Dries Buytaert: Low Code No Code Adoption Good for Drupal

14 March, 2022

Headless, decoupled, and low code CMS have been on the rise for a while. Discussing the impact and future of these CMS, Dries Buytaert, the founder and project head of Drupal, talks about the learning opportunities with low code no code systems and the possibility of pure headless turning out to be a niche in the long run. During the 'Fireside chat with Dries' organized by the Drupal India Association, he also said that these systems would never be able to compete with some of the features that Drupal offers.

Dries began answering the question on the future of Drupal and the competition by headless and decoupled by saying that Drupal is in a great position today. Dries said

"We started investing in headless and decoupled ten years ago and have been putting it at the core of Drupal for about 6 or 7 years."

Today Drupal has a strong leadership position in headless and decoupled and is recognized for that.

In competitive situations against Contentful of the World, Drupal wins a lot. In fact, Drupal wins a lot more than it loses to them. This is very important to recognize. The others are innovating fast, and they have money; some even raise money from venture capitals, so Dries thinks it's important to keep innovating too. That's why Drupal has several initiatives in the core to keep expanding and improving on its headless and decoupled abilities. 

According to Dries, the challenge is not technical because he believes Drupal is better in many of these solutions today, including Contentful, as Drupal has better multilingual and workflow support than many of these systems today. He feels that the weakness is in sales and marketing, and many people don't think of Drupal as a strong contender for headless and decoupled. 

Dries added that he thinks pure headless will remain niche in the long term. It's great for developers, but it's bad for marketers like non-technical or less technical people that want to use drag and drop to create layouts or quickly update a menu without having to go back to their developers.

He felt that marketers don't like today's headless system because they lose so many things that Drupal offers. They will lose from accessibility to SEO improvements to layout builder.

"Headless is great for developers for certain things, but the majority of people don't want to lose these things, so that's why Drupal's flexible approach could easily win in the long run."

Contentful of the world will have to figure out a way to deal with that, so Dries thinks they will grow to be a bit more like Drupal. They will add all these capabilities that Drupal already has, and Drupal will add capabilities that headless and decoupled had before Drupal. Eventually, making them collide and come together and be more similar.

Ultimately what they will never have is an open-source element. They will have a lot of momentum in the market with their proprietary SaaS solution. Still, the open-source will be better, more powerful, and more flexible, especially with its community.

It's also better for career growth, making it difficult for them to compete with these Drupal features. Therefore, Drupal will always have a special place in the market.

When asked about low code platforms, Dries said he thinks low code platforms are very important. If one thinks about the history of Drupal, it has always been successful as a lot of site builders liked using drupal. In the first 10 years of Drupal, people could download and install Drupal and then use tools like CCK and Views to do powerful things without having to write a lot of code, making Drupal in some way a low code platform. That's the root of its success with these tools, and it continues to be very important. 

Dries is not sure if they will pose a challenge per se, but he thinks there is a need to invest more in low codes or no-code solutions for Drupal as he believes it's very powerful. He is not too worried about Wix and Squarespace today because they serve a different market segment. He said in Acquia, they never see them as competitive situations as they are more on the enterprise side of the market.

"I think low code no code is an opportunity where we can learn from these platforms and see which elements we can add to Drupal."

Talking about Acquia, Dries added that they are investing in Side Studio, but they did a lot of work in the Layout builder before that. He said today they have 2 or 3 people full-time to upgrade CKEditor in preparation for Drupal 10. They are moving from CKEditor 4 to 5, a re-write; it is almost like moving from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. But he said CKEditor is kind of a low code feature, too, where you can enable non-technical people to upload or embed images.

Dries also said that they are constantly trying to make Drupal better. They are investing heavily in automatic updates and have 2-3 people working full-time. This again is a way to shift the maintenance of Drupal from very developer-centric people that have to run composer updates on a command-line to a more automated way with lower codes. 

Acquia is also investing in Site Studio, which is like a low code page builder and component-based design system for people. If you look at Acquia's investments, they are not often investing in enterprise features as their customers may not care all that much about automatic updates. It's more in the low end of the market, but they still feel it's important for Drupal and the marketing channel.

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