Stop and Smell the Drupal

What we put into Drupal versus what we, as individuals and as a society, get out of Drupal.
Drupal article - Stop and Smell the Drupal

I'm writing from Oxford, UK, having a little break from the hustle and bustle of some exciting but intense projects at Technocrat. I'm sitting here at a Drupal agency, which has a particularly ethical bent and sense of self-determination that makes it appropriate for the subject of this blog post.

While I attended the usual technical talks, this DrupalCon was more contemplative for me. I've been thinking about what we put into Drupal versus what we, as individuals and as a society, get out of Drupal. In this post when I talk about Drupal, I'm not talking about software only, I'm talking about a collective of humans engaging in work and pleasure that often (but not always) includes writing software and building websites. 

Of the various key moments in my life, two of them involved Robert Douglass. Robert is a long, long time Drupal contributor (he just notched up ten years on The first catalytic moment was on, in a thread that I can never find - it was simply a situation where Robert gave a significant amount of his time to a stranger. It was on that day that the penny dropped that Drupal had a dominant culture of positive, supporting, giving, collaborative behaviour; a culture that can only survive if supported by the core group.

My second “Robert Douglass moment” was last Thursday at DrupalCon Prague. I was trying to catch up with someone who tweeted they'd be in Robert's presentation, Bach to the Future. So I changed my schedule and attended the session too, and found myself sharing a room with a Steinway Grand Piano - the second half of the presentation is a live performance by Kimiko Ishizaka of Bach's, "The Well-Tempered Clavier".

In brief, the Open Goldberg project has been using Kickstarter to raise money to create copyright-free versions of public domain music, and in turn create a bunch of online collaborative tools that can use that free data. For example, is a website that allows musicians and composers to collaborate on sheet music, actually creating the XML that can be used for countless other products and services that put this music in the hands of, well, everybody.

As Kimiko played the third or fourth piece, and I was drawn into that ephemeral place that my over-active brain rarely goes, I was hit by a sense of awe at the sheer magnificence of devoting a life to setting music free. Just like seven years ago, Robert is still demonstrating that same dominant culture of positive, supporting, giving, collaborative behaviour that got me into Drupal in the first place. And amidst the corporate interests, the debates about forking, and the whether singing carrots are in bad taste, this culture of empowerment is still the dominant underlying theme of the Drupal community.

I've just shared with my daughter who teaches herself piano. No matter how you look at it, the least I can do is thank Robert and Kimiko (and everyone else involved) for giving my daughter a gift, the gift of access to the rich goldmine of public domain music. So I've gone further and donated to their latest project which aims to create 50,000 Braille scores of public domain music for blind people. This stuff just blows my mind.

I'm heading back to Heathrow now, having coffee in Gloucester Green overlooking the bus depot. In a few days I'll be back in Technocrat's Melbourne office, and my memories of DrupalCon Prague will slowly fade. But some things I won't forget so easily: my friend Lucy singing "Quel Guardo il Cavaliere" on a park bench next to Islington Green; recording an acoustic version of "The Fox" in Aussie Drupaller Leigh Morresi's apartment in Prague; AgileCollective and their hand-picked ethical projects; Robert and Kimiko setting music free while Drupal Association board member Donna Benjamin turned to blissful mush next to me.

It's common to believe that these experiences put the role of software in perspective, as if software distracts us from the things that matter. Not in the least. Software like Drupal becomes a part of the things that matter, in the way we use it to effect change. The rest is up to us.

The Author

James Harvey

Chief Development Officer