Relationship of Drupal and Acquia

Submitted by dryer on Fri, 10/23/2015 - 04:12
drupal acquia relationship

The relationship of Drupal and Acquia is somewhat unclear to newcomers to Drupal. When they get into Drupal they're whole heartedly welcomed to the Open Source community known as Drupal. But the company Acquia keeps popping up when talks of Drupal and Business arise. Let's try to make this a bit more clear

Drupal is a pure open source project governed by a team of developers. Acquia on the other hand is a corporation supported by millions of dollars of funding. This is where the cut is clear, but what makes the line between Acquia and Drupal murky is that the original developer of Drupal, Dries Buytaert, is working for Acquia as well.

This means that the power Dries Buytaert wields in the Drupal community can (and is) used actively to steer the community to the direction the company wants. While there is no direct power connection, it is clear that the speeches given at DrupalCon simply have to align with the targets investors have set for Acquia.

So no problems, keep using Drupal for free, but it's good to know that the relationship between the open source project and the investors who have invested tens of millions to Drupal through Acquia want return on their investment.

A longer view on the relationship of Drupal Association and Dries Buytaert

Some time ago an article touching this relationship was posted on a site, but then removed. It analyses relationship between Drupal and Dries, based on an old post from 2007. Read the full post quoted below.

In the current context of a Drupal leadership crisis and debate about project governance, it's important to reflect on ways an authoritarian structure has shaped and continues to shape the culture of the project. In this vein, response to a 2007 post by Drupal contributor Gus Geraghty makes for a fascinating, if disturbing, case study.

I recommend reading (or rereading) that thread before continuing here. I've deliberately chosen an example from earlier days to emphasize how tensions in the project, and patterns of response, have persisted and shaped the project at key junctures. I also hope that some distance may help to set those events in a reflective light, where the focus is not on who did what but on what we can learn about the overall organizational culture.

Those who raise critical questions are making a valuable contribution. Particularly in an authoritarian structure, speaking up is risky.

In his post and followup comments, Geraghty directly questioned the dictatorship power structure of Drupal, focusing on the then-new commercial interests of Drupal founder and dictator for life, Dries Buytaert, and his company, Acquia. Geraghty proposed a concrete alternative: reorganizing the project along cooperative lines. In follow-up comments, he pointed to the Linux Foundation as a possible model, structured to ensure no one company could attain dominance in the software project:

it fosters the growth of Linux by focusing on protection, standardisation and providing a neutral forum for collaboration and promotion. It also sponsors the work of Linus Torvalds, as opposed to a commercial interest paying Linus.

The response was immediate, pointed, and overwhelming.

Key elements:

  • One after another, prominent Drupal community members publicly declared their faith and trust in the project leader.
  • Commenters appeared to claim they were demonstrating a high level of patience and tolerance while publicly denouncing Geraghty in sharp and unrelenting terms.
  • In the midst of the discussion, Drupal site admins revoked Geraghty's privileges as a administrator. They insisted this punishment was in no way linked to his critical comments.
  • Ten days after the initial post, a site admin locked down the post, preventing further comments and leaving a note that seemed to cast blame exclusively on Geraghty.

Whatever the intentions of those who denounced him, the message that came across to Geraghty was loud and clear. He wrote:

the cheerleaders jumped down my neck and attacked me, insulted me and generally lambasted me for just raising this topic.

He also noted:

I've received more than a few emails since this thread kicked off that suggests not all of the community share the same sentiments, but, all are reluctant to speak their minds.

For obvious reasons. In an authoritarian system where key positions of prestige, influence, and power derive from the favour of the leader, loyalty may be the highest currency.

The public attacks on Geraghty's credibility and character fit with familiar patterns in authoritarian systems of delegitimatizing dissent.

Attacks on critical voices do more than drive people from the community. They also cast a long shadow on those who remain.

I'm not suggesting critics should get a free pass. Still, what's striking to me, looking back, is not only the overwhelming attack. Rather, it's the apparent near consensus that Geraghty himself was solely responsible for the excoriating treatment he was subjected to.

"The Scientology of open source"?

In a thought provoking reflection after he left his central roles in the Drupal project, Steven Wittens - for years Buytaert's second in command as core maintainer, author of much of the early core code base, co-designer of the Druplicon - called Drupal "the Scientology of open source". Some dismissed his analogy, while others cheerfully adopted the label of cult member.

Of course, Drupal is not a cult. But analyzing the project as an authoritarian system, the lens of a cult is not entirely misplaced.

The International Cultic Studies Association journal maintains a list of characteristics of cultic groups. Here is a selection:

  • The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader
  • Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished
  • The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and its members
  • The leader is not accountable to any authorities
  • The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members
  • Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities
  • The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group

Reflecting on these attributes with reference to Drupal can be sobering.

Making space

The current discussion of governance in the Drupal project does not start from a blank slate. Rather, it occurs in an authoritarian context where many positions of power and influence in the project are closely associated with the dictator for life and his company, Acquia. In diverse ways and to different degrees, individuals who owe their positions in the project to Buytaert, who were in part selected by and serve under Buytaert at the Drupal Association, who are current or former Acquia employees, or who are owners or staff at Acquia partner companies may be materially invested in the status quo power structure.

I'm very familiar with how this works and feels. My first Drupal job was a direct result of Buytaert recommending me to CivicSpace Labs, based on my contributions to Drupal core. Like uncounted others, I owe my career in Drupal directly to the intervention of the project founder and dictator.

All community members should feel free to express their views. But placement makes a difference. In the current leadership crisis in Drupal, of the many individuals who seemed to call for a quick return to the status quo, few have been up front about their placement and investment.

How do you make space for those who have been silenced? I'm no expert, but I can offer some suggestions based on my own experience.

  • You start with acknowledgement. Drupal has a long and troubled history when it comes to dissenting views, and you don't deal with that legacy through omission or denial.
  • You're self-reflective and honest about your own placement and privilege.
  • You listen.