Drupal Nation: Software to Power the Left

The following was my final project to graduate with a Masters from Columbia’s journalism school. I reported and wrote this article almost two years ago. Its foundation can be found here. I have no good excuse for sitting on it this long. (update 3-4-2014: spammers have caused me to close comments. Just can’t deal with the spam anymore. Sorry)

The thesis:

  1. The Dean campaign in 2004 didn’t elect a President, but it did become a breeding ground for new leadership in liberal politics.
  2. The software behind this grassroots movement became politicized and powered the progressive left which has since come of age.

I am finally getting around to publishing it now for two reasons:

  • To my knowledge it is the only close examination of the technology and techies behind the Dean campaign. I hope I did that period of history justice: The story below doesn’t show it – but I spoke/studied close to 40 Deaniacs: From (A)ldon Hynes to (Z)ack Exley
  • That history is more relevant now that Obama, an obvious descendant of Dean’s online organizing techniques, has proven they can be used successfully.

And so I am publishing

Drupal Nation: Software to Power the Left

It was a cold and snowy January evening in Burlington Vermont when Zack Rosen heard the words he’d been dreading and half-expecting from his candidate Howard Dean, the onetime Democratic frontrunner for president, turned laughing stock.

Rosen, a computer science major who had dropped out of college his sophomore year to volunteer for Dean was bundled in a snow jacket and pants, like most of the other campaigners who were milling around that afternoon. Rosen and Clay Johnson, a software engineer for the Dean campaign, were sitting together at Rosen’s cubical, which held three computer monitors. Nearby they had mounted a television on a portable stand where the two stared bleakly at the live broadcast of Dean speaking from the Iowa caucus. Johnson began to wag his head in disbelief to Rosen. As Dean tried to reenergize his campaign, after finishing a disappointing third, he produced a ten second sound bite where he appeared to be yelling uncontrollably at the crowd. The “Dean Scream” was captured by television cameras and rebroadcast across America, turning Dean from a presidential hopeful to a Saturday Night Live Skit.

Everything Rosen, a 20-year-old computer programmer had worked for was unraveling before his eyes. “Things got pretty out of control pretty quickly. People circled off into their groups of friends and started talking about doing their own thing,” said Rosen.

Leading up to the Iowa defeat, Rosen had carefully orchestrated the development of the social networking features that came to power Dean’s Internet success, mustering the magic of an obscure but robust content management system from Belgium, known as Drupal.

Thanks to Rosen, Drupal was powering hundreds of local Dean Web sites around the country. If you were an active Dean supporter, whether you knew it or not, you had encountered a Drupal site. And if you were a Dean organizer, by time the campaign was done, you were intimate with the software.

The night of the “Dean Scream” Rosen had to find his way home. He lived on the other side of town and didn’t have a car. He relied on rides from other campaigners. The bench near the parking lot behind Dean’s Burlington headquarters, normally a place for strategic conversations, was filled with nervous campaign staffers chain smoking. “People tried their best to do their jobs, but everyone knew how bleak the situation was,” says Rosen, who stayed with the campaign another month only to return back to the University of Champaign Illinois where he dropped out a year earlier. Completely broke Rosen relied on his college friends for a few weeks while he regrouped. When the dust settled, Rosen decided not to go back to school. It had crossed his mind, but he longed to repeat the magic of the Dean campaign.

“All these ideas and methods that we were doing could have been used by many different groups of people, but we were kids, we didn’t know anything about anything,” says Rosen.

The Dean campaign didn’t elect a President, but it did become a breeding ground for new leadership in liberal politics. “The phenomena was a self-organizing thing that happened around Dean, and the campaign was smart enough that they didn’t snuff it out, they started looking for ways to work with it,” says Micah Sifry, co-founder of Personal Democracy Forum, a hub for technologists and politicians to share ideas.

For Rosen and countless others it turned out to be only their first step in progressive online activism. Out of the rubble of the Dean campaign came a new energized generation of liberal organizers. The Dean alumni would go on to form companies and organizations that took on not only the operating philosophy of the Dean campaign, but its actual operating system, Drupal, which Rosen had initially chosen for the campaign. As former Dean staffers moved on to new jobs and projects they would continue to rely on Drupal as a tool to manage grassroots efforts.

SO WHAT IS DRUPAL?

Drupal began in 2000 as an experiment for Dries Buytaert, a student at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, so he could get around the premium price for Internet at the University. In order to share files and stay in contact with his friends in the student dorm, he built a bridge between his computer and eight others.

The software that Buytaert developed remained nameless until the day after his graduation according to Buytaert’s written account of how the open source project started. While registering the original name “Dorp,” which in Dutch means “village,” Buytaert accidentally registered Drop.org.  In January 2001 Buytaert decided to release the software as Drupal, an open source project, which comes from the Dutch word “Druppel,” meaning “drop,” in commemoration of his original typo.

The Drupal community grew slowly, mostly in Europe, and while they didn’t know it at the time, its proponents were building tools that would create a grassroots revolution in the United States. In 2004 the community exploded as a result of Dean campaign’s usage.  Only a year later, the amount of content being created on Drupal.org grew by more than 300 percent in 2005. Drupal was spreading throughout the United States through the liberal network spawned by the Dean campaign. The software had become politicized.

Today Drupal powers nonprofit and political campaigns of all sizes, from Hillary Clinton’s 08‘ grass roots campaign to NextBillion.net, which brings world leaders together to explore how the business community can spur development in poor countries.

In the world of open source software, intellectual property rights are relaxed, allowing programmers to build upon each other’s work. Information is always shared under the agreement that any future improvements to a program are also kept under an open source license. As a result, open source programs like Drupal can grow quickly and benefit from being examined and improved by hundreds of coders at a time. Once Drupal began to spread, its functionality grew dramatically, as developers would create new Modules. Modules are new functions built around the Drupal platform that can snap into any Web
site, like Lego blocks, giving a site new capabilities such as a public calendar or networking communities that users can join. It is the ability to pick and choose from these modules that gives Drupal its flexibility. A Web site manager today can choose from over 700 different Drupal functions to make their site or online campaign unique.

While Drupal was available to anyone for the taking, it was mostly adopted by left-wing groups. The left was ideologically closer to the open source philosophies that guided the project and Right wing campaigns paid little attention to the potential for networking on the Internet, says Sifry. Already in power, they saw little need to experiment with newfangled technologies, relying upon direct mail and talk radio to spread their message.

The Dean Alumni Grow Up

After learning how to manage online campaigns, the Dean alumni came into their own using Drupal. Using the young software the campaign turned underdog Dean, a doctor turned governor in Vermont, into one of the best funded and publicized candidates with $52 million in contributions and an email list of 600,000. More than that, he was touted as an average American that voters could relate to. The Dean campaign grew alongside the political blogosphere, which was just coming of age in 2004. His campaign had tapped into the most underused and powerful political campaigning tool since television first appeared in the 1960 Nixon and Kennedy debates. Dean had become an Internet darling, and the campaign was consciously using their secret weapon.

In an interview with Mother Jones in 2007 Dean says the success of his 2004 campaign was “not about communicating our message to you anymore; it’s about listening to you
first before we formulate the message. And that’s how [the Internet] should be used.”

A new generation of progressives, Drupal battle hardened,were going to continue the campaign for Dean’s ideals, with or without him. But before they could go on to spread their views, the Dean staffers had to deal with the immediate facts right in front of them, the needed jobs.

Take, for example, the story of Josh Koenig, originally from Humboldt, California. One of the original Hack4Dean volunteers, Koenig had been volunteering for the campaign since 2003, living in Brooklyn New York at the time. A  recent art-school graduate from New York University, focusing in theater, Koenig was just scraping  by as a Web developer.

At a New York Dean meetup in March of 2003, Koening first met Franz Hartl, who had taken time off from Fordam law school to work for the Dean campaign.  The two of them went on to start Music for America in 2004, which held anywhere from five to 15 concerts a night across the country to register young voters. That year alone, Music for America says they organized 2,132 concerts attended by over 2 million people. And at every concert volunteers were standing by to register concert goers to vote. The entire production spent only $700 on advertising and paid only seven full-time staff members. “The only way we could have managed so many concerts with such a small staff was creating a module in Drupal to help us organize it, so people could volunteer easily over the Web site and we could manage our relationship to them,” says Hartl.

Music for America eventually became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization through the help of Andy and Deborah Rappaport, who blend venture capital investing with philanthropy “by investing in emerging political entrepreneurs who are re-inventing the progressive movement,” according to their Web site. Koenig also introduced the philanthropists to Rosen, who after a few weeks of living off old college friends was also ready to step out beyond the Dean campaign.

Their meeting would change the direction of Drupal’s growth.

A meeting at a San Francisco burger joint had been arranged where Rosen could pitch to Rappaport the idea that would spread Drupal even further into liberal politics through his first company, CivicSpace. “I was eating my hamburger and Andy says “go.” I spouted nonsense for five minutes and afterwards Andy says, ‘let’s do it.’” The software only cost $100,000 to build, but when it was done Rosen and other colleagues from the Dean campaign had an installer that would take the most important Drupal modules for running an online campaign and instantly load them into a Web site for a mere $41 a month. “It would save a ton of time, you would be 95 percent of the way to a fully functional Web site after you downloaded it,” says Rosen. And thousands of people did.

Rosen’s CivicSpace, offered a tool not just to help elect a specific progressive candidate, but to empower grassroots campaigns across the country. CivicSpace was the first company with full time employees that was developing and distributing Drupal technology. Rosen had tied the fate of his first company directly to Drupal and was proselytizing its spread. CivicSpace was a defining moment for Drupal. It organized the systematic spread of the software beyond Dean to online campaigns ranging from churches to bands. But it was really designed  with activist campaigns in mind.

Rosen’s story of post-Dean ambitions wasn’t unique. In the aftermath of the “Dean Scream” staffers were clicking off to form other Drupal oriented companies.

“As much as it was sad, there was still the reality that we all needed jobs. That sunk in pretty quickly, that we had to figure out what the hell we were going to do,” says Michael Silberman who ran the Dean MeetUp Program, responsible for mobilizing 189,000 Dean volunteers in 1,200 cities.

Silberman, who was in Wisconsin during the Iowa loss, called Nicco Mele, the Webmaster for Dean’s campaign to find out what was going on in the aftermath of the concession speech. Mele told him to come as soon as he could back to Burlington. Silberman, who had taken time off Middlebury College for the campaign, hoped in his car and raced back, unsure what Mele had in mind.

Depressed and confused, Mele and seven other Dean campaigners met in a coffee shop in Burlington. They had all experimented together on the Web, learning new ways to mobilize people for political purposes. “Why should it end here?” Silberman recalls saying to the group. Equipped only with laptops, the friends began crashing on couches in Washington D.C. while they regrouped. While they had no clients, offices or a concrete plan they figured they would “stick together, to continue to do what we were doing for social change efforts,” says Silberman.

Their new political consulting company, which they would call Echo Ditto, staked its future on the lessons they had learned while managing Dean’s online campaign. The 20-person company has managed online campaigns like Rock The Vote, the United State’s largest youth voter movement, Change It 07, a collaborative campaign between Greenpeace and Seventh Generation and the Clinton Global Initiative. Today it is a multi-million dollar company, according to Silberman, a senior strategist at the company.

Meanwhile, other former Dean staffers were regrouping to form their own progressive ventures.  In Iowa, Aaron Welch and Adam Mordechia, Dean campaigners in Iowa,were getting calls from all over the country. Their claim to fame: organizing the ad-hoc moment dubbed “The Perfect Storm,” by Dean’s campaign manager Joe Trippi. Deaniacs, rallied over the Internet, made a mass migration into Iowa to help distribute last minute flyers, raise money and spread word about their candidate all over the state.

“It is a storm that has never happened before, because it could not have happened before….For the first time since we heard the words World Wide Web, the Internet makes
this possible,” wrote Trippi on Dean’s campaign Web site.

“What was going to happen to the campaign?,” volunteers asked Welch and Mordeci after the reality of Dean’s defeat in Iowa set in. Welch was asking himself the same question. Only a few weeks before planning “The Perfect Storm” he was working full time as the audio and visual coordinator for the Museum of Glass in Tocama, Washington. He had been casually volunteering for the campaign when they asked him to drop everything and come to Iowa.

With one day’s notice Welch asked for a leave of absence from the museum, and one day after that, he boarded a plane to Iowa. He never did return to his job in Tacoma. “It
was just one of those points in time where things just aligned perfectly, a lot of people were just like me, quit their job and changed their lives,” says Welch. Drupal was the software used to manage “The Perfect Storm,” and although Welch had never used it before the campaign, he has built a career using Drupal.

As the Dean campaign was falling apart, Welch and Mordechia built a Web site to promote Joe Trippi’s book, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, The Internet, and The Overthrow of Everything.” By late February they set up “Deaniacs for Edwards,” a Web site to give direction to the community they had amassed in Iowa.

A few months later, they formed Advomatic, a Web consulting company “for progressive advocacy, grassroots movements, and really cool causes.” The company, based in New York, has since built sites and managed campaigns for the Natural Resources Defense Council and Christine Cegelis and, a 2004 Congressional candidate for Illinois. Currently, Advomatic is building an online tool to organize volunteer action for John Edwards’ 2008 campaign for president.

Welch, dressed in a casual black jacket, paces back and forth on the hardwood floors in Advomatic’s empty office on 27th street. Soft-spoken, Welch cringes as he has to turn down another potential client over the phone. The 20 developers that Advomatic managers are already booked with projects and have to be scheduled months in advance. Business is almost too good for Advomatic right now, thanks to the growing popularity of Drupal as an open source alternative to managing Web sites, says Welch. Both Advomatic and Echo Ditto have grown to become influential forces in the world of online campaigns.

The software they use has been downloaded over 600,000 times since it was first offered to the software community in 2001, according to Drupal.org. And as more and more people dive into Drupal, they’re turning to the Dean campaign alumni to help them use the software most effectively.

Echo Ditto and Advomatic have used Drupal to organize campaigns for progressive nonprofits and political groups, such as Green Peace UK and Bioneers, an organization for social innovators dedicated to restoring the environment. What put them in the position to master Drupal and eventually master these campaigns, however, was more or less happenstance.

What CONNECTED THEM ALL: DEANSPACE

Before 2004, Rosen, who was barely keeping up with his studies at the University of Urbana-Champaign in Illinois, had never voted or been politically active, but during a break from school, at his home in Pittsburg, he began reading Smart Mobs by Howard Rhiengold, The Cluetrain Manifesto by Doc Searls and David Weinberger and Emergence by Steven Johnson — all seminal books describing a growing online movement about collective intelligence and social networks. And then it hit him, everything that was described in these books could be used in political campaigns. “I pretty much knew I was going to be doing that as much as I could through the campaign,” says Rosen.

While volunteering for the local Pittsburgh group for Dean, however, he was sorely disappointed. The tools being used weren’t up for the job. All across the country local Dean supporters were trying to self-organize using static web pages and Yahoo Groups, which functions as a mailing list. This was not the revolution Rosen had envisioned. People couldn’t see each other, organize rapidly or bring new people into the fold.

Rosen didn’t know what was possible, but he did know that Yahoo groups or even simple blogs were only the tip of the iceberg. So he created “Hack4Dean,” a project to build new online organizing software that could be used by all the isolated and sporadic pockets of Dean supporters across the nation like Pittsburgh residents for Dean, Californians for Dean, South East Asians for Dean, Nurses for Dean and hundreds more.

It began with an open call for volunteer computer programmers. A plan wasn’t in place, just a commitment to build tools that could manage an event calendar, allow communication between
members of each site and collect donations. In short, Hack4Dean was going to give every single one of these communities the ability to create an Internet presence. “Not just to organize the local community, but allow them to interact with things on the national and state level. We didn’t want pocketed communities, we wanted a real network that could learn from one another,” says Rosen

At first the group of 20 programmers who answered Rosen’s call thought they were going to start building a Web application from scratch. But Josh Koenig, who now works with Rosen at Chapter Three and was the fourth developer to sign up to “Hack4Dean,” suggested they use an open source alternative.

Finding an open source option would save both time and money for the ad-hoc group of programmers. After looking into a few options Rosen wandered into a developer chat forum for advice on Web applications, where one word kept being repeated –  “Drupal” –  with its catchphrase “community plumbing.” “We didn’t do too much investigation because we just wanted to dig in,” says Rosen. DeanSpace, the public name of the Hack4Dean group, developed without any influence from the official Dean campaign. In fact, nobody in Burlington knew what Rosen and his crew were up to.

Drupal turned out to be the perfect tool for the job. Well before Rosen began to organize DeanSpace, the open source project already had a small development community loading it with basic publishing functions such as blogging, forums and contact forms for every member.

The most powerful aspect of Drupal, and what appealed to Rosen the most, was that Drupal was an easy out-of-the box Web publishing system. No matter that its creators lacked an understanding of American politics and failed to include some basic functions any online campaign would need, such as accepting donations or taking into account the differing time zones for East and West coast Dean sites. It could act as an easy framework from which other developers could add on new features using the standard developing language PHP. If the DeanSpace developers wanted coastal time stamps to connect all the sites on a larger Drupal network, all they had to do was create a new module for the job.

This flexibility along with the open source nature of Drupal using the programming language PHP made Drupal the best option for DeanSpace’s development. Drupal didn’t do everything DeanSpace needed when Rosen and his fellow hackers first entrenched themselves in the Drupal development community, but “the pieces that were missing, people were already working on,” says Rosen.

Another aspect that appealed to Rosen was Drupal’s ability to “scale.”  A single Drupal powered site can be the hub of an entire network of content producers, giving each user their own Web page, or node, within that network. Each page in the network is autonomous, but they are all connected.

Dean’s campaign manager, Trippi, is often cited for using innovative social tools on the Internet to harness voters, says Rosen.   “But in my opinion their was really only one chief innovation and it was basically Trippi saying, ‘hey if you got good ideas, we’ll use them, we’ll open up this campaign to everyone, to take it into their town and their community on their own terms.’”

Soon DeanSpace was powering community Dean sites all over the country and kept them in touch with each other and the national campaign. Dean campaigners in Burlington took notice and hired Rosen as a developer for the national campaign. But with DeanSpace rolling, Rosen didn’t actually develop much of the software himself.

He was at the center of a network of developers whom he deployed around the country as needed.

When the campaign needed help organizing the Perfect Storm, Rosen suggested they hire Aaron Welch who had been working on a Dean site in Tocama Washington, to ease the burden on programmer Adam Mordechia.  When state campaigns needed Web sites or new functionality, Rosen would turn to the development community at DeanSpace and see who could tackle the job.

Through DeanSpace, groups like Teens for Dean were able to organize outreach efforts to senior homes. Within a few weeks, communicating almost solely through their Web site, they visited 750 senior homes across the country to talk about Dean. The entire effort was done without the involvement of campaign headquarters and was only possible through Drupal. “The way we operate with Drupal, it’s not a provided service. We provide a Web site that you then take control of because you want something that is living and breathing,” says Koenig. The people who operate the site have the power to determine its use and what they will achieve autonomously.

Drupal has powered everything from Indymedia, a worldwide network of independent news centers that take a strong left-wing angle on the news, to the human rights organization Amnesty International.  Drupal has even come to the aid of other open source projects, powering the Spread FireFox campaign lead by former Dean volunteer Chris Messina. The open source Web browser today has 14 percentage of the web browser market, but that is attributed in large part to the Spread FireFox campaign which relied
on “a loosely joined army of volunteers to promote and spread the ideas of the ‘campaign,’” says Messina. “FireFox was effectively our “candidate” and we were willing to do whatever we could to unseat the well financed incumbent tyrant, Internet Explorer,” he continued.

As Drupal empowered grassroots groups, it also disrupted what had once been a vibrant but closed business. Every campaign that was organized through Drupal was a blow to the traditional private software vendors like Austin Texas based Convio and Berkeley California based Get Active (since acquired by Convio), who had dominated the market of online campaigns since the mid-90′s.

THE BUSINESS OF DRUPAL

Rosen saw CivicSpace as a public resource, a civic tool that could be used to wage any kind of nonprofit or political campaign radically cheaper than going through the traditional vendors. Larger online campaign companies, such as Convio, Blackbaud Charleston SC and Kintera Inc, San Diego CA (since acquired by Blackbaud), charge a minimum of $1,500 a month, in addition to setup fees. And if a campaign needs new features mid-way through their project, additional costs are added. CivicSpace challenged this model by creating an open source solution. Now campaigns could organize volunteers instantly and on a relatively cheap budget.

“We really did see ourselves and what we were doing as disruptive to that marketplace. We came in and said “we want to destroy these people’s line of business because it’s wrong,” says Koenig, who joined Rosen at CivicSpace after his time at Music for America.

CivicSpace has since changed the marketplace for companies that traditionally organized online campaigns. Once a Webmaster learns how to use Drupal, he  can instantly build Web pages that allow activists to organize themselves. Once these groups are empowered with the ability to create and manage volunteers, the big online campaign companies, which sell their own proprietary content management systems, become superfluous. In fact, Convio was the content management system for the first nine months of the Dean campaign, before they switched to Drupal.

Today, according to Drupal.org, the software has been downloaded over 600,000 times. While Convio has 1,400 clients in the nonprofit sector, there are probably 100,000 organizations that are big enough to hire their services, according to Vinay Bhagat who founded the 300-person company in 1999. So while major organizations, like the Red Cross tend to rely on large proprietary firms like Kintera or Convio to supply their content management software, Drupal has consistently cut into the lower end of their market.  In January, 2007, Convio purchased Get Active, which had about a quarter of what they call the “online constituent relationship management market” for an undisclosed amount. Since the Get Active acquisition, only three main vendors â?? Convio, Kintera and Blue State Digital, remain. Blue State  was itself started by Dean alumni Clay Johnson and Joe Rospars, who both worked in Burlington for the campaign’s Web initiatives. Today Blue State Digital is running Obama’s 2008 campaign for President.

Convio’s founder Vinay Bhagat points out that it made sense for the Dean campaign to go with Drupal, “because they wanted tremendous flexibility and they had a group of coders in house that could make it do what they wanted it to do. ” For most organizations that lack such staffing, a packaged program is the smarter alternative, Bhagat says.

Proponents point out that Drupal is becoming increasingly flexible. With every new module that is created, Drupal adds a new trick to its growing list of capabilities. Programmers are building new functions for Drupal all the time, from building wikis, which let you edit a Web document, to hosting video.  These new modules are permanently stored Drupal.org and shared with the entire development community, so other grassroot campaigns can use the same program for free in the future. For instance, more than 22,000 people contributed their ideas for improving the American economy to the Service Employees International Union Web site called, “Since Sliced Bread, (2004 Wired article about Since Slice Bread written by David Cohn)” in a competition that ran for three months. Echo Ditto, which built the site, had to include a public voting module that let readers pick their favorite idea, helping to filter the 22,000 submissions before the final winner was chosen.

As Drupal spread commercially through CivicSpace to new users, the Drupal community of programmers, who build the lego-block modules, was also growing and incorporating the DeanSpace programmers into the fold, who became increasingly influential in the development of the open source project.

In 2006, when Buytaert created the Drupal Association, a nonprofit to provide financial and logistical support to the open source Drupal movement, he chose Rosen and another Dean alumni, Neil Drumm, to serve on his board of directors (Neil is now a permanent member of the Board).

Buytaert also chose Drumm to spearhead the latest release of Drupal software, version 5.0. Drumm was Rosen’s dorm mate at Urbana-Champaign, and the lead programmer of Hack4Dean. Today, Drumm works out of San Francisco with Welch and Mordachia at New York-based Advomatic (Update: Drumm is now an independent Drupal contractor). Drum and Rosen room together in San Francisco’s Mission District and even share an office space.

Sharing an office with a direct competitor could be a contentious working situation in some business’, but not for Rosen or Drumm. Although technically competitors for clients, the different Drupal vendors are in constant contact, not only because they come from an intimate group of friends, but because of the open source business model that Drupal is based on.

“If you are deploying things from Drupal you aren’t going to be successful if you are at arms length from
the community. And if that community is your competitors, it behooves you more to work together with them in terms of where the technology is going,” says Advomatic’s co-founder Welch.

With an open source technology that is rapidly changing, vendors aren’t worried about their intellectual property or patent portfolio. Their biggest concerns are staying on top of new functions that Drupal has acquired and finding new ways to use the software to change the political landscape.

From their shared office space in San Francisco Drumm recently received word from Aaron Welch that he is taking a leave of absence from Advomatic. As the 2008 election cycle begins, the Dean alumni are taking the lead this time as as seasoned veterans. Welch is now the Internet technology director for Chris Dodd’s campaign for president.

Jeff Robbins, a Drupal developer with the shop Lullabot, based in Toronto, Canada, has said that Drupal will “save the world.” A bold statement, says Rosen, but as the software becomes easier to use and tackles more projects it will continue to “give a voice to those who might not otherwise be heard. It can also bring together those with similar needs empowering both with the simple knowledge that they are not alone,” says Robbins.

As Drupal goes through more growing pains, it’s going to be called on for bigger and bigger jobs. And Web developers like Robbins plan to be ready.”

25 thoughts on “Drupal Nation: Software to Power the Left

  1. Wow Dave!

    Thanks so much for writing all this history and condensing it down so that some awesome people can get some long overdue credit! Good work!

  2. Information is always shared under the agreement that any future improvements to a program are also kept under an open source license.

    Technically speaking, that’s a stipulation of the GPL license. More free open source licenses such as the BSD license do not require that future improvements also be subject to an open license.

    I also reject the idea that Drupal is “politicized” or is more likely to be used by people with one particular slant or another. Drupal is just a tool. Supporters for Bush in ’04, or any of the Republican candidates in this latest go-round, could have used Drupal for their projects just as well as the Deaniacs did. You have to put your arm up Drupal’s back before it will say anything.

  3. @Garrett

    In abstract I agree with you.

    But note you write: “Supporters for Bush in ’04, or any of the Republican candidates in this latest go-round, could have used Drupal for their projects”

    COULD HAVE being the operative word. None of them did. I only found one large conservative community even using Drupal. On the left however it is pervasive. Technology is just a tool – but different tools are used by different cultures (think aboriginal instruments).

    So yes. Drupal has been politicized.

  4. Drupal is growing to become the number 1 used cms system in the world. For the moment wordpress has a little advantage in number of users but in the coming months i think drupal is gonne pass wordpress as bigest cms system

  5. im not sure about the drupal but i do know that 2008 was a wonderful year for web design and technology in general.Heres agreat way for you to break into web design. I hope to see some new excellent designs this coming new year. So check out http://www.adamssite.com , an outstanding web templates site to help with design and inspiration.
    Thanks and Good luck everyone and have a happy Valentine’s Day
    adam

  6. This is fascinating. I first came across DeanSpace in August 2003. Within a couple months I’d built my first political campaign site for Miles Nelson in New Mexico using it, a site which later won a bronze Pollie Award in 2004. That award landed me a job doing Drupal campaign sites full time. I’ve been working at NGP Software for three and a half years now and we’ve won several Pollies and two Golden Dots for our Drupal work.

    Drupal is getting so much attention now because it is by far the most flexible and user friendly CMS out there. There’s nothing you could think of to do that can’t be done in Drupal. Almost everything we’ve done is possible with user contributed modules, most with little or no customization necessary.

    The incredible amount of forethought and planning that went into building the framework and various APIs in Drupal is impressive and has clearly paid off in a big way. A big round of applause should go out to the entire Drupal community, especially the folks who worked on Drupal’s core.

  7. Great post! thanks for sharing this software. Now I have an idea on this software. Drupal is a software package that allows an us or a community of users to easily publish or manage organize wide variety of contents on a website. This is also useful also for blogs and podcasting. I really like this. I’m looking also for other Audio Production Software to try soon and I found some of them here http://musical-instruments-keyboard.com/audio-production-software.html

  8. I’m aware Drupal is such a powerful tool that its used to build up internet portal, corporate websites, websites based on e-commerce and online stores. Thanks, you have also shared a detailed info on how drupal software can play a major role in a political campaign too.

  9. I love drupal but I am taken aback by someon putting for the premise that using a piece of great software would place me in a particular political group. If the democratic party should fail in it’s biddings in the next few years will drupal also fail. I hope not. People use software because of it’s functionality and the needs of the freedom loving individuals and business that need that particular functionality. Some find that functionality in commercial software and some find it in open source software. I say leave politics out of software. Shall we analyze what software each administration uses for it’s daily afairs and attribute success or failure due to that use? I don’t care what software they use as long as they live up to the oath of upholding the laws set forth by our constitution.

    From a Freedom loving Cherokee
    Tsalagi

  10. Hey, This article was an eye opener. I have been in the Word Press closed circle for a while. Thanks.
    A little off subject, but online education is soon to shift the traditional school “business plan” like open source has shifted software. Watch out brick and mortar.

  11. I can’t help but comment on this article. Drupal has made so much difference in my business. I’ll ever be gratefull to those programmers who are doing a great job. Thanks for your post.

  12. Drupal is growing to become the number 1 used cms system in the world. For the moment wordpress has a little advantage in number of users but in the coming months i think drupal is gonne pass wordpress as bigest cms system

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