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transcript - Dries interviewed by Noel Hidalgo, 2007

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dries, history of drupal, noel hidalgo, luck of seven

Transcription Noel Hidalgo Dries' Interview (
Antwerp, Belgium 2007.07.26

My name is Dries Buytaert. I live in Antwerp, which is where we are right now. I was born 28 years ago, in Belgium. Right now I'm a PhD student at the University of Ghent, also in Belgium. And I am also the founder and project lead of the drupal project. So Drupal is an open source project, and together with the drupal community we are building an open source cms, which is a content management system, which is essentially a tool to build websites, so everybody can download drupal, everybody can install drupal, and everybody can start creating content online basically with drupal. So we're really empowering people to start creating content and to start building complex websites So actually I started the drupal project almost by accident. This was back in 1998 and 1999 I was a student here in Belgium and we were starting to explore wireless internet, and we – like, in the street where I was living, and in the student dorm I was staying, we started creating this you know, local area network and so lots of people had questions, about or...basically we wanted to share information and stay in touch with each other even though we were local community, and so I decide I wanted to write message boards, I would write them because I wanted to know more about internet technologies and so I started to write the message boards, and that was fun, we had this little community going, and then I in 2000 about a year later I graduated, and I decided to move out of the student dorm, and move to go live somewhere else, and because the community we had was sort of fun, I decided to move the internal website to the public internet. Originally I wanted to register which means little village in Dutch because we had this little community going.  And then I actually made a typo and I typed drop, which is an English word, and so I went with that name because I was sort of amazed because you know why would a four-letter word domain be still available so I immediately registered that and I went with that and we moved the community to that site but that quickly died off and in the meantime I kept exploring what technologies -- and I started adding more and more features.  And at one point the site really was about new internet technologies and so by 2000, 2001 I was exploring with things like RSS, comment moderation, user ratings, online communities and all these things and more and more people interested in internet technologies would come by and start giving me suggestions like maybe you should do this and this, maybe you should implement this this way, things like that and so I basically decided to make the software available for them so that they could experiment with it themselves rather than telling me what to do with it.  So then i decided to make it available as free and open source software.  It's raining pretty badly.

[cut from Antwerp waterfront to Dries' apartment]

If you look back at the history of Drupal then we see it is really a chain of many unexpected events and I don't think I was able to predict any of these and so it's really the Drupal community that took it through a number of important steps or milestones.

And one of the first ones I remember is a site called KernelTrap which is owned and operated by Jeremy Andrews.  At the time he used to run -- and KernelTrap by the way is a site about news about the Linux kernel and other different kernels and was reporting news about those and every other week or something Jeremy's site would get on Slashdot and it would basically go down because of the Slashdot effect and so I sent him an e-mail and said maybe you should convert your site to Drupal and then I ended up working with him a little bit about making his site Slashdot resistant and essentially he ended up contributing several modules to Drupal to make that happen.  He switched to Drupal, and ever since his site has resisted many Slashdot attacks.  So that was an important tipping point because Jeremy wrote a couple of articles about how he used Drupal and how Drupal was capable of surviving Slashdots and that sort of opened the eyes of many other people in the technical world.

Another important tipping point was probably Howard Dean because of Howard Dean we got a fair amount of press especially in the United States.  And that really let -- gave us a lot of visibility on the one hand but also on the other hand it led to the creation of a Drupal ecosystem in the United States where several companies, Drupal companies, got started with the idea to extend the Drupal functionality and to make it suitable for online campaign management and to use it in the nonprofit world, basically, which is -- has been proven to be really helpful for the Drupal community.

[Noel asks about the Drupal community.]

The Drupal community is awesome, basically and -- in many ways the Drupal community is more important than the software itself.  It's really the Drupal community, and not so much the software, that makes the Drupal project what it is.  So, you know, fostering the Drupal community is actually more important than just managing the code base.

I think I get a lot of inspiration from many people even everyday events inspire me to do certain things there are also certain people that I sometimes look up to.  For example, I guess, Linus Torvalds would probably be my big example in some ways - in fact once, I think about a year ago, I sent an e-mail to Linus because I was struggling with certain aspects of life so to speak and like you know "Look, I created this project, and by accident almost it sort of you know it by accident made me this leader [laughs] of this Drupal project and I certainly don't see myself as being a leader -- I see myself as a programmer.  And so I sent Linus Torvalds this e-mail sort of like you know, how do you manage?  Asking for some advice. My e-mail was like this one paragraph e-mail, which was -- I wouldn't say impulsive, but it was sort of a wild shot.  And he basically replied with this three page e-mail with all kinds of really great advice, so that's, that's really cool.  I still have a copy of that e-mail and I'll keep it around and every once in a while I'll read it again.  [..] Linus Torvalds is certainly someone that I look up to.  And there's other people like that, and it's not only big names, but it's many people.

Another interesting story I think is for example Angela Byron, or webchick, I still remember when she joined the Drupal community she felt insecure. I'm not sure if that's the right word, but over time I've been trying to help her a little bit, get up to speed with Drupal, and other people in the Drupal community have as well and one of the most rewarding things for me was to see Angela grow as a person, but also as a contributor to the project.  And so, you know, bringing new people on board, and watching them grow, and seeing them becoming better and better is really rewarding and is also something which inspires me, and which makes me reflect and think about how we can empower more people.


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