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Have We Reached Peak Drupal?

In my recent talk at DrupalSouth Auckland 2017 I took a hard look at the hyperbole of Drupal supposedly powering over a million websites. Where does Drupal really sit in relation to other CMS platforms, both open source and proprietary? What trends are emerging that will impact Drupal's market share? The talk looked outside the Drupal bubble and took a high level view of its market potential and approaches independent firms can take to capitalise on Drupal's strengths and buffer against its potential weaknesses.

by Owen Lansbury /

But, Drupal powers over a million websites!

One of the key statistics that Drupalists take pride in is that it's powered over a million websites since mid 2014 when Drupal 7 was in ascendance. However, since Drupal 8 was released in late 2015, Drupal's overall use has stalled at around 1.2m websites, as seen circled in red on the Drupal Core usage statistics graph below.

Drupal install graph

The main reason for this stall in growth was that Drupal 8 was a major architectural re-write that wasn't essential or even affordable for many Drupal 7 sites to migrate to. For clients considering major new projects, many held off on committing to Drupal 8 until there were more successful case studies in the wild and didn't commission new Drupal 7 sites given that version was nearing a decade old. Anecdotally, 2016 was a tough year for many Drupal firms as they grappled with this pause in adoption.

Of course, Drupal 8 is now a well-proven platform and is experiencing steady uptake, as circled in green on the usage graph above. This uptake corresponds with a down tick in Drupal 7 usage, but also indicates a softening of total Drupal usage. If we extrapolate these trend lines in a linear fashion, then we can see that Drupal 8 might surpass Drupal 7 usage around 2023.

Drupal usage extrapolation

Of course, technology adoption doesn't move in a straight line! Disruptive technologies emerge that rapidly change the playing field in a way that often can't be envisaged. The example that springs to mind is Nokia's market share was still growing when the iPhone 4 was released in 2010. By the time the iPhone 4s was released in 2011, Nokia's sales volumes had almost halved, leading to Microsoft's catastrophic purchase of the handset division in 2013 and subsequent re-sale for 5% of the purchase value in 2016. Oops!

Builtwith stats

Despite this downward trend in overall Drupal usage, we can take comfort that its use on larger scale sites is growing, powering 5.7% of the Top 10,000 websites according to Builtwith.com. However, its market share of the Top 100,000 (4.3%) and Top Million (3%) websites is waning, indicating that other CMS are gaining ground with smaller sites. It's also worth noting that Builtwith only counts ~680,000 Drupal websites, indicating that the other ~500,000 Drupal.org is detecting are likely to be development and staging sites.

So, where are these other sites moving to when they're choosing a new CMS? 

Wordpress usage

Looking at the stats from W3Techs, it's clear to see that Wordpress accounts for almost all CMS growth, now sitting at around 30% of total market share.

Wordpress has been able to achieve this dominance by being a fantastic CMS for novice developers and smaller web agencies to build clients' websites with. This is reinforced by Wordpress having an exceptional editor experience and a hugely popular SAAS platform at Wordpress.com.

Drupal's place in the CMS market

The challenge Wordpress poses to other open-source CMS platforms, like Joomla, Typo3 and Plone, all with under 1% market share and falling, is their development communities are likely to starting directing their efforts to other platforms. Drupal is able to hedge against this threat by having a large and highly engaged community around Drupal 8, but it's now abundantly clear that Drupal can't compete as a platform for building smaller brochure-ware style sites that Wordpress and SAAS CMS like Squarespace are dominating. We're also seeing SAAS platforms like Nationbuilder eat significantly into Drupal's previously strong share of the non-profit sector.

In the ecommerce space, Drupal has struggled to gain much traction despite the concerted efforts of companies like the Commerce Guys. This is not to say that you can't do ecommerce with Drupal, just that SAAS offerings like Shopify, open source software like Magento and enterprise platforms like SAP are usually safer choices for most clients.

With all the hype around Headless or Decoupled CMS, Drupal 8 is well positioned to play a role as the backend for React or Angular Javascript frontends. Competitors in this space are SAAS platforms like Contentful and Directus, with proprietary platforms like Kentico pivoting as a native cloud CMS designed to power decoupled frontends.

We often talk of Drupal as a CMS Framework, where it competes against frameworks like Ruby on Rails, .NET and Django to build rich web based applications. Drupal 8 is still well placed to serve this sector if web applications are also relying on large scale content and user management features.

Which brings us to the Enterprise CMS sector, where Drupal competes head to head with proprietary platforms like Adobe Experience Manager, Sitecore and legacy products from Opentext, IBM and Oracle. The good news is that Drupal holds its own in this sector and has gained very strong market share with Government, Higher Education, Media and "Challenger" Enterprise clients.

This "Comfort zone" for Drupal usage is characterised by clients building large scale platforms with huge volumes of content and users, high scalability and integration with myriad third party products. Operationally, these clients often have well established internal web teams and varying degrees of self reliance. They're often using Agile delivery methods and place high value on speed to market and the cost savings associated with open-source software.

Where Drupal is gaining a competitive edge since the release of Drupal 8 is against proprietary Enterprise platforms like Adobe Experience Manager and Sitecore. These companies market a platform of complementary products in a unified stack to their clients through long standing partnerships with major global digital agencies and system integrators. It's no surprise then that Acquia markets their own platform in a similar way to this sector where Drupal serves as the CMS component, complemented by subscription-based tools for content personalisation, customer segmentation and cloud based managed hosting. Acquia have actively courted large digital media agencies with this offering through global partnerships to give Drupal a toe hold in this sector.

Garnter Magic Quadrant CMS

This has meant Acquia has made significant headway into larger Enterprise clients through efforts like being recognised as a "Leader" in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for CMS, lending Drupal itself some profile and legitimacy as a result. This has driven some Enterprise CIOs, CTOs and CMOs to push their vendors to offer Drupal services, who have looked to smaller Drupal firms to provide expertise where required. This is beneficial to independent Drupal services firms in the short term, but the large digital agencies will quickly internalise these skills if they see a long term market for Drupal with their global clients.

As one of those independent Drupal firms, PreviousNext have staked a bet that not all Enterprise customers will want to move to a monolithic platform where all components are provided by a single vendor's products. We're seeing sophisticated customers wanting to use Drupal 8 as the unifying hub for a range of best-of-breed SAAS platforms and cloud services. 

Drupal 8 hub

This approach means that Enterprise customers can take advantage of the latest, greatest SAAS platforms whilst retaining control and consistency of their core CMS. It also allows for a high degree of flexibility to rapidly adapt to market changes. 

What does this all mean for Drupal 8?

The outcome of our research and analysis has led to a few key conclusions about what the future looks like for Drupal 8:

  • Drupal's overall market share will steadily fall as smaller sites move to SAAS CMS and self-managed Wordpress installs. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it indicates that Drupal is moving much higher up the value chain.
  • The "comfort zone" of Government, Media, Higher Education and "Challenger" Enterprise clients will grow as many of these clients upgrade or switch to Drupal 8 from Drupal 7 or proprietary platforms.
  • Drupal will gain traction in the larger Enterprise as the global digital agencies and system integrators adopt Drupal 8 as a direct alternative to proprietary CMS products. 
  • Independent Drupal services firms have a good opportunity to capitalise on these trends through partnerships with larger global agencies and specialisation in technologies that complement Drupal 8 as a CMS.
  • A culture of code contribution needs to grow within the larger clients and agencies moving to Drupal to ensure the burden of maintaining Drupal's development isn't shouldered by smaller independent firms and individual developers. 

Despite the fact that we've probably already passed "Peak Drupal", we're firm believers that Drupal 8 is the right and often best tool for large scale projects and that community has the cohesion to meet to these challenges!

Tagged

DrupalSouth

Posted by Owen Lansbury
Managing Director

Dated

Comments

Comment by Hamza

Dated

I'd say that due to Drupal 8 moving towards more complex and enterprise solutions, smaller and simpler sites might be tempted to move away from Drupal and towards a more welcoming CMSs like Wordpress. Although this might mean an overall decline in the number of sites powered by Drupal, it will also mean that the sites that do use Drupal will be higher in quality. So in the end, it might simply become a case of quality vs quantity.

Comment by Ken Colwell

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Fascinating and thanks for pulling together all of this research.

Comment by Max

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Great analysis, Owen, thank you!
I hope that Drupal 8 will grow faster after the release of the Layout Builder, Media Library and D7>D8 Migration.

Comment by Ajay

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Great Article with very sound analysis. It voices some of the concerns I had and also highlights some of the trends I suspected underneath but did not look at the data in depth before.
Although I agree with trend you mentioned about smaller sites moving to SaaS and hosted solution, it does not have to be that way. What made drupal 7 great is the builder experience. That is why a site like Maayboli is able to grow fast with new features. Unfortunately that builder experience is missing in Drupal 8 till now. Even though Dries has mentioned in the State of Drupal , it is not for smaller sites, till the installation and builder experience need to be better so developers at Enterprise can quickly try and experiment before committing a multi-week install process.
Fundamentally CMS tools like Drupal, Wordpress grew because they removed the layer called "webmaster" or "web developer" to update the website. But with drupal 8, that role or similar role is seems to be needed again (may be not for same task but a different task) which looses that value addition.

Comment by MrDenmark

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I believe that if lesser sites use Drupal, it will make it weaker. I dont think the "Quality over Quantity" can be used as a reason. Quality have never been bad, and quality have not been improved more than any other big cms out there.

I like the thought of the reason people leave, is "we" are getting more "enterprise". I think the only reason people "leave" is that one of the hardest learningcurve opensource cms just got a lot more complicated in D8. I understand why alot of my colleagues tend to want to use WP. Its way faster - but in the end its always messed up. That is (was) not the cast in late D7. All was pretty organized and worked perfect. Now we are struggleing with "missing modules" with makes custom coding needed. And when alot of developers work on the same projects, things tends to get messed up.

So....... When we have fever users - we will also have fewer usecase scanarios that more people struggle with. And if only a few struggle with an "issue" no module developes will make a module due to the small amount of users that benefits from it.

So this will result in lesser modules - unless if you pay a development company for it - which will lead to payed modules, which at the end will make the system even more unlikely for users to use.

I LOVE drupal and have used it since d5. Im a developer/project manager - but im concerned about the future.

Comment by Shane

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am i the only one who finds wordpress very frustrating to use, the lack of flexibility as a designer/not developer drive me crazy.

Not impressed with Shopify at all - their templates are very static/dated.

Magento is a beast to manage and maintain.

Comment by Justin Winter

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Very well written analysis. Thanks for posting this.

The only thing I would add is that there needs to be a massive concerted effort to address the approachability and documentation problem. Perhaps this problem is just a function of trying to "hit a moving target" with Drupal 8 changing at a pace that would make it difficult to produce documentation, tutorials, etc.

Drupal 8 is a massive complex system with very little in the way of documentation or tutorials on how to build or do very basic things.

Comment by Douglas Gough

Dated

Thanks for the careful analysis. I haven't given up yet on Drupal for smaller sites. On the contrary, I believe that once the core has matured and the bigger pieces of functionality have been added (layout, media management, UX improvements come to mind), Drupal will be a great platform to build a small business distribution on. All of these changes are driven by the move into the enterprise space, but they will result in a Drupal that can be adapted to many purposes. Maybe I'm dreaming, but it's a nice dream.

Comment by Tierno S. Bah

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CMS platforms like Drupal —and its PHP-MySQL siblings— are part of the Web 2.0 software development mindset. They were launched simultaneously in early 2000, along with Web 3.0 technologies. Their roots trace back to the same creative mind, of Tim Berners-Lee. While the W3C publishes the 3.0 standards, Drupal, WordPress, etc. are being built by less formal communities of developers. Web 3.0 is about knowledge engineering, with RDF/S, OWL, SPARQL… It brings ontology modeling (subject expertise + formal coding) and programming closer together. Its steeper learning curve notwithstanding, it has strong requisites for interdisciplinary development work. In that regard, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 platforms are both similar and drastically different.

That explains why some high-end Web 3.0 frameworks acknowledge and integrate Drupal. In turn, back in early 2010, there were some initiatives toward building Web 3.0 Drupal modules. But most of them have been abandoned on Drupal.org.

Will Drupal 8 or 9 renew or rejuvenate such efforts? Will there be a strategy beyond XML/RDF, which are already in Core? Can OWL be incorporated in Drupal, or at least be connected to it more seamlessly?

Or is there a such a — philosophical and architectural — paradigmatic difference between CMSes and Web 3.0 platforms that they will continue to evolve somehow in parallel?

Comment by Josh Waihi

Dated

Great summary Owen and along very similar lines as my DrupalSouth talk - A drop in the tide of enterprise.

I agree that Drupal is suited for more "ambitious " projects as Dries puts it. That the "there's a module for that" approach of D6 and D7 doesn't apply in a world where SaaS does it better. Decoupled solution designs are the new black.

How much longer will the market remain for bespoke develop on Drupal instead of just site building? I think we nearing the ends of our means. D8 mastered the CMS. It's now a solved problem, readily available as a free comoditiy

Comment by Ryan Szrama

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One thing WordPress users have never had to experience is an upgrade that breaks backwards compatibility. That was always the risk with Drupal's strategy, and I think it's right that Drupal 9 and beyond will preserve backwards compatibility. I anticipate there being a steady upward tick in usage unlike the previous precipitous drops ... in fact, I think future graphs will end up just having to show Drupal 8+ to be on par with comparisons against "all WordPress."

This is even more true for SaaS platform users. They don't have to worry about maintenance ever, whether that means they get better service or not. People can very easily "set it and forget it" with those sites - it can literally be more trouble than it's worth to cancel a $5-15 SaaS subscription when you only get the payment reminder once a month and never at the time when you can figure out how to cancel. : P

In any event, I anticipate there being a never ending upward trend because there just won't be another "wait and see when things get ported" period in Drupal's life.

cf. https://dri.es/making-drupal-upgrades-easy-forever

Pagination

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