released Drupal 8. There were release parties and celebrations all over the world. Guides where written about Why Drupal 8 and Everything You Need To Know About Drupal 8. And big names (Like Red Hat, The Economist, Johnson & Johnson) proudly announced that they migrated to the best version of Drupal ever made. It’s been an incredibly exciting time.

But I don’t want to talk about Drupal 8. I want to talk about Drupal 6. It may seem odd to talk about a seemingly ancient version of Drupal, but I think what happened with D6 should not be repeated with D8.

Full disclosure: I work for a Drupal development firm and we strongly believe that Drupal can be a wonderfully great fit for all types of industries and businesses. However, how firms got others to adopt D6… Well, read on.

The Over Promise Of Drupal 6

Drupal 6 was officially released February 13th, 2008. With much the same fanfare and hullaballoo, Drupal 6 promised to be the, “easiest version of Drupal ever,” with a litany of tools and features that were supposed to change the open source world forever.

Now, with the release of D8, The Drupal Association has officially announced the End Of Life of Drupal 6 – Come February 24th, 2016, D6 will no longer be supported.

Surprisingly, there are 3,000+ websites still on Drupal 6. Not a huge number, but enough for us to launch a, “move from Drupal 6 to Drupal 8” campaign.

From mom and pop shops to financially robust SMBs, we’ve talked and emailed with people all over the US that are still on Drupal 6. With all the possibilities of Drupal 8, we thought it would be an easy sell to get these businesses to migrate from D6 to D8.

But it’s been the exact opposite: Because developers over promised Drupal 6, many SMBs have plans to no longer use the CMS.

Expectation Didn’t Meet Reality

As stated earlier, Drupal 6 promised the world to web developers. Quick and easy setup, drag-and-drop administration, great new core modules, easy theming, super secure, etc. Sound familiar?

What happened next was Drupal development companies got excited about all these fantastic features and used them as talking points to attract new web dev clients. The Drupal firms then promised the world to their customers and really sold clients on the idea of this, “user-friendly” and easier-than-ever idea of Drupal.

Customers, having their own idea of easy and user-friendly, drank the blue Kool-Aid and migrated or developed their site on Drupal. When they were delivered the final, “user-friendly” product, many felt duped – The backend was difficult to understand, page creation wasn’t intuitive, simple HTML elements were anything but and more. Expectation didn’t meet reality.

Despite this, many SMBs thought, “Oh. Well. I guess it’s just me. I’ll adapt and make it work.” After all, it was 2008 – Businesses expected websites to be difficult.

As new Drupal updates were released, these same SMBs were told that they should update their version for better speed, easier use, more safety, etc. Many companies did (After all, that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?) and were then hit with incredibly high development invoices. SMBs thought, “Oh. Well. I guess that’s just what it costs. I’ll adapt and make it work.”

Still somewhat believing in this open source idea, SMBs continued to update and use Drupal. Thinking that they’d save some money, many cut corners and hired cost-effective firms to update or maintain their Drupal sites. The bills and invoices were low, but then their sites stopped working, crashed or were hacked. These SMBs thought, “Oh. Well. I guess that’s just what happens when you go cheaper. I’ll adapt and make it work.”

Quick recap:

  • Drupal 6 user-friendly promise: Not realized
  • Cost of Drupal 6: Much higher than anticipated
  • Cost to update Drupal 6: Even higher than thought
  • Going cheap with Drupal 6: Even worse outcomes

At the same time as this was happening, the internet as a whole was getting, well, easier. A LOT easier. Websites became incredibly simple to make (Think Weebly, Wix and Webs). Emailing and form capture got a lot more fun (Think MailChimp and 123Contact Form). Online eCommerce platforms popped up everywhere and were, out of the box, much simpler to customize (Just look at all the options now).

Further, smartphones started to penetrate the market, revolutionizing the way we work with this thing called an app. An app that was very intuitive, simple and, well, actually user-friendly.

So. If you were a SMB on Drupal 6 in 2013 and everything you were sold about Drupal didn’t meet expectations (simple, user-friendly, cost effective, etc.), you weren’t going to invest in anything else related with Drupal. Sure, Drupal 7 (released January 5th, 2011) promised new and great things, but you weren’t going to budge.

And Here We Are Today

Here we are on the new release of Drupal 8. A release where the community is promising fantastic new features and wonderful user additions that will supposedly revolutionize the open source world, once more (and it will). And, again, we’re going to our D6 customers telling them the wonders of D8. But this time, they’re not buying it. They have done all that they were supposed to, updated their sites and still are not satisfied with their solution.

Sure, you can postulate that Drupal is not the best fit for everyone. But there is a level where we, as development firms and open source enthusiasts need to ensure that we’re on the same page as our customers.

For Drupal dev firms, here’s your take away: Make sure that D8 is a darn fantastic fit for your customer. Make sure they know the hows, whys and whens of Drupal. Heck, even give your customers a walkthrough of the backend to make sure they can even comprehend it. Train them and foster their love for Drupal. Don’t just code and leave.

And for SMBs, here’s your take away: A CMS is a fantastic tool to grow your business. But make sure your expectation meets reality. Fully understand what is involved with any CMS (cost, maintenance, solution, and more) and use it to its full potential. That way, when it comes time, you’re more than ready to update.

I’ll leave you with this: No one person or company is perfect – Even Dries Buytaert has learned a lesson or two. As for us, will we recommend Drupal 8? You bet your blue Kool-Aid we will… But only after a long conversation about expectations, realities and, well, being open (source) and honest with our clients.