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7/22/2009
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David Berlind
David Berlind
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Matt Mullenweg And Dries Buytaert Probably Separated At Birth

When it comes to open sourced content management platforms and their creators, there's no question about the celebrity status that WordPress and its young founder Matt Mullenweg have ascended to. If offered an opportunity to interview Mullenweg about some news, I'd undoubtedly jump on it. But when I was offered the chance to do the same with Dries Buytaert, my initial response was "Dries who?" Once I realized "Dries, the creator of Drupal," I didn't hesitate (podcast below).

When it comes to open sourced content management platforms and their creators, there's no question about the celebrity status that WordPress and its young founder Matt Mullenweg have ascended to. If offered an opportunity to interview Mullenweg about some news, I'd undoubtedly jump on it. But when I was offered the chance to do the same with Dries Buytaert, my initial response was "Dries who?" Once I realized "Dries, the creator of Drupal," I didn't hesitate (podcast below).As I came to learn in the interview, it's as though Buytaert and Mullenweg were separated at birth. They were born only 6 years apart (The older of the two -- Buytaert -- was born in 1978 when I was a senior in high school). Both went on to create wildly successful PHP-based content management systems (Mullenweg did WordPress, Buytaert did Drupal). Both men open sourced those content management systems. And today, both are the founders of VC-funded commercial enterprises (Mullenweg's Automattic and Buytaert's Acquia) looking to capitalize on their founders' art and fame.

Although Buytaert downplayed his role in the Drupal community as one reason that people looking for Drupal support might turn to the two-year old Acquia versus other firms that specialize in Drupal, all it takes is one visit to the h0me page to see how his name and picture are leveraged as bait (Automattic's home page is spartan by comparison, but quotes Mullenweg at the bottom).

So common are the paths that these two young'uns took that it was only a matter of time before they crossed each others' paths and became friends that are only a speed dial away from each other (so say Buytaert). But there's also plenty that's different. One reason Dries may not enjoy the celebrity status that Mullenweg commands (at least outside of open source circles) is that he spends most of his time in Belgium where he lives with his wife and two children. His startup -- Acquia (co-founded with Jay Batson) -- is based in Andover, Mass. which, according to Buytaert, is easier to get to from Belgium than is Northern California (home to Mullenweg and Automattic). Buytaert also admits that Andover made sense because of how Acquia's initial round of funding came from Massachusetts-based VC (Acquia announced another $8 million round this week).

It was there at Acquia's Andover-based headquarters that I recorded my interview with Dries Buytaert. You can press the tiny in-line play button in that last sentence to hear the interview or click on the link to download the MP3 file. Also, the tab protruding off the left-hand side of this page should give you access to the recording as well.

Mullenweg and Buytaert may have answered similar clarion calls in life but the outcomes differ too. Whereas WordPress is one of the most popular open source blogging solutions, at least one of Drupal's claims to fame is that it does both blogs and wikis.

Looking back on my own personal decision to go with MediaWiki as the wiki platform and WordPress as the blog platform for many of my unconferences (eg: MashupCamp), I still believe in hindsight that I should have picked Drupal instead. Not necessarily because it was the best of breed at both (although many could argue that), but because there was a single identity management system underneath both. When I first started the unconferences, the last thing I wanted to be was an IT person (or pay an IT person) to figure out how offer a single sign-on to all of the features on the unconference Web sites.

It was only in this interview that I came to learn that Drupal basically started as forum software (something that I turned to VBulletin for on the unconference sites and also something that required yet another login). Blogs were a part of the 1.0 version of Drupal, but went by a different name according to Buytaert: "Personal Diaries." Wikis came later -- a feature that was contributed by the community says Buytaert.

One of my long-time complaints about the various wikis is how they're all so incompatible with each other due to the lack of standards when it comes to wiki markup language. The net result is the same as with office suites. Whatever format you start with (and therefore, whatever wiki you start with), you're stuck with unless you're prepared to endure a painful and expensive transition. I know about the pain. I've been through one already (one is enough). In the interview, Buytaert explains how that's not a problem for Drupal because Drupal simply supports HTML as its native markup. Most wikis support HTML, but not as their native markup.

Today, Drupal is one of the untold open source success stories. Buytaert estimates that more than 750 developers contributed code to the latest version (Drupal 6) and there are over 400,000 Drupal-based sites. Just like with a lot of popular open source software (eg: Linux), many of the organizations running those sites are willing to pay for support which is where Acquia enters the picture. In fact, Buytaert fancies Acquia as being to Drupal what Red Hat is to Linux (which is also to some extent what Automattic is to WordPress).

Additionally, Acquia offers something called Acquia Search as a service to Drupal sites that want what Buytaert calls "faceted search." The SaaS offering is based on Apache's Solr project which, according to Acquia's Web site, "can be complex to get running and to maintain." Faceted search sounds a bit like contextual search (or the promise of the Semantic Web) to me. The Wikipedia's entry for faceted search offers more details. For those interested in self-deploying faceted search for their Web sites or for their Drupal installations, be sure to check out Apache's Solr project. The bottom line is Drupal's native search doesn't offer this capability and so it's another way, in addition to Drupal support and other professional services, for Acquia to add value.

Today, Acquia will also host your instance of Drupal for you but doesn't offer the equivalent of WordPress.com; a multi-tenant SaaS version of WordPress that obviates the need for individuals or organizations to have a full instance of WordPress dedicated to them. In the interview, I asked Buytaert if Acquia plans to offer Drupal as a service (the way Automattic offers WordPress.com as a service) and his answer was basically an unequivocal yes.

We covered a lot of other ground in the interview including Acquia's rates (hint: negotiable). Be sure to give it a listen and share your thoughts in the comment section on this blog entry.

Related Links: Dries Buytaert's Blog Jay Batson's Blog (co-founder) Movable Type Open Source Project (an alternative open source CMS to Drupal and Wordpress) OpenMelody (another alternative that's a fork of Movable Type)

David Berlind is the chief content officer of TechWeb and editor-in-chief of TechWeb.com. David likes to write about emerging tech, new and social media, mobile tech, and things that go wrong and welcomes comments, both for and against anything he writes. He can be reached at dberlind@techweb.com and you also can find him on Twitter and other social networks (see the list below). David doesn't own any tech stocks. But, if he did, he'd probably buy some Salesforce.com and Amazon, given his belief in the principles of cloud computing and his hope that the stock market can't get much worse. Also, if you're an out-of-work IT professional or someone involved in the business of compliance, he wants to hear from you.

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