DrupalCon report: Women of Drupal, and what makes open source run
At DrupalCon Boston 2008, which took place this past week, some 850-900 people attended. Of those, only
2% 7% were women. Just a few months ago, we represented 7% at DrupalCon Barcelona 2007. So are things getting worse no better for women in the Drupal open source software world? I don't think so. For one thing, some of the biggest contributors and community leaders in Drupal are women. Several of us are Permanent Members of the Drupal Association. Some of the prominent Drupal design/development services companies are headed by women. (Disclosure: I am president of one of them.) It's not enough. We need to get more women involved in Drupal and open source. Indeed, we want to get more people involved in Drupal and open source. What's the answer? I said before:
It really might seem, at first blush, to be quite surprising that an open source project like Drupal, which has a very open, inviting and not-all-that-macho development community, has so few women, but the problem of female under-representaqtion is endemic across technology; open source is no exception. During a BOF session at DrupalCon Barcelona 2007, some of us wondered why that is. The consensus answer: visibility.
Well, so far we're visible. But even this is not enough. Part of the problem lies not in macho coding culture, but rather in the woeful state of computer and software education in our schools. Most of the people involved in open source are there in spite of their formal educations (or lack thereof). Computer work is pretty much taught only in Computer Science departments, which usually are subsets of Mathematics departments. Despite the fact that nearly every student will be working with computers in whatever field they enter, they likely will never have even one class where they study any sort of computer science or algorithm theory. And then there's open source software, which still is largely invisible to Computer Science departments. Perhaps this is because Computer Science professors aren't very familiar with open source. All I know is that it's not because open source software skills aren't marketable. It's one area where market growth has been spectacular. Is it any wonder that women especially are not likely to end up in an open source software community? As I noted before, the leading women involved with Drupal came to it from other vocations and educational backgrounds. Angie, Addi, Karen and Michelle may be luminaries within the Drupal world, but outside of that world how well are they known? Women who stumble upon Drupal are almost certainly made to feel welcome -- it's really a friendly and open community -- but how many women who are programming or design oriented have even heard of Drupal? The visibility factor may have gone up two big notches in the past couple of weeks when two high-profile women in tech have blogged about their new interest in Drupal. Last month, Anne Zelenka got interested in Drupal -- interestingly not because of Drupal's features or quality of code, but rather because a venture capital firm got interested enough to back Acquia (which just launched with the intention of becoming for Drupal something like what RedHat is for Linux).
I didn’t even know until I read a recent post from Cote’ that there’s a venture-funded Drupal startup, Acquia. Surely I saw that when Cote’ first mentioned it, but it didn’t impress me until now — because now I have an actual project or two or three to use it on. I think that’s pretty cool even if $7M sounds like nothing to my GigaOM-jaded brain. It makes me feel that betting my project (and more important my human capital) on Drupal is a reasonably rational thing to do.
Shelley Powers started asking questions about Drupalrecently, and then got very interested just this past week.
I've been interested in Drupal since I started looking through the site and the code base. I became more interested when Maki mentioned the SVG Toolkit for Drupal, and Elaine talked about how improved it is. Then Ian Davis at Nodalities mentioned Drupal's RDF and semantic web commitment yesterday, and that's all she wrote for me. The Drupal folks seem more committed to supporting standards, all standards, than the Wordpress folk. And when I read something about Drupal, I read about the technology; I don't read about ads or mergers. This focus on technology appeals to me right now.
Of course, neither Shelley nor Anne were at DrupalCon (as far as I know, anyway), but Shelley is picking up on the radical challenge of taking the next version of Drupal fully into the semantic web on the 3G scale.
The Web right now is built from the generic hyperlink, which says nothing more than "look over here". But even this weak semantic was enough to enable Google's Pagerank to organise and score the Web. Imagine how much more powerful the hyperlink could be if it were possible to express sentiment or meaning in the link. Even if that were limited to positive or negative endorsement of the target of the link, the value to the relevance ranking of search engines and applications would be huge. However, the possibilities for expressing the intention of a link between two pages are endless. For example, it could be possible for writers to say whether they support or reject the views expressed in the target of the link, or whether they are linking to conflicting evidence or alternative versions of the same information. These simple expressions of intention could provide an entirely new dimension of metadata. The links between things are fundamental to the existence of the Web and the value of understanding why things are related is huge. Web 3G is an evolution of Web 2.0 enhancing it through the appropriate use of light semantics. Links between things become more clearly typed, embedded data on pages becomes more easily understood by machines, all the while retaining the ability for people to connect and link and critique the quality and relevance of the data. It becomes the semantic graph, open to participation by everyone without having to ask anyone's permission.
In the present, though, Drupal 5 and especially Drupal 6 already have some very nice appeal. Maki, whom Shelley mentions, converted her sites to Drupallate last year.
Theming Drupal gets easier and easier. It seems quite logical to me now. Besides the actual design considerations, this re-design only took a couple of days to complete, with one hour for the changeover - so only one hour of site downtime. I did the redesign on a dummy site with a duplicate of the real database, them switched over the templates and so on on the real site once I was happy with everything. The main tasks during the switchover were putting in some new blocks that weren’t defined yet.
Actual participation in the Drupal community is easy -- over 1000 people contributed to the latest update of Drupal -- but it's not a requirement for using Drupal. However, I for one hope that these women, and others, get involved in the ecosystem they're joining. It's participation by smart people interested in helping make Drupal better, not the favorable nod from VCs, that helps guarantee that Drupal will continue to lead the open source content management and application framework field, helping push the evolution of the web and "social graphs" forward into whatever it is becoming. -- Contributing Editor Laura Scott is a Permanent Member of the Drupal Association, and blogs at pingVision and rare pattern.