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Acquia Makes Drupal Community Building Accessible

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Many companies are now looking to build communities outside the firewall to engage customers, suppliers, and prospects, as well as create communities inside the enterprise to engage employees on key topics. I have written about several new approaches to supporting communities on this blog and Fast Forward. Drupal has been around a long time in web years as a community platform. I first heard about it in 2004. Acquia was recently formed to make Drupal more accessible and provide professional support. I recently, spoke with Acquia executives, Jeff Whatcott, vice president of marketing and Bryan House, director of product marketing. There will be more on Acquia later in this post but first let’s cover Drupal itself. The Drupal open source platform has developed a large following amongst the development community and over 2,000 contributed modules have been created covering all aspects of social media functionality from Google Map integration, to on-line rating systems, to PayPal integration. Many, but not all, are mashup-based.

Drupal started in 2001 as a bulletin board and it has continued to integrate new functionality as web 2.0 emerged. It is now on Version six, soon to be seven. Drupal is a internally hosted platform which provides significant flexibility in design and functionality. Not all community requirements fit into the categories of blogs, wikis, forums, etc. Because of Drupal’s many add-ons, it can go in many directions. For example, a bicycle community is focused around rides. It needs to provide easy ways to provide the general data on rides such as titles of rides, their distance, difficulty, comments and reviews, ability to upload pictures, Google map integration, etc. It also needs to cover specific instances of the ride such as organizer, start time, variations in route, etc. See the screen shot of a bicycle community home page below.

[photopress:biking_community_front_page.jpg,full,pp_image]

This does not easily fit into a standard community format but with the Drupal components, the specific requirements of this community can be more easily constructed. Here is a page on a specific ride.

[photopress:Ride___View_page.jpg,full,pp_image]

Here is the page to set up a ride.

[photopress:Ride___Submit_page.jpg,full,pp_image]

This rich functionality was, until recently, only available to the technically accomplished, leaving out many potential users, including me. It is being used by such web sites as Fast Company, the Onion, Amnesty International, and the AOL Developer Network but these sites have excellent technical resources. For the rest of us, Drupal was not only hard to get started but it was also difficult to find the right add-on modules from the many options. Acquia was formed at the end of 2007 to solve this problem and make the rich functionally available to all. They have developed a commercially supported version and selected and certified the best modules. They also offer documentation and technical support for the version and modules they support. There is an installation package with additional documentation. If difficulties arise in the supported version or add-ons, Acquia will fix them. They also offer hosted network services such as automated updates and spam blocking. You still do not pay from Drupal, itself, just the Acquia services. These will become available second half of 2008.

Acquia has an excellent blog with many contributors. In fact their web presence started in a blog format. They now have expanded to a more traditional web site while retaining the blog as an active communication channel. Every new employee is expected to introduce themselves on the blog within a few weeks of joining the firm and the blog draws good traffic. Acquia uses the term social publishing to describe their offering since it integrates many aspects of social software. I think Acquia will be a welcome addition to the both enterprise 2.0 and web 2.0

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