Drupal and Backdrop CMS, Opportunities for Collaboration?

Posted on: Monday, July 25, 2022
Posted by: Tim Erickson

My primary goal in writing this post is not to limit discussion to any single vision for the future, but to provide one potential vision that might help stimulate additional thought, discussion, and possibilities.

At the most recent Backdrop LIVE we engaged in a healthy and robust discussion on the topic of “Should Backdrop CMS be Drupal Classic?” The title was meant to be a little provocative (to draw attention to the conversation).

If literal accuracy were the only goal in titling the discussion, I would have suggested “What are the Opportunities for the Backdrop CMS Community to Collaborate with the Drupal Community to Ensure a Soft Landing for Drupal 7 Site Owners.” That's a mouthful. 

Do we have sufficient shared interests to make any kind of collaboration possible or is this a zero sum game, where every Drupal site that moves to Backdrop is a loss for Drupal and vice versa, with both camps losing as Drupal 7 sites disappear or move to WIX, Squarespace and Wordpress.

In theory, Backdrop does not need to attract Drupal 7 site owners to grow and thrive. Our CMS is a solid CMS solution built upon a strong Drupal foundation and should be able to stand on its own, attracting new users from lots of different places. In theory, Drupal 9/10 should be the obvious upgrade choice for every Drupal 7 site and Drupal usage should be expanding, not shrinking. However, neither of these things are true. The Backdrop CMS community is growing much slower than we would like to be and the Drupal community is losing users every day to such tools as Wordpress and WIX.

No, I don’t think that we should rename or rebrand Backdrop CMS to Drupal Classic nor do I think that we can or should be looking at reintegration with the larger Drupal project. But, I strongly believe that there are opportunities for increased collaboration and cooperation. While I don’t want to rule out any possibilities, I suspect that collaboration might be dependent upon a couple of assumptions. 

  • That the Drupal and Backdrop CMS communities create either an informal or formal partnership acknowledging each other as either friendly collaborators, partners, or even sibling/related projects (persopnally, I already think of the Drupal community as our slightly estranged parent organization). 
  • That Backdrop CMS would gain by increasing user counts and a larger community, including additional developers. The Drupal community would gain, by being able to publicly and proudly tally Backdrop CMS sites in the overall Drupal family. The Drupal community would also gain by keeping more sites and developers in the family, even if they are working on different projects at any one time. We could all gain by recommending each other as related projects that MIGHT be more appropriate for any given project.
  • That it is increasingly unlikely that any one piece of software is going to ever meet all of the needs and use cases that Drupal has been trying to meet on its own.

Practically, what might this look like?

  • That Backdrop CMS would remain an independent project with its own identity and leadership structure. 
  • That both groups are acknowledged at corresponding events and in corresponding publications/documentation. That Backdrop sessions are allowed and even encouraged at DrupalCons/Camps and that Drupal speakers and topics be included at Backdrop LIVE (or other) Backdrop events.
  • That the Drupal community acknowledge and promote Backdrop CMS as the recommended (or even as a potential) alternative for Drupal 7 sites that are not ready or willing to move to Drupal 9/10. 
  • That the Backdrop community do more to improve the upgrade process from Drupal 7 to Backdrop CMS and lower the barriers. That the Drupal community offer advice and assistance on making these improvements, as they are able.
  • That the Backdrop and Drupal communities work together on a Backdrop CMS to Drupal upgrade or migration to promote mobility in both directions?

In my opinion, the primary blockers towards this kind of collaboration are probably the following two factors:

  1. A perception in the Backdrop CMS community that Drupal leaders are simply unwilling to work with Backdrop as an independent community with its own structure and ecosystem. 
  2. A perception in the Drupal community that Drupal 9/10 can eventually be fixed to accommodate the needs of Drupal 7 sites that currently feel as if they have been left behind and Backdrop not really worth worrying about or engaging with.

While either, neither, or both of these perceptions might be true, I’m not yet convinced that either are. While the Backdrop CMS community is significantly smaller than Drupal, I think we have important resources, assets, institutional knowledge, energy, and most importantly our focus on smaller sites that would be beneficial to a potential partnership or relationship. Drupal brings its size, history and resources to the table.

Fundamentally, I think this can work, because as a long time contributor to both communities, I believe that we share an interest in meeting the long term needs of the small businesses and nonprofits upon which the Drupal community/platform was originally built. While many Backdrop community members are angry and frustrated at previous Drupal decisions that left them feeling ignored or neglected, I personally don’t believe that this was intentional and that through collaboration we can try to fix or improve upon some of the errors or miscalculations of the past.

Photo credit: Christina Morillo - Original Image

See also: Backdrop CMS - Providing a Soft Landing for Drupal 7 Sites (2/22/2022)